daisy_ 2bmiller _1_.txt by tahirmehmood8



In the mid 1850s, a father made this observation about his
14-year-old son's unexceptional performance in school: "Harry
is not so fond of study, properly so-called, as of reading....
He has considerable talent as a writer, but I am at a loss to
know whether he will ever accomplish much." The father need not
have worried. Within fifty years, "Harry" (as family and
friends called Henry James) would be known among his peers as
"The Master." He is known to us today as one of the greatest
novelists to have written in English.

Henry James was born in New York City on April 15, 1843, into a
family that was as eccentric as it was wealthy and as brilliant
as it was eccentric. Henry James Sr., was a philosopher who
counted among his visitors many of the noted thinkers of the
day, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. His
oldest son, William, would in time also write on philosophy and
psychology, surpassing his father to become one of the most
important figures in American intellectual history. The James
family made frequent and lengthy trips through Europe, giving
the young Henry a formal education that was at best haphazard,
but also exposing him early to the continent, that would become
the setting and the subject of so much of his writing.

Wealth, leisure, and travel should perhaps have made Henry
James's childhood an idyll. But it was an idyll shadowed by
James's fears and insecurities. Compared to his confident older
brother, Henry felt frail and unmasculine; sometimes mocked by
other boys, he retreated into the company of his mother, sister,
and aunt. In 1860 the family had settled at Newport, Rhode
Island. There, the following year, while helping others fight a
stable fire, James suffered an injury he described as "a horrid
even if an obscure hurt." Throughout his life he remained as
mysterious about the specific nature of this injury as he would
be about the evil in The Turn of the Screw, but it severely
affected him. It prevented him from fighting in the Civil War.
Some critics also contend that it was the cause--or perhaps
simply the convenient excuse--behind James's apparently total
lifelong rejection of sexual relationships. In any case, the
physical and psychological pain it gave him was one more force
isolating him from the rest of the world. It was to compensate
for this sense of isolation, to make some connection with
others, that James turned to writing.

After giving formal schooling one final try at age 19 in a
miserable and unsuccessful year at Harvard Law School, James
determined to make literature his career. He began to publish
his first book reviews and stories. Some of these early works
have been described as being "like the faint and confused
murmurs of a sleeper who has something on his mind and is trying
to awaken," but they hint at the concerns of his later
masterpieces. Many of them were influenced by the work of an
earlier nineteenth-century writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who
shared with James a fascination with the supernatural, a concern
with the restraints that society places on the individual, and
an interest in the way the past shapes the present.

Where Hawthorne had been obsessed by the American past, however,
James was increasingly drawn to Europe. America, he tended to
feel, was too new, too raw, and too simple to inspire literature
of the highest caliber. He loved the complexities of life in
Europe--the sense of history, the traditions, the more elaborate
manners of a more formal society. He was also influenced by
European authors, notably the French writers Honore de Balzac
and Gustave Flaubert, the English writers George Eliot and
William Makepeace Thackeray, and the Russian writer Ivan

During the 1870s, James made several lengthy trips to Europe,
living first in Rome, then in Paris, and finally in England.
His decision to live abroad is considered the most important
decision of his career as a writer. For it was his years as an
American in Europe that provided him his greatest subject
matter--the stories of independent, confident, sometimes
dangerously naive residents of the new world confronting the
sophisticated, often corrupting subtleties of the old.

James explored this international theme (as it is usually
called) in his early novels, Roderick Hudson (1876) and The
American (1877) and in the first work that won him both critical
and popular acclaim, Daisy Miller. Though set in Europe, Daisy
Miller was in fact partly inspired by James's experiences in a
New York State resort, Saratoga. While writing a travel article
on the town, James was struck by the manners of the well-to-do
Americans he encountered there. The mothers and daughters all
seemed dressed up to do nothing; the teen-aged girls seemed
particularly idle. The younger children were wildly
undisciplined, allowed to stay up until all hours of the night
and often found dozing in the armchairs of hotel lobbies. Here
were the prototypes of Mrs. Miller, Daisy, and her brother

The rest of the inspiration came from Europe, however. During a
visit to Rome, Henry walked to the Colosseum with his brother,
William. It was a winter evening. The ruin loomed half in
moonlight and half in shadow. Standing on the spot where so
many Christians had been thrown to the lions horrified William,
but Henry saw beauty as well as tragedy in the Colosseum. He
would soon choose this exact setting for the climax of Daisy

On another visit to Rome, James discovered the specific
situation that would suggest his tale. A friend told a very
sketchy anecdote about an "uninformed" American girl who had
picked up a very handsome Italian man with no social standing.
The well-meaning girl had introduced her friend to the very
selective American society in Rome, by whose standards he was
considered "low life." They promptly showed their disapproval by
snubbing the innocent girl.

In 1876, Daisy Miller: A Study was published in England's
Cornhill Magazine to instant success. Initially rejected by an
American publisher, the story achieved such popularity in
England that it was quickly printed in the United States without
James's authorization. By the time James could have it
legitimately published in the U.S., most people had read the
pirated edition. No work of his, except for The Turn of the
Screw, would ever equal Daisy Miller in popularity. But his
earnings from the sale of Daisy Miller in the United States
amounted to only about two hundred dollars.

