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The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw Summary


Here you will find a The Turn of the Screw summary (Henry James's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Turn of the Screw Summary Overview

A tale is recounted from a past Christmas Eve gathering, where attendees shared ghost stories in a historical home. One guest, Douglas, shared an eerie tale involving a young governess, his sister, who cared for two children, Flora and Miles, after their former governess passed away. The children lived in a secluded country house under the guardianship of a charming bachelor. The recounting of this tale transitions to the perspective of the governess, detailing her peculiar encounters. On her arrival at Bly, the country house, the governess is introduced to Flora and a housemaid, Mrs. Grose, which assuages her initial anxiety. However, she soon learns of Miles' expulsion from school, the reasons for which are unclear. This unsettling news prompts her to seek more information from Mrs. Grose, but she is placated when assured of Miles' typical boyish behavior. One evening, the governess encounters a strange man within the grounds of the house twice. Mrs. Grose identifies the man as Peter Quint, a former valet, now deceased. The governess becomes convinced that this apparition is after Miles, leading her to oversee the children more strictly. During a lakeside visit with Flora, she perceives the specter of her predecessor, Miss Jessel, and suspects Flora of hiding this eerie presence. Mrs. Grose subsequently reveals the inappropriate relationships Quint and Miss Jessel had with the children. The peaceful atmosphere is disrupted when the governess has another encounter with Quint, this time on the staircase after a gust of wind put out her candle. Following this event, she finds Flora hiding in her room and, in the following nights, sees the ghost of Miss Jessel. After a discussion with Mrs. Grose about the children's peculiar behavior and her suspicions of them meeting the ghosts, the governess resolves to contact their guardian. At the same time, she threatens to leave if Mrs. Grose contacts him. However, after another encounter with Miss Jessel's ghost, she ultimately decides to stay. One evening, the governess questions Miles about his behavior and the missing letter she had intended to send to their guardian, which he admits to taking. In the final chilling encounter, the governess sees Quint outside, and as Miles looks for him, he suddenly dies in her arms.


At a social gathering, the attendees share ghost stories. The notion of a ghost haunting children emerges as particularly unsettling. An older guest, Douglas, reveals that he knows a tale of a ghost visiting two children. The group is intrigued but Douglas insists he must retrieve the written account from his London home. The account was authored by the governess to his sister's kids, with whom Douglas had a romantic interest. Once the manuscript arrives, Douglas offers some context before sharing the story with the crowd. The author, a young woman of twenty just out of school, had taken a job as a governess in response to an ad. Her employer was a rich and handsome bachelor looking after his orphaned niece and nephew in a secluded country home. The job was lonely and required her to handle all issues independently without contacting her employer. Despite these challenges, she accepted the job, possibly due to her attraction to her employer.

chapter 1

The story starts as the governess journeys to Bly, a rural estate in Essex, England. She's introduced to the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, and Flora, the younger of her two wards, a remarkably pretty and captivating child. From her room, the governess thinks she hears a distant child's footsteps and sobs, but she brushes it off, hopeful for the chance to educate and influence her lovely ward. During a conversation with Mrs. Grose, the subject of Flora's brother comes up. Mrs. Grose praises the boy's attractiveness, and the governess impulsively comments on how good-looking her employer is. Mrs. Grose informs her that Flora's brother will be arriving on Friday. The governess decides that she and Flora should greet him together. The following day is spent entirely with Flora, being shown around the house with evident joy. Looking back, the governess recalls her initial optimism about her new role, contrasting it with her current view of Bly as "ugly" and a rudderless ship where she is captain.

chapter 2

Accompanied by Flora, the governess heads to meet Miles. She's troubled by a letter from her boss received on her first day, which enclosed another note from Miles's headmaster stating his expulsion from school. Worried that Miles could be problematic and aware that she has promised to handle it herself, she consults Mrs. Grose. Mrs. Grose, equally unsettled, seems clueless about the reasons for Miles's expulsion. Later, the governess asks Mrs. Grose again if Miles has ever been troublesome. Mrs. Grose insinuates that Miles had occasionally acted up, attributing it to typical boyish behavior. Shortly before departing to see Miles, the governess questions Mrs. Grose about the former governess. Mrs. Grose portrays her as youthful and attractive but avoids discussing her death, insisting she doesn't know the cause of the young lady's demise.

