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Plot Summary

The first scene in The Turn of the Screw is a fireside in the country where a mixed group of friends and acquaintances are telling ghost stories. The first-person narrator prevails on another man, named Douglas, to read a manuscript left to him by his sister's governess, to whom he was very close, and who left him the manuscript upon her death.

The first person now shifts to the governess, since Douglas is reading her account of the experience aloud. She was hired by a handsome and seductive young man to take care of his nephew and niece, whose parents died in India. He offers her a very generous amount of money, asks her to go live at his country estate in Bly, and says the main condition of the job is that she never write to him of her difficulties of any news of the children, because above all he doesn't want to be troubled.

She receives a warm welcome from the housekeeper, Mrs, Grose, and falls in love with her two charges, Miles and Flora, who are both beautiful, affectionate, precocious, and preternaturally charming. Miles is home from boarding school for the holidays-but before he arrives in the coach the governess receives a letter from his headmaster stating that he has been expelled. She does not ask him or Miles why, but instead keeps Miles at Bly for the summer, teaching him along with his little sister. Several weeks later, she begins to see strange chilling apparitions. She describes them to Mrs. Grose, who explains that they strongly resemble the former governess and the master's former valet-both now dead. Mrs. Grose also mentions that these two, Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, were "infamous" together and under close questioning ambiguously insinuates that Miss Jessel died of a miscarriage or faulty abortion when she left Bly for a short holiday. The apparitions come infrequently, but always in high places or across bodies of water, as if tempting the children into dangerous places.

The governess begins to worry that the children see the ghosts, and that they have been corrupted somehow. She fears they collude together to hide their familiarity with the evil ghosts from her, and there is a strange incident when Miles wanders outside in the middle of the night as Flora watches, and then later claims that he was just being bad to show the governess that he could be bad if he wanted to. The governess is afraid to say anything directly to the children, but watches over them like a hawk. She is also vaguely in love with her employer, and wants to heroically protect the children without saying a word to him. However, Miles begins to rebel against her care of him, and asks to be sent back to school so that he can be around other little boys.

The next day Flora disappears while the governess is distracted by listening to Miles play the piano. She rushes out to find her with Mrs. Grose, and locate Flora at the lake where the ghost of Miss Jessel had previously appeared. The governess asks Flora to admit that she is seeing the ghost, and Flora denies everything and becomes so upset that she soon develops a fever and a violent fear of seeing the governess again. The governess is afraid everything is lost, sends Flora to London with Mrs. Grose before Miles can talk to her, and resolves to save Miles on her own. She asks him why he was expelled. He begins to sweat and eventually says it was for saying things to other boys that he liked. He also admits to stealing a letter that the governess had finally decided to send to his uncle. During their talk, Quint's ghost appears to the governess, but Miles can't see it. He frantically asks the governess where it is, then utters a despairing cry and his heart stops beating as she holds him very tightly in her arms.

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Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Framing Scene
Chapters 1, 2, and 3
Chapters 4, 5, and 6
Chapters 7, 8, and 9
Chapters 10, 11, and 12
Chapters 13, 14, and 15
Chapters 16, 17, and 18
Chapters 19, 20, and 21
Chapters 22, 23, and 24


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