Summary of Section VI
The governess and Mrs. Grose shut themselves in the schoolroom to discuss the events. Mrs. Grose has seen nothing, but according to the narrator, she is sympathetic to the governess, accepts that she is not crazy for seeing the ghost, and they pledge to see the thing through together. The governess claims the ghost was looking for Miles. Mrs. Grose asks how she knows, and she replies that she just knows, insisting that Mrs. Grose knows this too. The ghost wants to be seen by the children, she is sure. She believes she can protect the children from seeing the ghost by offering herself as the victim.
The governess thinks it odd that the children have never mentioned Quint to her. Mrs. Grose thinks Flora is too young to remember much, but Quint spent a lot of time playing with Miles, and it was his own idea to do this. Mrs. Grose mentions that Quint was too free with everyone. The governess reflects that she has never heard gossip among the servants about Quint, and Bly does not seem to have a bad reputation. The governess grills Mrs. Grose about Quint and asks if he was bad? Mrs. Grose says she thought so, but the master did not. She never told tales about Quint to the master because he did not like that sort of thing, and besides, she was afraid of Quint. He was clever and “deep” (p. 27).
Mrs. Grose says Quint was sent to the country on account of his health by the master. Mrs. Grose is reduced to tears by the governess's shock that Quint should be in charge of the children, for clearly she did not believe he should be but did not feel she had any power to do anything about it.
From this time the governess watches over the children’s' every move and rarely gets a good night's sleep. She had kept nothing back from Mrs. Grose but feels the housekeeper had not told everything because of her fear. So far the governess is more upset by Quint's life than his ghost. He was found dead on the road with a blow to the head, but the inquest did not find if it was murder or an accident because he slipped while drunk. In either case, his life seemed violent and full of vices.
The governess is sustained now by her own heroism; she wants to do something noble with her life and save the children. She will try to screen them from evil. One afternoon while on a walk with Flora, she is aware of a third person watching them across the pond. She feels it is a ghost without looking and then watches Flora to see if she sees the apparition, but Flora turns her back to it and remains busy building a toy boat.
Commentary on Section VI
This is a very tense section of the story as the governess confirms Quint's identity, manner of death, and his influence on the children. It changes her, for now she has a noble purpose to live for, to save these innocents from evil. In addition, she becomes aware of a second ghost.
Some modern readers think the governess heavy-handed in her inquisition of Mrs. Grose, coming to the conclusion that Quint was after the children. In her favor is the fact that she seems to record when Mrs. Grose disagrees with her or is reluctant to come to the same conclusion. Seeming not in her favor is her extreme judging and assumption of evil. Things are black or white in her vocabulary. She admits that she would have gone mad if she had not begun to find more proof (i.e., the second ghost).
It is important to understand the genre James is using. It has been pointed out that there is a theological background involved with this kind of horror story. The trappings of the ghost story assume good and evil, divine and demonic, damnation and salvation, because supernatural phenomena are the source of its horror. Souls that die peacefully in a state of grace do not walk around after death as ghosts. Ghosts are associated with violence, tragedy, and evil. Some ghosts might merely be frightening or hold secrets, but there is also a strong tradition that ghosts are damned spirits who try to take others with them, tempting them to walk over cliffs, or commit evil acts. The governess is the daughter of a parson and has led a sheltered life. She has been brought up on good and evil and the duty of adults to protect the innocent. This is her first confrontation with the world and its ways. From what we gather about Quint, he was indeed an unsavory character, and it does seem odd that the employer would put him in charge of children, but then he is a bachelor and does not want to be troubled with the children. Taken from this point of view, the governess's reaction is not unreasonable. She is quite aware that she is alone because no one else can verify the ghosts, and of course, this is also a formula for ghost stories. No one believes the one who sees the ghost. This increases the horror.