Daisy Miller was a cultural phenomenon not unlike a hit movie or
number one song today. Impulsive American girls traveling in
Europe were suddenly referred to as "Daisy Millers." There were
even "Daisy Miller" hats in the stores. A writer named Virginia
W. Johnson published An English Daisy Miller, with an English
girl as its heroine.

Daisy's fame would follow Henry James throughout his life,
occasionally to his chagrin. In the 1880s he followed Daisy
with a string of fine novels--including one, The Portrait of a
Lady (1881) that in many ways expands and deepens the themes and
characters of Daisy Miller--but none of them attracted the
reading audience of his simpler, earlier tale.

In the early 1890s James made several disastrous attempts to
write plays. Yet he was too much the disciplined professional
to abandon writing, or even remain very discouraged for long.
By the late 1890s he was again producing fine work, including
the novels The Spoils of Poynton (1896) and What Maisie Knew
(1897) and the ghostly tale, The Turn of the Screw (1898).

When Henry James was 12, Frank Leslie's New York Journal
serialized a story entitled, "Temptation"--a tale of evil
populated by governesses; housekeepers; valets; a brother and
sister victimized by "horrors"; and by a villain named Peter
Quin and his sidekick, Miles. Over 40 years later, James
serialized his own tale of evil, replete with governesses; a
housekeeper; sister and brother (named Miles) victimized by
horrors; and a villainous valet named Peter Quint. He called
his tale The Turn of the Screw.

James's interest in the supernatural was strong, and it figured
in a number of his stories of the 1890s. Yet The Turn of the
Screw seemed to tap something particularly deep in his emotions.
As he was writing about the country house, Bly, he was preparing
to move into a similar country estate, Lamb House. Describing
the complicated feelings James had for Lamb House, his
biographer, Leon Edel, wrote: "The house symbolized the world
of his childhood, the place where he had been least free, where
he had had to resort to disguise and subterfuge in order to
possess himself and his identity." There are other connections
between the story and James's own life. Like Miles's childhood,
James's was spent in the company of women. His own boyhood
governess was let go from the family's employ, "a cloud of
revelations succeeding her withdrawal." Perhaps it was on this
character in his own past that he based Miss Jessel.

When The Turn of the Screw appeared in installments in Collier's
Weekly in 1898, James was flooded with letters from readers who
were eager to have the story's mystery solved for them. Not
since the publication of Daisy Miller twenty years earlier had
he produced a work that evoked such a response from the public.
James teased his readers by calling the story "a trap for the
unwary," but never explained the mystery. And in some ways the
mystery has deepened since. In 1934 the noted American critic
Edmund Wilson wrote that the ghosts the governess supposedly
sees in the tale aren't real at all, but instead are merely
figments of her troubled imagination. In his view, and in the
view of many other critics, The Turn of the Screw is not really
a ghost story but rather a study of a deeply disturbed mind.
Are the ghosts real or not? Is the governess sane or not? It's
in part because of these ambiguities that The Turn of the Screw
is regarded not merely as a fine tale of the supernatural but as
one of the finest stories--of any category--in world

After the turn of the century, James produced in quick
succession two studies of adultery which are perhaps his
greatest novels: The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl
(1904). This flurry of activity was followed from 1907 to 1909
by the issue of The Novels and Tales of Henry James, New York
Edition, a multivolume collection for which James made many
revisions in his work. The prefaces he wrote for this edition,
according to Leon Edel, gave James a chance "to say what he
hoped all his life the critics would say for him." Taken
together, these prefaces constitute his theory of the novel.

Henry James had a profound influence on the development of the
modern novel. Much of his literary innovation is related to the
scientific innovation of the time, in particular to the work of
his brother William. Psychology was a new science in Henry
James's day; William James is credited with doing much to
introduce the discipline to the medical community and to the
general public. As a writer of fiction, James worked in the
same direction. He explored what his characters were thinking
as well as what they were doing. To that end he sought a prose
style that would accurately follow the twists and turns of
peoples' thoughts. It's a style that struck many readers of his
day (and some today) as unnecessarily abstract and convoluted,
but that for many others is a brilliant mirroring of the way the
human mind works. This skill led the great twentieth-century
American poet, Ezra Pound, to describe James's writing as "pages
of diagnosis."
James also experimented with restricting the point of view in
his fiction. Rather than have a narrator tell you what to
think, James allows you to hear characters--for example, the
governess who narrates most of The Turn of the Screw--express
their own thoughts. You are then free to make up your own mind
about them.

With these experiments, James was developing the psychological
novel, a form in which the inner lives of the characters receive
more attention than do their external actions. He was paving
the way for the more modern literary form known as "stream of
consciousness," where the prose reflects the supposedly unedited
internal thoughts of the characters. (This phrase, often used
to describe novels by twentieth-century writers like James Joyce
and Virginia Woolf, itself comes from the work of William

James was highly productive: among his works are twenty novels,
one hundred twelve tales, several plays, autobiographical
writings, literary studies, and travel impressions. He was also
highly social: though he never married, he was a frequent
dinner and weekend guest in English aristocratic and literary
circles, circles in which he observed much of the behavior that
found its way into his works. Though he associated with the
very rich, he was never really one of them--the image of him as
an independently wealthy man who could afford the luxury of
being a writer has been proved untrue, for throughout his
lifetime he supported himself on the modest income from his
writing. The money he borrowed from his father was repaid with
earnings from literary endeavors, and the small inheritance he
received upon his father's death was contributed to the support
of his ill sister Alice. Particularly toward the end of his
life, his friends worried about his finances, knowing that his
books had not brought him the monetary rewards their artistry
deserved. One close friend, the wealthy American novelist Edith
Wharton, even arranged to pay James $8,000, disguising the gift
(which she knew the proud James would never accept) as an
advance from his publisher.