chapter 3

After being delayed in fetching Miles, the governess is struck by his resemblance to Flora in terms of beauty and innocence. She meets with Mrs. Grose back at Bly and dismisses any accusations against Miles based on his charming demeanor. She decides not to act on the matter of his expulsion, with Mrs. Grose supporting her decision, leading to a show of affection between them. She soon gets busy with her duties and finds her students cause her minimal issues. One evening, during her personal time, she strolls around the estate, daydreaming about a possible encounter with her employer. Upon returning, she spots a mysterious man atop a tower of the house, watching her. This sighting results in a moment of silence and stillness. Her encounter with this man is short yet intense before he moves from one corner of the tower to the other, all while maintaining his gaze on her. In hindsight, she recalls the man's unwavering stare as he moved away.

chapter 4

Baffled, the governess ponders on Bly's potential secrets. She encounters Mrs. Grose and justifies her late return with the evening's charm. The governess spends days contemplating her unexpected encounter with the stranger, while managing to pass quality time with Flora and Miles. However, being curious about Miles's expulsion, she finally concludes that he was probably too cultured for the “horrid, unclean school-world” which led to his punishment. Even though she cherishes her responsibility, she worries about the children's lack of personal history. On a certain Sunday, instead of meeting Mrs. Grose for church, the governess is startled to see the stranger from the tower, peering at her through the dining room window. She rushes outside to confront him but finds him gone. She attempts to recreate his position at the window when Mrs. Grose walks into the dining room, only to be shocked by the sight of the governess gazing in from outside.

chapter 5

Out of breath, Mrs. Grose inquires why the governess appears so terrified. She replies that she can't attend church, explaining that what she recently witnessed was far more alarming than what Mrs. Grose had seen. She proceeds to recount her encounters with the uninvited man at the window and previously at the tower, terrifying her co-worker. Describing the man as a "horror," she feels obliged to stay home and guard it instead of going to church. When asked about the man's appearance, she describes him as hatless, with flaming red hair and a pallid complexion. Upon hearing this, Mrs. Grose identifies him as Peter Quint, the previous valet of her employer. Probing further, the governess learns from Mrs. Grose that Quint was managing Bly the previous year until his demise.

chapter 6

In a conversation between the governess and Mrs. Grose, they ponder over the governess's interaction with what they believe to be the apparition of Peter Quint. The governess suddenly realizes that Quint was searching for Miles. She is curious about why neither of the children ever spoke of him. Mrs. Grose discloses Quint's inappropriate relationship with Miles. The governess, disturbed by Quint's ghostly image, struggles to sleep and insists on something more to the story that Mrs. Grose isn't sharing. Seeing the circumstances as an opportunity for bravery, the governess enthusiastically steps into the role of Miles and Flora’s guardian. While watching Flora play near the lake with Miles indoors, she senses another entity. Her attention is on Flora, who is busy crafting a tiny wooden boat, seemingly unaware of anything unusual. The governess then shifts her gaze towards the uninvited guest.

chapter 7

The tale advances to the afternoon when the governess shares her disturbing encounter with Mrs. Grose. She insists the children are hiding something, as Flora spotted a woman near the lake but didn't mention it. The governess describes the figure as a terrifying woman in black, who suddenly appeared. When Mrs. Grose interrogates further, the governess reveals she believes the woman to be Miss Jessel, her predecessor, and is sure Flora will deceive them about it. Despite this, Mrs. Grose maintains Flora's innocence. The governess then explains that Miss Jessel seemed to have captivated Flora with her determined gaze, and makes a note of her striking beauty. This prompts Mrs. Grose to label Miss Jessel as "infamous" and discloses she had an improper affair with Quint. Distressed, the governess clings to Mrs. Grose, mourning that she's losing control over the children.

chapter 8

In a later conversation, the governess and Mrs. Grose decide to stay vigilant. They have a talk in the governess's quarters that night, which persuades the governess of Mrs. Grose's trust. Regretful of her earlier suspicion, the governess apologizes for doubting Flora. She then questions Mrs. Grose about instances of Miles's past misbehavior. After some probing, Mrs. Grose reveals that she was referring to the period Miles spent with Quint. Mrs. Grose defends Miles, noting that Miss Jessel didn't object to his relationship with Quint. Annoyed by the governess's persistent inquiries, Mrs. Grose shoots back a few sharp responses. The governess surmises from Mrs. Grose's disclosures and silence that she agrees with her deductions. Mrs. Grose verifies that when Miles was with Quint, Flora was with Miss Jessel. As Mrs. Grose continues to protect Miles, the governess reassures her that she won't accuse anyone without substantial proof and decides to wait it out.

