The Turn of the Screw Places Discussed

Henry James

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Bly

Bly. Country house in Essex to which an unnamed young governess, the daughter of a clergyman, is sent to look after two orphaned children whose wealthy uncle lives in London. The large house has two extensive floors, two towers, and grounds that include a pathway to a lake—elements characteristic of residences in gothic stories.

The house is managed by Mrs. Grose, an illiterate but talkative housekeeper, who oversees at least two maids and two servants. The governess has her own room, in which the child Flora has a bed. Flora’s brother, Miles, has a bedroom across the hall. In the schoolroom and nursery, the governess instructs her charges and also listens to Miles at the piano. A winding staircase has a casement window at its landing. Among other downstairs rooms is a dining room with a large window. Several rooms are empty.

Strange sounds that the governess hears in the house make her increasingly aware that apparitions are present that only she seems to see. On one occasion, while she happens to be thinking of her absent employer, the children’s uncle in London, she looks up at one of Bly’s towers and sees, or believes she sees, the ghost of Peter Quint, who in life was the uncle’s valet. Drunken and vicious, he was also the lover of Miss Jessel, the former governess who also is now dead. Miss Jessel appears frequently to the governess and to the children, who refuse to admit the appearances. The governess suspects the children of seeking out the ghosts but can prove nothing.

Lake

Lake. Body of water on the estate where the governess, accompanied by Mrs. Grose, finds Flora playing with a mast on a tiny wooden boat. When the apparition of Miss Jessel appears by the child, Flora turns on the governess viciously and the latter faints. Each ghostly sighting causes the governess to jump to various conclusions, accurate or otherwise, depending on one’s evaluation of her psychological makeup.

The first appearances of the two evil ghosts, Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel, occur respectively on a tower and beside a lake, locations that could signify male and female sexuality, respectively. At the time of Miss Jessel’s appearance, Flora, who is being watched by the governess, is engaged in a game involving joining together two pieces of wood, a game that could also have sexual overtones to the governess.

Harley Street

Harley Street. Fashionable London street that later became famous as a region of well-to-do physicians’ offices. The children’s uncle lives on Harley Street, where he interviews the governess twice before hiring her. She is impressed by him and grows enamored.