Near the end of his life, James formalized the process of
Europeanization he had begun so many years before by taking out
British citizenship in support of a country that had just
entered World War I. He actively engaged in war relief work
until his health failed in 1916. On his death, few of his many
books were in print. It would take two decades for his work to
be rediscovered by the public. But James's writing had a
profound influence on many distinguished writers, including
Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Katherine Anne Porter, Edith
Wharton, and Virginia Woolf.

Henry James is often called "a writer's writer," meaning that he
is highly regarded by those people who can best appreciate his
skill. For the novice writer, Henry James had advice that will
also serve his readers well: "Try to be one of the people on
whom nothing is lost!"


In the Swiss resort of Vevey, a handsome young American named
Frederick Winterbourne has arrived to visit his wealthy aunt,
Mrs. Costello. At his hotel, he meets a rude American boy
named Randolph Miller and, moments later, the boy's beautiful
and independent older sister, Daisy. Winterbourne, who has
lived abroad long enough to become well-versed in European
customs and manners, has never met anyone like Daisy. He finds
her flirting charming, even if unorthodox--perhaps even
outrageous--by European standards.

Daisy announces her desire to visit a nearby medieval castle,
and Winterbourne offers to take her. To his utter amazement,
Daisy starts making plans to go with him--alone. Her
arrangements include neither her mother, her brother, nor her
family's courier. Winterbourne can't believe his ears. A young
unmarried European woman wouldn't even listen to the suggestion
of such an unchaperoned trip, much less propose one herself.
Stranger still is the fact that Daisy's mother doesn't seem to
object to the idea. Winterbourne's proper aunt, Mrs. Costello,
is appalled, though. She won't let her nephew introduce her to
these uncultured Americans.

Winterbourne and Daisy make their trip to the castle, but it's
less of a romantic adventure than Winterbourne had hoped it
would be. He finds some satisfaction, however, when Daisy
discovers his plans to return to Geneva the next day and is
furious that their time together has been cut short.
Winterbourne assures her they'll meet again that winter in Rome,
where her family and his aunt will be visiting at the same

Winterbourne arrives in Rome the following winter, expecting to
find Daisy pining away for him. Instead, his aunt informs him
that Daisy has happily surrounded herself with a large circle of
"third rate Italians," and adds that one--a Mr.
Giovanelli--seems a particular favorite.

The flirtatious behavior that in Vevey brought Winterbourne and
Daisy together, now drives them apart. When a wealthy member of
the American community, Mrs. Walker, warns Winterbourne that
Daisy is endangering her reputation by going out unchaperoned
with Giovanelli, Winterbourne tries to stop the couple, only to
be treated to a glimpse of them disappearing from view behind
Daisy's parasol.

Does Daisy's boldness signal innocence or immorality? That's
what Winterbourne must figure out. The conservative American
community has already made up its mind, unfavorably.
Winterbourne does his best to explain to Daisy that people in
Rome don't understand her flirting, and he pleads with her to
change her ways. But Daisy mistakes his concern for jealousy,
and rejects his advice. One by one, the members of American
society in Rome turn their back on the girl, and she is no
longer welcome in their homes. Even Winterbourne meets her only
by chance.

After one of his friends spies Daisy in a gallery's secluded
nook with Giovanelli, Winterbourne is determined to make one
last attempt to save her. He goes straight to Mrs. Miller to
warn her of the bad reputation her daughter is getting. But to
Mrs. Miller's untutored eye, Giovanelli is a gentleman and
acceptable for Daisy. She even suspects that Daisy and
Giovanelli are engaged. Her suspicion shocks Winterbourne, and
when he encounters the couple a few days later, he has a chance
to ask Daisy if she is indeed engaged. First she says she is.
Then she says she is not.

While walking home one moonlit night a week later, Winterbourne
stops in for a look at the Colosseum. He admires the poetic
atmosphere of the place, but he also knows that its atmosphere
at night is a breeding ground for malaria, "the Roman fever."
The monument has two other visitors--a man and a woman--and when
their voices reach him he recognizes the couple as Daisy and
Giovanelli. His first reaction is one of horror that Daisy is
behaving so shamelessly. His second is one of relief. Daisy's
indiscretion answers once and for all the question of whether or
not she is a "nice girl." The riddle is solved. Winterbourne
needn't bother with her any more.

Winterbourne still shows some concern for Daisy's health,
however, and urges the couple to leave the ruin as quickly as
possible. While Giovanelli is fetching their carriage, Daisy
and Winterbourne have a moment alone. Daisy wonders if
Winterbourne believed her when she said she was engaged. He
answers that it no longer matters if she is or not. When he
instructs her to go home and take some medication to prevent the
fever, Daisy replies simply that she doesn't care if she catches
the Roman fever or not.

Gossip about the escapade at the Colosseum leaks out and is
quickly all over town. Soon it is followed by other news--that
the pretty American flirt is desperately ill. Through Mrs.
Miller, Winterbourne receives a message from Daisy. She wants
him to know that she was never engaged to Giovanelli.

