The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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‘ “You like them with the spirit to be naughty?”’ – This indicates that Miles will not have been strictly checked in his behaviour, at least by Mrs Grose. The latter’s attitude – that ‘boys will be boys’ – is not unusual and, indeed, can be seen as quite sensible, though it implies that girls are treated to a different standard.

‘ “Are you afraid he’ll corrupt YOU?”’ – This is an intriguing question. The narrator has already been revealed as so susceptible to the influence of the children in her care that her being ‘corrupted’ in some way by Miles is not, actually, out of the question.

‘almost as young and almost as pretty, miss, even as you.’ – Mrs Grose tends to judge by appearances. She obviously likes the new governess, in part at least, because she is ‘young’ and ‘pretty’, and that is, no doubt, a large part of her doting on Flora.

‘ “Ah, then, I hope her youth and her beauty helped her!”’ – The narrator deflects the compliment with the equivalent of: ‘Well, my looks haven’t helped me very much.’ Although of good family, the narrator is not wealthy, which is why she has had to accept paid employment. Without some money behind her, it would be difficult for her to find a husband, despite her good looks. We recall that ‘Douglas’ fell for her many years after the events recorded here.

‘ “I mean that’s HIS way – the master’s.”’ – It was Peter Quint who hired the previous governess, which explains Mrs Grose’s slip. She doesn’t want the narrator to know about Quint.

‘I had a scruple, but I overcame it.’ – The ‘scruple’ is over inquiring about the competence of her predecessor.

‘ “About some things – yes.”’ – The previous governess had an affair with Quint: she was therefore not ‘particular’ about him.

‘ “No – she went off.”’ – She may have been dismissed. Alternatively, she may have simply chosen to leave. The possibility that she was pregnant with Quint’s child cannot be ruled out.

‘ “He never told me! […]”’ – A ‘turn of screw’ at the end of the chapter to add to the sense of mystery, but it is conceivable that the former governess died in childbirth, or perhaps from an illness she contracted from Quint, who also dies at about the same time from an injury, as the reader learns later.

III [The vision of Quint’s ghost on the battlements of the tower]

‘my stupefaction, my general emotion: so monstrous was I then ready to pronounce it that such a child […] should be under an interdict.’ – The narrator begins her veneration of Miles in a typically extreme fashion. The word ‘interdict’ means a prohibition: in Miles’s case he is prohibited from returning to his school.

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Henry James