chapter 9

A period of tranquility ensues, during which the governess constantly supervises the children. She feels her affection for her students increasing, leading her to ponder if they're aware of her doubts. Similarly, the kids grow more attached to their governess, striving to keep her happy. However, the governess senses this heightened affection might have an ulterior motive. This calm period ends abruptly one evening. A sudden fright interrupts the governess's late-night reading. Quietly, she leaves her room and positions herself at the top of the stairs. Out of the blue, her candle extinguishes, revealing the ghostly figure of Quint midway up the stairs. An intense staredown ensues, with the governess standing her ground. The eerie silence convinces her that the apparition is “unnatural.” She stands her ground and watches as the figure vanishes.

chapter 10

Immediately after returning to her quarters, the governess realizes Flora is not in bed and the curtains had been mysteriously closed. Distressed, she sees movement behind the window blind, out of which Flora steps with a serious look. Flora criticizes the governess for her absence and explains that she felt the governess was gone and thought she heard someone in the grounds, though she insists no one was there. The governess doesn't believe Flora and interrogates her about the closed bed curtains, to which Flora explains she didn't want to scare the governess who could have returned unexpectedly. From then on, the governess spends most nights awake. During one of these nights, she sees the ghost of Miss Jessel, sadly sitting at the bottom of the stairs before disappearing instantly. Several uneventful nights pass. The night she finally goes to bed at her usual time, she wakes up past midnight to find her light turned off. Believing it was Flora, she leaves her bed and sees Flora at the window. The governess concludes that Flora is interacting with Miss Jessel's ghost. She carefully leaves the room to find another room with a view of the same area. From there, she notices Miles on the lawn.

chapter 11

Following a supervised outing with the children, the governess confides in Mrs. Grose about Miles's recent misbehavior. She recounts her exchange with Miles after discovering him outdoors in the moonlight. Miles had quickly approached her on sight, and without a word, she escorted him back indoors. There, she queried Miles about his actions. Miles, grinning, confessed his desire for the governess to perceive him as capable of wrongdoing or being "bad". He further elaborated on his plan, revealing that he and Flora conspired to unsettle the governess, prompting her to investigate. Much to his delight, their scheme had worked, and he gloated over his triumph, cherishing the sense of being “bad enough". Their discussion concluded with an embrace.

chapter 12

The governess conveys to Mrs. Grose her belief that the children are regularly conversing with the apparitions of Quint and Miss Jessel. She further suggests that during their walks, the kids are discussing dreadful things and planning their future encounters with the spirits. She theorizes that the children's lives are no longer their own but belong to Quint and Miss Jessel, who she believes are intent on causing their ruin to continue their wicked deeds. Mrs. Grose proposes that the governess should request their employer to remove the children. However, the governess dismisses this idea, fearing that he might consider her insane. Mrs. Grose then offers another approach, suggesting the governess could compel their employer to visit herself. The governess, however, anticipates his ridicule, believing he'd perceive her as being isolated. She warns Mrs. Grose that she will quit if she contacts their employer on her behalf.

chapter 13

The governess senses that the kids know her awareness of their bonds with Quint and Miss Jessel. Their discussions stay clear of these edgy topics, while she keeps retelling her own past to keep the conversation going. As the season shifts to fall, the governess starts to worry that the kids are secretly interacting with unseen figures right under her nose, even though they become more endearing each passing day. She finds herself unable to bring up Quint and Miss Jessel in her talks with the kids, and thus practices alone in a room. But she's still unable to do so and ends up talking more, only to be startled by unexpected quiet moments. These silent moments during their company are becoming the norm, yet none of them admit they exist. The kids start questioning the governess about their uncle's absence and lack of communication. She encourages them to write him letters, but just as a learning task.

chapter 14

While journeying to church, the governess is joined by Miles who initiates a discussion about his return to school. Tired of the female company, he argues he has been well-behaved, except for a single night. The governess makes an unsuccessful attempt to get him to reveal why he was kicked out of school. Miles insists on returning to school to mingle with his "own sort," a comment the governess jests about, citing Flora as his only "sort." As they approach the church, Miles questions if his uncle approves of the governess's views, to which she responds she doubts his uncle is invested in his situation. Miles reacts to this by boldly asserting he'll compel his uncle to visit Bly and show concern, before confidently striding into church on his own.