Within a week, Daisy is dead of the fever. At her grave,
Winterbourne sees Giovanelli, who claims that Daisy was the most
beautiful girl he had ever met, and the most innocent.
Winterbourne is shocked by this revelation, which shows him the
enormous difference between the way things seemed and the way
they actually were.

Winterbourne leaves Rome after Daisy's funeral, but he thinks of
her often. When he returns to Vevey the next summer to visit
his aunt, he tells her that Daisy sent him a message before she
died. He didn't understand the message then, but he understands
it now. By telling him that she was never engaged to Mr.
Giovanelli, she was telling him that she did care about his
opinion of her. Winterbourne now realizes that he wronged Daisy
Miller. He's spent too long in Europe to understand American


Daisy is a strikingly beautiful American girl, probably in her
late teens. Her family is from Schenectady, New York, where her
father runs a profitable business and she enjoys a whirlwind
social life. Her mother and her nine-year-old brother,
Randolph, accompany her on her travels through Europe.

While in Europe, Daisy behaves just as she did in America,
talking openly with any man she finds attractive or interesting.
"I'm a fearful, frightful flirt," she says. "Did you ever hear
of a nice girl that was not?" What she doesn't realize is that
in Europe, nice girls most definitely are not flirts. Her
behavior scandalizes the conservative Americans she meets and
puzzles the young man who is infatuated with her, Frederick
Winterbourne. Does her boldness mean only that she's ignorant
of European custom, or does it mean she's immoral? As Daisy
runs around Rome with an Italian man, Giovanelli, Winterbourne
begins to believe the latter. And when, late one night, he
spies the two together at the Colosseum, he's convinced of her
immorality. Not until Daisy dies from a fever contracted that
evening does Winterbourne realize the young American was what
Giovanelli says she was: "the most innocent" girl he has ever

In her spontaneity and naturalness, her ignorance and her
disregard for decorum, Daisy is among the first of the
characters whom James used to represent the new world of America
in contrast to the older, more cultured world of Europe. She's
been called an archetypal American character--an American spirit
on the order of Huck Finn.

As you read the story of this young American girl, you may not
have as much trouble as Winterbourne in deciding that she's
innocent. Certainly, James himself insisted on that fact.
"Poor little Daisy Miller," he wrote, "was, as I understand her,
above all things innocent.... She was a flirt, a perfectly
superficial and unmalicious one... the keynote of her character
is her innocence." Yet you may ask yourself, as other readers
have, whether Daisy's innocence isn't in some ways a negative
quality, a weakness. It can be dangerous to be ignorant of
rules; it can be foolish not to obey them. By ignoring European
conventions, Daisy brings about her social downfall; by ignoring
European warnings about visiting the Colosseum at night, she
brings about her own death. To those readers, James uses Daisy
to show that American pride and American innocence have their
limitations. Other readers feel that the corrupt Europeans and
Europeanized Americans are primarily at fault for
misunderstanding Daisy, and she becomes a tragic martyr at their
hands. Keep this issue in mind as you read the book, and make
up your own mind about it.


Frederick Winterbourne is a handsome twenty-seven-year-old
American who travels to Vevey, Switzerland, to visit his aunt,
Mrs. Costello. It's there that he meets Daisy Miller.

Winterbourne is an American, but he was schooled in Geneva and
continued to live there even after college. He supposedly is
pursuing additional studies but--rumor has it--in reality is
pursuing a romance with a foreign woman. Winterbourne is a good
representative of the "Europeanized" Americans who populate many
of Henry James's works. His years abroad have left him more
familiar with Europe and Europeans than with the nation and
people of his birth. As a result, Daisy's bold, flirtatious
behavior strikes him as unconventional to the extreme.
Accustomed to the more proper, less forward young women of
Europe, he finds Daisy simultaneously attractive, vulgar, and

In some ways, Winterbourne is nearly as important a character in
Daisy Miller as Daisy herself, for you see Daisy entirely from
his point of view--there's no scene in which he isn't present.
He's the story's central intelligence (see Point of View), and
Daisy Miller is in part a study of that intelligence, examining
Daisy's actions but also examining Winterbourne's attempts to
judge those actions. What kind of girl is this young American?
To Winterbourne the puzzle is first a romantic and later an
intellectual one. (In fact, his decision to judge her by his
head rather than his heart is a crucial point in the story.)

As you read, you'll want to decide just how reliable
Winterbourne's judgments are. Do you see him as a voice of
experience and reason? Or do you see him as snobbish, overly
rigid, and cold? Or both? Some readers, noting Winterbourne's
self-exile in Europe and his artistic sensibilities, have
compared him to his creator, Henry James. Others say that James
is a far more sensitive judge of character than is

After Daisy's death, Winterbourne realizes that his judgment of
her was incorrect. She was innocent. His years in Europe have
made him incapable of understanding an American girl. "I have
lived too long in foreign parts," he tells his aunt. That
sounds like Winterbourne is ready to change his ways, yet at the
story's end, you learn that he's remained in Europe, perhaps
studying, perhaps pursuing romance. Does James want you to
sympathize with Winterbourne's preference for sophisticated,
cultured Europe over vulgar America? Or does he want you to
think that Winterbourne is simply incapable of change? Is
Winterbourne sensitive and intelligent, or weak and aloof? Your
decision on him will make a great deal of difference in the way
you look at Daisy Miller.


