Summary of Section VIII
Mrs. Grose and the governess have a meeting at night in the governess's room to go over the facts. Though Mrs. Grose never sees the ghosts, the narrator reminds her that she was able to describe Quint and Miss Jessel in detail before hearing about them. That is her main defense. She is confused, however, to look into Flora's innocent eyes and to think that she could be a cunning liar. She goes over and over the experience with Flora, convinced she is right, so she asks Mrs. Grose again about Miles's behavior, whether he has ever been bad? Finally Mrs. Grose admits that Quint and Miles had been together all the time for several months. When she reminded Miles he should not spend so much time with a servant, Miles would make excuses or pretend Quint was his tutor. Miss Jessel had not objected.
At this point, the governess begins to badger and cross-examine Mrs. Grose to admit that Miles knew of the relationship between Quint and Miss Jessel, but Mrs. Grose backs down under this pressure. She turns on the governess, asking if she suspects Miles of concealing the nature of his relationship with Quint. The governess says she can only wait and watch.
Commentary on Section VIII
The horrors keep increasing. This section turns on what possible sexual knowledge the children, particularly Miles, may have. Did he know of the affair Quint was having? It is implied that the children have somehow been initiated into sexual awareness by being with the governess and Quint, or perhaps worse. Quint might have been sexually abusing Miles. With all the evidence about Quint's character and his having his way with everyone, it is suspicious that he was left alone with the boy. It was not really proper of the governess, Miss Jessel, to allow this, and even Mrs. Grose knows this, though there is not much they could have done if the employer left Quint in charge. There is no absolute proof of anything wrong, but James, through innuendos and the conversation between Mrs. Grose and the governess, conducted in incomplete phrases, makes it seem the mind of the governess is entertaining such a horrifying possibility. She repeats that at first she will not think this conclusion, and later, she says she cannot avoid thinking this.
The narrative forces characters and readers alike to contemplate the worst horrors one can imagine. We see the governess getting more desperate as she forces confessions from Mrs. Grose. She does make it clear, however, that Mrs. Grose is not ready to go this far in her assumptions, for Miles still looks like an angel. It is obvious from the first person narrative that the governess is feeling more and more stress and that it affects her. Does it overpower her sanity? That is a matter of interpretation. She always appears to try to go step by step in a rational investigation, but the impressions she receives from Mrs. Grose are taking their toll on her. This again is part of the ghost story formula. Some innocent or unsuspecting person discovers an evil mystery and hovers on the brink of madness.