chapter 15

The governess departs from church, stunned by Miles' noticeable awareness and scheming. She walks back to Bly, overcome with a sudden urge to escape, and sits down on the staircase. However, she quickly stands up, haunted by the memory of Miss Jessel occupying the same spot during their last meeting. She then moves towards the schoolroom and finds Miss Jessel at the table, her head in her hands, as before. Despite the governess's arrival, the ghost stands up, seemingly indifferent. Miss Jessel, standing close-by, stares at the governess. This intense gaze upsets the governess, making her feel like an intruder. She calls out to the ghost, labeling her a "terrible, miserable woman." Miss Jessel seems to comprehend and then disappears. The room is left bathed in sunlight, and the governess is filled with a compelling belief that she should remain at Bly.

chapter 16

After returning from church, Mrs. Grose and the children behave as if the governess's absence is normal. The affected governess finds a private moment with Mrs. Grose to question whether the children had asked her to keep quiet. Mrs. Grose confirms this, explaining they believed the governess would be happier if they didn't mention it and aimed to please her. The governess reveals to Mrs. Grose that she had a discussion with Miss Jessel, who she claims spoke about the sufferings of the dead and the ghost’s desire for Flora. The governess then decides to contact the children's uncle, a decision that relieves Mrs. Grose. They debate about why Miles was expelled, with the governess concluding it was due to his 'wickedness'. Mrs. Grose defends Miles, blaming herself for his association with Quint and offers to write to the uncle. The governess, however, mockingly asks if she plans to pen down their extraordinary tale. Tearfully, Mrs. Grose pleads for the governess to write the letter. They agree that the governess will draft the letter that night and then separate.

chapter 17

In a windy evening, the governess is busy drafting a letter to the children's uncle. She becomes restless and decides to check on Miles in his room. The moment she arrives at his door, Miles invites her in, he was aware of her presence. Once inside, Miles initiates a conversation about the "queer business" of his upbringing. The governess is taken aback and asks him to explain, but he insists she already knows what he means. She then informs him about her plans of sending him back to school. She admits that she was unaware of his wish to go back as he had never mentioned it before. To this, he questions, “[H]aven’t I?” The governess is moved by his reaction and reiterates that he had never expressed any interest in school before and she had assumed he was satisfied at Bly. Miles then expresses his desire to "get away." When asked for details, he insists she must know what a boy his age desires. He dismisses the idea of going to his uncle's place, instead, he insists that the uncle should come to Bly. This leads the governess to probe further into the things he had kept from her. Miles's calm demeanor and desire for a change of environment move the governess to embrace him. After the display of affection, he requests her to "let [him] alone." She attempts again to uncover the reason for his past expulsion. Upon seeing a glimmer of willingness in him to share, she embraces him again. Suddenly, the room goes dark following a cold gust of wind and Miles screams. The governess realizes that the candle went out, but Miles reveals that he was the one who blew it out.

chapter 18

The following day, Mrs. Grose inquires if the governess has penned the letter. She confirms she has but omits the fact that it remains unsent. On this day, the children excel in their lessons. Post meal, Miles offers to entertain the governess with his piano skills. His performance enchants her so much that she loses track of time and suddenly notices Flora's absence. When she questions Miles about Flora, he feigns ignorance and chuckles. Despite her best efforts, the governess doesn't find Flora in her room, other parts of the house, or with Mrs. Grose and the housemaids. She senses Flora is “at a distance” and suggests she might be with Miss Jessel. When Mrs. Grose asks about Miles, the governess suggests he's probably with Quint in the schoolroom. She then announces that they've been duped and tells Mrs. Grose that Miles had intentionally distracted her. On being asked about the letter, the governess fetches it from her pocket and leaves it on a table for a servant named Luke to dispatch. Even though Mrs. Grose is reluctant to leave Miles, the governess convinces her to join the search for Flora outdoors.

chapter 19

The governess and Mrs. Grose venture to the lake, with the governess certain that Flora has escaped to the spot where the ghostly figure of Miss Jessel was sighted. However, Flora is nowhere to be found and neither is the boat, leading the governess to believe Flora has used it. They eventually stumble upon the boat, and soon after, Flora who is beaming. Flora, holding a piece of fern, awaits the two women. As Mrs. Grose hugs Flora tightly, Flora casts a solemn look at the governess over Mrs. Grose's shoulder before being released. Flora breaks the silence, questioning the whereabouts of their "things", noting they're all hatless. She also inquires about Miles. In response, the governess proposes a deal: she'll reveal Miles's location if Flora discloses Miss Jessel's.