Mrs. Costello is Frederick Winterbourne's aunt, a
headache-prone woman who moves in the highest social circles and
is very selective about the company she keeps. She serves two
main functions in the story. First, she's a representative of
the "Europeanized Americans"--Americans who have travelled and
lived so long in Europe they've adopted the customs and manners
of the Europeans around them. Mrs. Costello and her crowd
stand in sharp contrast to purely American tourists, like the

Mrs. Costello also functions as the character called a
confidant in the work of Henry James (see Point of View).
Winterbourne confides in her his feelings about Daisy and her
family, thus giving you a chance to hear his point of view. In
turn, although she never meets the girl, Mrs. Costello
furnishes Winterbourne with much of the gossip that follows in
Daisy's wake. From her objections to the Miller family, you get
a clear idea of what was and was not acceptable behavior at the


Mrs. Miller, Daisy's mother, suffers from dyspepsia, or chronic
indigestion. As you see her through Winterbourne's eyes, she is
a listless, frail, and vacant character, unable to control her
daughter or her son. As ignorant as Daisy of European
standards, she is far less sensitive to the undercurrent of
disapproval her ignorance provokes. To her, even Giovanelli is
an acceptable match for Daisy until he fails to visit the
feverish girl. In Winterbourne's estimation she is as different
as can be from mothers in Geneva. You'll note, though, that she
proves to be a hard-working and efficient nurse during Daisy's
final illness--a clue, perhaps, that Winterbourne's harsh
judgment of her may be as imperfect as his judgment of Daisy.


Daisy's nine-year-old brother Randolph is James's caricature of
American tourists at their very worst: noisy, aggressive, and
ignorant of all culture. He's also James's caricature of
American children, whom James saw as being dangerously
ill-mannered and undisciplined. As his family travels through
Europe, Randolph's days are entirely his own. While well-to-do
European boys on tour are always accompanied by their teachers
and kept under tight supervision, Randolph receives no formal
education and seems to have freedom to do as he pleases.

Randolph has little interest in the wonders of Europe. In his
estimation, everything is better in America. He stands at the
opposite extreme from the Europeans and Europeanized Americans
in the story.


Giovanelli, a handsome and charming Italian lawyer, is Daisy's
constant companion in the second half of the nouvelle. Though
he entertains no hope of marrying her, he continues to see Daisy
because she is the most beautiful and congenial young lady he
has ever known. Giovanelli is the only one who recognizes
Daisy's innocence, who understands that her flirtatious ways are
simply a manifestation of her open American spirit.


Eugenio is a courier--a man who accompanies a family and makes
travel arrangements for them. Most wealthy Europeans (and
Europeanized Americans) treated their couriers as servants. The
Millers, though, are so unfamiliar with European manners that
they treat Eugenio as a friend. This is the subject of much
gossip. Even Winterbourne, when he hears Eugenio suggesting
that Daisy shouldn't take a boat ride, finds himself wishing
that she wouldn't let a servant tell her what to do. The
Millers's open, democratic relationship with Eugenio provides
another contrast between their American way of life and the more
formal and rigid ways demanded by Europe. It provides, too,
another cause of misunderstanding between Daisy and the people
around her.


Like her friend Frederick Winterbourne, Mrs. Walker is an
American and a longtime resident of Geneva who's visiting Rome.
She's established herself as a guardian of social standards
among the American community. It is she who tries to prevent
Daisy from walking in the Pincian Gardens with Giovanelli, and
it is she who gives Daisy the cold shoulder at her party. Like
Winterbourne, Mrs. Walker has lived in Europe too long to be
able to understand the behavior of a young American.

Setting is important in Daisy Miller--so much so that in some
ways the nouvelle can almost be seen as a story about a clash of
settings. Daisy Miller takes place entirely in Europe--the
first half in Vevey, a Swiss resort on Lake Geneva, and the
second in Rome. Most of its important characters, however, are
American, and one of its most important themes is the way the
representatives of the new world confront the experience and
restrictions represented by the old. To understand Daisy
Miller, then, you must understand both its actual
setting--Europe in the late 1860s or early 1870s--and also its
"unseen" setting, the home of its characters, America just after
the Civil War.

The United States was in that era a nation that was rapidly
becoming industrialized and rich. The new industries and wealth
worked many changes in American life. Some families found
themselves suddenly catapulted into the upper classes to form a
new American aristocracy. But this was not an aristocracy based
on inherited nobility, as was the aristocracy in Europe, but one
based strictly on money. James created a fine fictional example
of such a family with the Millers of Schenectady, New York.

Though their wealth allowed them to socialize in the most
fashionable circles, these nouveaux riches (newly rich) lacked
the education as well as the refined behavior expected in such
circles. In the United States, this deficiency did not cause
many problems, for numerous families were in the same position.
The country was still young, without the centuries of tradition
that weighed on Europe.

The wealth that pushed families like the Millers into the
American upper class also enabled them to travel abroad for the
first time. What would happen when they arrived in Europe,
where manners and social classes were far more rigid, where the
aristocracy had been in place for centuries, and where a
long-established group of Americans sought to fit in by behaving
with the same strictness the Europeans exhibited? That question
lies at the heart of Daisy Miller.

