Summary: Chapter XIII

The governess believes that the children are aware that she knows about their relationships with Quint and Miss Jessel. When together, she and the children avoid any subject that nears forbidden territory, and she finds herself repeatedly recalling events in her personal history to fill conversational space. The season changes to autumn. As day after day passes without incident, the governess thinks perhaps her eyes have been sealed and that the children are communicating with unseen visitors in her very presence. Even so, her charges are more likeable each day.

Unable to broach the topic of Quint and Miss Jessel with the children, the governess shuts herself up in a room to rehearse. Still, in their company, she cannot find the nerve and instead finds herself chattering more than ever, always until she notices a sudden, strange silence. These perceived stillnesses have become common when she is with her pupils, but all three refuse to acknowledge that they occur. The children begin to ask the governess about their uncle and why he hasn’t visited or written. The governess has the children write letters to him with the understanding that such writings are merely educational exercises.


These chapters detail the governess’s struggle to protect and save the children, together with her growing impression that the children are deceiving her and that things are worse than she thought. Although she does see Quint and Jessel again, most of the suspense is now generated by what she suspects and imagines about the children’s dealings with the ghosts. She no longer fears confronting the ghosts but instead fears that she has lost the power to see them and that the ghosts are appearing to the children in her very presence, telling them something infernal or referring to “dreadful passages of intercourse in the past.” Now the terror is purely psychological, and we are drawn in to share her fears because, just like her, there seems to be something terrible going on that we also can’t define.

We see things from the governess’s point of view, and the children appear to be a mixture of things—charming, affectionate, angelic, and wonderfully tactful but also duplicitous and subtle. We are given much less information about how the children may perceive the governess, but that which we are given is rather unsettling. The governess describes her own behavior as both extremely vigilant and watchful and extremely affectionate—she perpetually bows down and hugs the children. Yet her expressions of affection and her constant surveillance have oppressive and suffocating overtones, and there are hints that the children tolerate rather than welcome it. In moments of crisis, the governess seems downright frightening. Thinking Flora has lied, the governess grips her in a “spasm” and reports being surprised that Flora does not cry out in surprise or fright. When she questions Miles, she is aware of answering him “only with a vague repeated grimacing nod.” She always suppresses her urge to ask about the ghosts but instead cross-examines the children about what they say and do. If the children are innocent and do not see the ghosts, the governess’s behavior must seem strange and terrifying.