In an old country house on Christmas Eve a group of people are telling ghost stories when one of them, an elderly man named Douglas, promises to read them the most horrifying story of ghostly apparitions he has ever known, a first-hand, first-person account which had been entrusted to him some forty years earlier by the woman who wrote it. He sends to London for the manuscript which arrives three days later. Before he starts reading, Douglas explains how the author of the memoir had obtained the post of governess to two orphaned children abandoned by their uncle/guardian at his country estate and how, despite her youth and lack of experience, the uncle expressly instructed her that she should take on total responsibility for the children and never involve him in her decisions. Douglas refuses to anticipate any details of the tale except to heighten his listeners' curiosity by saying that the governess was in love with the uncle. Once he begins reading, he never adds any commentary so that the whole experience is narrated from the point of view of the governess, whose name is never revealed.
As the governess recalls, at first she was enchanted by the beautiful grounds and mansion at Bly and delighted with her charming and angelic young pupils, Flora and Miles. The only disquieting factors were Miles's dismissal from school for unspecified reasons and the information provided by the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, that the children's former preceptors, Peter Quint...
(The entire section is 1561 words.)
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Any discussion of The Turn of the Screw would be incomplete without addressing all of the major themes that various critics have identified in this ambiguous tale. The first and most apparent theme is that of ghosts. When the governess first arrives at Bly, she hears some traditionally ghostlike activity, the faint "cry of a child," and the sound of "a light footstep" outside her door. She pays no attention to these sounds, but a short while later, upon the second sighting of a man who she thinks is an intruder, she chases the man. However, as the governess notes, when she comes around the corner where the man was standing, "my visitor had vanished." When the governess sees Miss Jessel the first time, she notes the "identity of the apparition," using a word that is commonly associated with ghosts. The governess uses the word again when she sees Quint on the stairs, but it is curious to note that Quint appears "as human and hideous as a real interview," as opposed to appearing faint or ethereal, like many other traditional ghosts.
Good versus Evil
Even though the ghosts appear as human, the governess makes it very clear that they are evil and that hers is a fight of good against evil. When she is first talking with Mrs. Grose about Quint, she identifies the ghost as "a horror." Later, when she has learned the identities of the ghosts, she describes them, even in their earthly life, as "fiends."...
(The entire section is 695 words.)