Although the differences between America and Europe provide the
main theme of Daisy Miller, James also takes care to make you
notice the differences between one part of Europe and another.
Vevey, the Swiss summer resort where the story opens, is in some
ways a halfway point between America and Europe. It's so packed
with travelers from the United States it could almost be an
American resort; it seems less stodgy than the rest of Europe.
It's a fitting setting for boat rides and walks in the garden,
and a fitting place for even a Europeanized American like
Winterbourne to become infatuated with a pretty American girl.

The story's second setting is very different. If Vevey in the
summer had been carefree, Rome in the winter is gloomily
burdened with tradition. Society withdraws into galleries and
drawing rooms. The Americans you meet aren't tourists but
longtime residents who have made a science of European social
codes and demand that everyone within their social group conform
to them. Under their influence, Winterbourne--who is one of
them--becomes less tolerant of Daisy's uncultivated ways.
Though it was Winterbourne himself who suggested an unchaperoned
visit to the Chateau de Chillon near Vevey, Daisy's unchaperoned
visit to the Colosseum in Rome strikes him as shocking.

Daisy Miller ends unhappily for both its hero and heroine, and
in a way that reflects on its settings. By having Daisy die,
and by having Winterbourne severely misunderstand her, James
condemns the customs both of innocent but ignorant America and
cultured but cold Europe. James does not draw a contrast
between right and wrong or between good and bad, but between two
very different and incompatible worlds.


The following are themes of Daisy Miller.


Daisy Miller is one of the first works to treat what became
Henry James's most famous theme: the international theme.
James was interested in the problems that result when
independent and free-spirited Americans are introduced into a
European society older, more sophisticated, and more
restrictive. On the one hand, James admired Europe's centuries
of tradition, its art, and its culture, and he deplored
America's rawness and vulgarity. On the other hand, he
distrusted Europe as overly refined, perhaps corrupting, and he
applauded American energy, optimism, and innocence.

The theme of the American in Europe has many facets in Daisy
Miller: the natural versus the artificial, innocence versus
knowledge, age versus youth. The characters in the story offer
many variations on the theme. Daisy is a young American
visiting Europe for the first time, Winterbourne a young
American raised on the continent, Mrs. Costello and Mrs.
Walker older Americans who have been thoroughly Europeanized.
Each of them reacts to Europe and to America in different and
revealing ways.


James shows you that the gap between what people believe to be
true and the actual truth can be large. To the Europeanized
Americans of Vevey and Rome, Daisy's independence makes her
appear immoral. She agrees to an unchaperoned excursion to
Chillon with Winterbourne, she treats her family's courier like
a friend. She travels around Rome with known fortune hunters,
flaunts her affection for Giovanelli in public, and is
discovered alone with him in the Colosseum at midnight. By
European standards, these actions label her a disgrace. Even
Winterbourne, who at first defends Daisy as being merely
ignorant of social codes rather than being deliberately immoral,
becomes unable to differentiate between Daisy's reputation and
her true nature, between what appears to be immoral behavior and
what is in reality only youthful, American impetuousness. He,
too, judges by appearances and pays for it with the guilt he
feels after Daisy's death.


At first, Winterbourne is emotionally involved with the problems
posed by Daisy's behavior. He's attracted to her romantically,
and he wants to know that she is worthy of his affection. As
the story progresses, and Daisy's behavior seems to grow wilder,
his emotional curiosity cools and becomes an intellectual
curiosity. Daisy becomes a riddle he wants to solve. The final
triumph of Winterbourne's intellect over his emotions occurs
when he discovers Daisy in the Colosseum with Giovanelli. His
worst fears are (he thinks) confirmed. The puzzle of her
character was almost too easy to figure out. He no longer feels
anything for her. "It doesn't matter" if she is engaged or not,
he tells her. His callous statement provokes a bleak
reply--Daisy tells him she doesn't care if she gets Roman fever
or not. It's not until after Daisy's death, when Winterbourne
has come to understand that she would have appreciated his
esteem, that he realizes what the triumph of his head over his
heart has cost him.


Writing to a friend about Daisy Miller, Henry James said, "The
whole idea of the story is the little tragedy of a light, thin,
natural, unsuspecting creature being sacrificed as it were to a
social rumpus that went on quite over her head and to which she
stood in no measurable relation." Daisy is, above all else,
uncultivated. She has no understanding of the implications of
her behavior, and in her ignorance lies her innocence. Her
rejection by American society abroad and eventually Winterbourne
(beginning with the symbolic scene in the Colosseum, site of
Christian martyrdom) indirectly leads to her death. Daisy is a
martyr to the intolerance of Europeanized Americans.