chapter 20

Flora shoots an angry look at the governess, prompting Mrs. Grose to express her shock. The governess points out Miss Jessel on the far shore, thrilled to have tangible evidence. Unexpectedly, Flora directs her anger towards the governess instead of noticing Miss Jessel. Mrs. Grose voices her confusion, unable to see what the governess is pointing out. Despite the governess' repeated attempts to get her to see Miss Jessel, Mrs. Grose sees nothing and insists they head back home. Transformed by anger, Flora denies seeing anything unusual and pleads with Mrs. Grose to distance her from the governess. The governess, convinced that Flora is possessed by Miss Jessel, labels Flora as 'lost' and orders Mrs. Grose to leave. After conceding to her sorrow for a while, the governess finally returns home, noticing that the boat is back at its usual spot. Once home, she finds Flora behaving as usual and Miles joins them quietly.

chapter 21

The governess is awoken by Mrs. Grose with the information that Flora is unwell and scared of her. Mrs. Grose conveys that Flora hasn't mentioned Miss Jessel at all. The governess theorizes that Flora wants her gone and comes up with a strategy in which Mrs. Grose is to bring Flora to her uncle while the governess remains at Bly with Miles. She insists that Flora and Miles shouldn't interact before Flora leaves. Despite her doubts, Mrs. Grose agrees that Flora must depart immediately. She reveals that Flora has spoken disconcertingly about the governess, to which the governess responds with amusement, suggesting she knows where Flora learned such language. Mrs. Grose admits to believing the governess's assertions. When the governess recalls her letter, she assumes it should reach before Mrs. Grose, only to be informed by Mrs. Grose that the letter was never sent—Miles intercepted it. Mrs. Grose then suggests that Miles was possibly expelled for pilfering letters, to which the governess clarifies that the letter only contained a request for a meeting.

chapter 22

Now that Mrs. Grose and Flora have left, the governess's attention turns to her anticipated showdown with Miles. She perceives the domestic staff at Bly watching her, to which she responds by strutting around to seem "remarkably firm." Her display doesn't seem to impact Miles. A housemaid informs the governess that Miles had breakfast with Flora prior to her leaving. The governess prepares herself for a struggle "against nature," needing "only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue." The governess shares a meal with Miles, who enquires about his sister's health. She assures him that Flora will recover soon. He questions further, wondering if Flora's dislike for Bly happened abruptly. Their conversation persists, with the governess asserting that Flora's health was not so poor that she couldn't travel. Their dinner is short. After the meal and the waiter's departure, Miles declares that they are alone.

chapter 23

The governess suggests that they're not entirely alone, to which Miles concurs, referencing "the others." He gazes out the window, before expressing his satisfaction that Bly is in agreement with him. When asked if he enjoyed his day without restrictions, Miles bounces the question back to her. He implies that if they continue at Bly, she'll be lonelier than him. She admits she's stayed because she appreciates his company. Gloom clouds over Miles's face. They delicately avoid the topic she's eager to discuss. She insists the present is the right time and place, then inquires if he wants to venture out once more. He agrees, promising to disclose all later, but first needs to see Luke. She gives her permission but before he departs, she urges him to admit whether he took her letter.

chapter 24

Caught off guard during their chat, the caretaker notices Peter Quint peering through the window. She promptly brings Miles near her, shielding him from the view. Miles admits to filching the letter. Overwhelmed with relief, the caretaker hugs him, feeling his rapid heartbeat. He mentions he sought information about himself in the letter, only to find nothing and decided to burn it. The caretaker queries him about stealing letters at school. Miles is taken aback, wondering if she was aware of his expulsion from school. The caretaker insists she knows all. Miles refutes the accusation, stating he merely "said things" to boys he was fond of. The caretaker insists. Miles squirms, and she holds him tighter. Miles wonders if "she" is near. The caretaker confirms that the "coward horror" is present. Miles follows her gaze and identifies Peter Quint, shouting “[Y]ou devil!” and asking where. The caretaker hollers at the apparition and points to him. Miles's heart ceases to beat.

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