The Turn of the Screw

Henry James

Chapters XIV, XV, XVI, and XVII

Summary Chapters XIV, XV, XVI, and XVII

Summary: Chapter XIV

The governess walks to church accompanied by Miles. Mrs. Grose and Flora are ahead of them, on their way to church as well. On the way, Miles brings up school, asking when he will be going back. He quickly adds that he has grown tired of always being around women and points out that he has been very well behaved, except for that one night. The governess interviews Miles carefully, trying to coax out of him the reason for his expulsion from school. She is unsuccessful. Miles maintains that he wants to go back to school to be around his “own sort,” to which the governess laughs and refers to Flora as the only example of his “sort” she knows. Nearing the gate for church, Miles asks whether his uncle agrees with the governess on the matter, and the governess tells Miles she doesn’t think his uncle cares about his situation. Triumphantly declaring that he will make his uncle come to Bly and care, Miles marches off into church alone.

Summary: Chapter XV

The governess turns away from church, feeling defeated by Miles and taken aback by the sudden revelation that he possesses “consciousness and a plan.” With the sudden intention of leaving Bly, she returns to the house and impulsively sits at the bottom of the staircase. She jumps up quickly, repulsed by the memory that the spot is the same place where Miss Jessel had sat during their last encounter. The governess heads for the schoolroom, where she finds Miss Jessel at the table, in the same position as before, with her head in her hands. The ghost rises with an air of indifference to the governess’s entrance. Standing not far from the governess, Miss Jessel stares intently at her. The governess is disturbed by the feeling that she is the one who is intruding and cries out to the ghost, calling her a “terrible, miserable woman.” Miss Jessel looks at the governess as though she understands, then vanishes. The room is now empty and bright with sunshine, and the governess has a strong feeling that she must stay on at Bly.

Summary: Chapter XVI

Mrs. Grose and the two children return home from church and act as though the governess’s absence is nothing unusual. The governess, hurt and upset, manages to get Mrs. Grose alone so that she can inquire as to whether the children “bribed her to silence.” Mrs. Grose confirms the governess’s suspicion, saying the children had asked her not to say anything. She says the children told her that the governess would be happier if they made no mention of it and that they must do all they can to please her. The governess tells Mrs. Grose that everything is “all out” between Miles and her, and she goes on to say that she has had “a talk” with Miss Jessel. When Mrs. Grose inquires further, the governess claims that Miss Jessel spoke of the torments of the dead and that the ghost wants Flora.

To Mrs. Grose’s relief, the governess says she will send for the children’s uncle. The two discuss the problem of Miles’s expulsion, with the governess deciding that the reason was “wickedness.” Mrs. Grose defends Miles, saying his relationship with Quint was not his fault and that she will take the blame. Mrs. Grose then offers to write to the uncle instead. The governess responds with sarcasm, asking her colleague if she wants to write out their fantastical story. Breaking down with tears in her eyes, Mrs. Grose entreats the governess to write the letter. The governess says she will write that evening, and the two separate.

Summary: Chapter XVII

The governess begins writing to the children’s uncle that windy evening. Restless, she gets up to listen at Miles’s door. Miles calls out for her to come in, saying he heard her walk across the passage. When the governess enters his room, Miles brings up the “queer business” of how the governess is bringing him up. Holding her breath, the governess asks what he means, to which he replies that she knows. She tells him he will go back to school and points out that she hadn’t known his desire to return because he had never spoken of it. Miles ponders and asks, “[H]aven’t I?” His expression triggers a pang in the governess. She confirms that no, he has never mentioned any detail about school, and she had always assumed that he was happy at Bly.

Miles shakes his head and says he wants to “get away.” When the governess asks him to clarify, he replies “[Y]ou know what a boy wants!” He rejects the idea of going to his uncle’s but declares that his uncle must come to Bly and settle things. At this, the governess begins to question Miles about things he hasn’t told her. Miles asserts that he wants a different environment with such serenity that the governess throws herself onto him with embraces. Miles lets her kiss him, then tells her to “let [him] alone.” The governess again tries to pry from him the reason for his expulsion. At his “quaver of consenting consciousness,” she embraces him again, when with a chilly gust, the room turns dark and Miles shrieks. The governess exclaims that the candle has gone out, and Miles says that it was he who blew it out.