Daisy Miller belongs to the middle period of the work of Henry
James. The works of this period, says his biographer Leon Edel,
"mark his emergence as a brilliant and witty observer of life on
both sides of the Atlantic," and are characterized by "a
preoccupation with problems of conduct"--especially the conduct
of American girls. In its style, the work of this period is
"minutely descriptive." Here is an example from Daisy Miller:
he gradually gave him more of the benefit of her glance, and
then he saw that this glance was perfectly direct and
unshrinking. It was not, however, what would have been called
an immodest glance, for the young girl's eyes were singularly
honest and fresh. They were wonderfully pretty eyes, and,
indeed, Winterbourne had not seen for a long time anything
prettier than his fair countrywoman's various features--her
complexion, her nose, her ears, her teeth. He had a great
relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and
analysing it; and as regards this young lady's face he made
several observations. It was not at all insipid, but it was not
exactly expressive; and though it was eminently delicate
Winterbourne mentally accused it--very forgivingly--of a want of

What does this minutely descriptive passage achieve? First, it
draws a very precise portrait of Daisy and of the kind of girl
Winterbourne believes Daisy to be--fresh and lovely, but lacking
the polish he's used to in European women. It establishes
Winterbourne as a careful--but perhaps overly refined--observer
of women. And by taking so much time to describe small details
of appearance and behavior, James gives these details great
importance. On the surface, the events James describes may seem
trivial--boating trips, parties, carriage rides. But thanks in
large part to his painstaking description of them, they become,
in Daisy Miller, matters of life and death.

While James's gift for choosing the exact words to express the
subtle shades of meaning he wants to portray has earned him the
status of a master prose stylist, his writing can be difficult
at first. It demands much of the reader. James employs an
enormous vocabulary, which includes archaic English words and
expressions borrowed from foreign languages. Daisy Miller
offers numerous examples. Winterbourne "chops logic," (argues a
minute point). "Elle s'affiche," says Mrs. Walker, using a
French phrase to mean that Daisy is making a scene. This
richness of vocabulary is, of course, perfectly suited to his
tales of wealthy, sophisticated people in cosmopolitan

When James revised Daisy Miller in 1909 for the collection of
his novels and tales known as the New York Edition, he added
more nature imagery in describing Daisy, reinforcing an
impression of her as a natural child of the new world rather
lost in the cities of the old. He also made changes that
reflected his growing interest in psychology. Abstractions
replaced people as the subjects of sentences: "He was a man of
conscience" became "His conception of certain special duties and
decencies ... was strong...." The reality of things, one reader
explains, was replaced with their appearances. "What she said
aloud was..." became "...the form she gave her doubt was...."
These changes place greater emphasis on--and make more
complex--the interior psychological life of the characters.

Point of view refers to the position from which a story is told.
One of the greatest impacts James had on modern literature was
through his experiments in point of view. Up until his writing,
fiction was frequently written from the point of view of an
omniscient (all knowing) third-person narrator who was separate
from the action of the story but who could describe or comment
on any part of the story at any time. What James did was to
create a character who became involved in the action of the
story, then use that character to tell the story--not
necessarily by writing in the first person (Daisy Miller, for
example, is a third-person narrative) but nevertheless by
filtering the events of the story through that character's
thoughts and feelings. This character is often called the
central intelligence.

The central intelligence is not always the main character. In
Daisy Miller, for example, the main character is Daisy, but the
central intelligence is Frederick Winterbourne. He doesn't
narrate the book--it's narrated in the third person. But you
see everything from his point of view. There is no scene in
which he is not present. And having him serve as the central
intelligence gives Daisy Miller a slant it might not otherwise
have. Unlike a separate, omniscient narrator, the central
intelligence is biased by experience. For example,
Winterbourne's opinion of Daisy is biased both by his romantic
interest in her and by his European upbringing. How reliable is
he as a judge of Daisy's character? That's a question you'll
want to keep in mind as you read the story.

Once he had created a character (such as Winterbourne) from
whose point of view the story could be seen, James generally
preferred not to enter that character's mind, but instead had
him express his own thoughts aloud--almost as if he were a
character in a play. To this end James created another
character type, the confidant, as a sounding board. The central
intelligence comes to the confidant to talk. The confidant is
not as personally involved in the matter and can consider a
situation or give advice from a more objective position. James
uses the confidant to develop the thoughts of the central
intelligence and to give that character an opportunity to
express those thoughts, so you can hear them.

In Daisy Miller, Winterbourne's confidant is his aunt, Mrs.
Costello. In his discussions with her, Winterbourne learns much
of the gossip about the Millers. In describing and defending
Daisy to his aunt, he is forced to organize his ideas and
clarify his position. Although she never meets Daisy, Mrs.
Costello voices many opinions that make Winterbourne think.
James's use of Mrs. Costello as Winterbourne's confidant
deepens your understanding of him, as well as your understanding
of his point of view.

There's considerable disagreement about the form of Daisy
Miller. You'll hear it called a nouvelle, a short story, a
short novel, and a tale. Let's look at what those terms meant
to Henry James.

James used the word "story" to mean any narrative, whether it
was a few pages or a few hundred pages in length. He called his
long narratives "novels" and his short narratives "tales." Most
of his tales range from 10,000 to 20,000 words. When James
wrote Daisy Miller in the 1870s, the form you now know as the
short story was just becoming widely popular in the magazines of
the day. The magazine publishers preferred these stories to be
from about 6,000 to 8,000 words long. James found that
restriction difficult to follow. Indeed, his tendency to write
longer tales kept him out of a great many magazines.

