Turn of the Screw: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. “What took her most of all and gave her the courage she afterwards showed was that he put the whole thing to her as a favour, an obligation he should gratefully incur” (Prologue, p. 4).

    The narrator of the frame story explains what he learned from Douglas about the interview between the employer and the governess. The gentleman in London charmed the governess into feeling she was totally responsible for the situation at Bly and that he trusted her to do the right thing.

  2. “But our young lady never came back, and at the very moment I was expecting her I heard from the master that she was dead” (II, p. 13).

    Mrs. Grose the housekeeper explains to the governess what happened to the old governess, Miss Jessel. Her sudden death is an unexplained mystery.

  3. “It would have been impossible to carry a bad name with a greater sweetness of innocence . . .” (III, p. 13).

    The governess is puzzled why Miles was dismissed from school for some wickedness when he is like an angel in looks and behavior.

  4. “On the spot there came to me the added shock of a certitude that it was not for me he had come. He had come for some one else” (IV, pp. 20-21).

    The second time the governess sees the ghost of Quint, he is looking in the window at her in the dining room. She realizes he is looking around the room for someone else. This is before she even knows that Quint is a ghost, who Quint was, or his relationship to Miles.

  5. “They had nothing but me, and I—well, I had them. It was in short a magnificent chance . . . I was a screen—I was to stand before them” (VI, p. 28).

    The governess at first sees the situation with Quint's ghost as a chance to be a hero and earn the employer's respect. She wants to protect the children from the ghost(s).

  6. “No, no—there are depths, depths! The more I go over it the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear” (VII, p. 31).

    After the governess sees the ghost of Miss Jessel, she is certain Flora can see the ghost too but is pretending she cannot. This leads her on and on in her speculations of how much the ghosts have already influenced the children. She thinks they may be completely corrupted by evil.

  7. “Putting things at the worst, at all events, as in meditation I so often did, any clouding of their innocence could only be—blameless and foredoomed as they were—a reason the more for taking risks” (IX, p. 38).

    The governess believes the children to be lost souls, but she feels even more compelled to try to save them.

  8. “Looking down [the staircase] from the top I once recognized the presence of a woman seated on the lower steps with her back presented to me, her body half-bowed and her head, in an attitude of woe, in her hands” (X, p. 43).

    The governess sees the ghost of Miss Jessel on the stairway at night, as she had also seen Quint there. Miss Jessel's ghost is always in a depressed attitude, suggesting that she may have committed suicide.

  9. “'He's not reading to her,' I declared, 'they're talking of them—they're talking horrors! I go on, I know, as if I am crazy; and it's a wonder I'm not . . . it has only made me more lucid” (XII, p. 48).

    The governess and Mrs. Grose are watching the children on the lawn. Miles appears to be reading to Flora, but the governess claims they are secretly speaking of the ghosts. She knows she sounds crazy to Mrs. Grose but believes she is getting clearer and clearer about what is really going on at Bly.

  10.  “What it was least possible to get rid of was the cruel idea that, whatever I had seen, Miles and Flora saw more—things terrible and unguessable and that sprang from dreadful passages of intercourse in the past” (XIII, p. 53).

    The governess lets her imagination go, guessing what evil the children have seen with the ghosts, as James would like the reader to do.

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