Daisy Miller is a story but not really a short story. James
also referred to it as a nouvelle--a French word for the
literary form also called (using an Italian word) a novella.
The nouvelle is longer than a short story, but shorter than a
full-fledged novel. That's a flexible definition, but that
flexibility is one of the things that appealed to James about
the form, one of the reasons he once called the nouvelle
"beautiful and blest." He could make a nouvelle long or short
depending on the needs of the narrative rather than on the
demands of a magazine publisher. Daisy Miller, he says in one
of the prefaces he wrote to the New York Edition of his works,
is "pre-eminently a nouvelle; a signal example in fact of the

James's nouvelles differ from his novels. In the nouvelle he
makes extensive use of narrative summary--that is, he often
describes events rather than dramatizing them in detail, and he
foreshortens time in order to achieve compactness. For example,
many of Daisy's experiences in Rome are related very quickly and
in no detail; weeks pass in only a few pages. Daisy Miller does
of course, contain dramatic elements also--scenes like the one
at Mrs. Walker's party are dramatized and fleshed out as they
would be in a full-length novel.

Daisy Miller is also a highly, if simply, structured work. The
story divides in half almost exactly. The first half is set in
Vevey, the second in Rome. At the beginning of each half,
Winterbourne and Daisy meet in a foreign locale. Toward the end
of each half, Daisy makes an unchaperoned excursion with a young
man to a point of historical interest--first with Winterbourne
to Chillon, later with Giovanelli to the Colosseum. In each
half, her excursion has consequences. In the first, it earns
her a bad reputation. In the second, it leads to her death.

Daisy Miller opens in the Swiss town of Vevey (pronounced
"veh-VAY"), on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The landscape
includes two striking features; a mountain to the south called
Dent du Midi ("tooth of the south"); and a small, rocky island
in Lake Geneva.

Vevey is a resort town, and its lakefront is lined with hotels.
There are so many Americans here in the summer that a visitor
might mistake it for Newport, Rhode Island or Saratoga Springs,
New York, which were both popular resorts for the wealthy in the
late 19th century. The best of Vevey's hotels, the Trois
Couronnes ("Three Crowns"), could be Newport's Ocean House or
Saratoga's Congress Hall were it not for the German waiters, the
views of a snowy mountaintop, or the Russian princesses in the

It is in the lovely garden of this hotel, on a beautiful summer
morning, that you meet Frederick Winterbourne. Sent to school
in Geneva as a boy, Winterbourne stayed on to attend college,
and has lived in Geneva ever since. The official reason for his
continued residence is study, but the rumor is that he is very
attached to an older woman.

NOTE: James refers to Geneva as the "little metropolis of
Calvinism" because in the mid-16th century the French theologian
Jean Calvin (1509-1564) set up a Protestant community there.
Calvin's strict religious standards provided a clear alternative
to the lax morality of the times, and they influenced even the
social relationships of the citizens of Geneva. With this pious
history, Geneva sits in marked contrast to Vevey, now under the
influence of uninhibited American tourists. How do you think
several years' residence in this "little metropolis of
Calvinism" has affected the moral standards of Frederick

Winterbourne has come to visit his aunt, who is at the Trois
Couronnes. Because she's in bed with a headache when he
arrives--she suffers headaches frequently--he's left to amuse
himself. In the garden he's approached by a nine--or
ten-year-old boy dressed in a Swiss costume, complete with
alpenstock, a long staff used in mountain climbing. The boy
stops in front of where Winterbourne is sitting with his coffee
tray and asks if he may have the leftover sugar. Winterbourne
offers him one piece. The boy takes three. When Winterbourne
remarks that sugar is not good for the teeth, the boy answers
that he has no teeth. Although he's at an age when children
lose their baby teeth naturally, the boy blames his loss on
Europe--its climate, its hotels, and its candy. Everything, he
says, is better in America.

Walking along the path toward them is the boy's sister.   You now
glimpse Daisy Miller for the first time. She is wearing a white
dress covered with ribbons and bows and--although women of that
time almost always wore hats--she is bareheaded, carrying
instead a large parasol to shield her from the sun. She is,
Winterbourne thinks, "strikingly" pretty. Daisy stops near
Winterbourne, but her attention is focused on her brother,
Randolph, who is pole vaulting through the garden on his
alpenstock, sending gravel flying in all directions.

Winterbourne wants to talk to this pretty American girl, but he
doesn't. Among the upper classes in the late 19th century, it
was considered bad manners for a young man to speak to a young,
unmarried woman before they had been formally introduced by a
third party, such as a relative or a friend of the family.
Although social conventions were much stricter in James's day
than in ours, Winterbourne's dilemma may be familiar to you even
today. How do you strike up a conversation with someone without
seeming too forward? How friendly can you be without seeming
like you are trying to get "picked up"?

Perhaps because he and the young woman are staying in a
relatively casual summer resort, Winterbourne takes more
liberties than he would in Geneva. He tries to interrupt
Daisy's conversation with her brother. But it's an awkward
process. She seems to be ignoring all his pleasant questions
about her travel plans. He wonders if his forward behavior has
offended her.

But Daisy is neither embarrassed nor offended. Soon she is
talking to him happily, giving him the chance to admire her.
She's fresh, youthful, and beautiful, though perhaps lacking the
kind of sophistication he's used to in European women.

Introductions are made--not with the formality Winterbourne is
accustomed to, but haphazardly and noisily by the young boy,
Randolph Miller. His sister is called Daisy, though her real
name is Annie P. Miller. Daisy would like her brother to ask
Winterbourne his name, but the boy is too busy bragging about
the Miller family. Their father, he says, is "in a better place
than Europe." Winterbourne fears that Randolph means Mr. Miller
has died and gone to heaven, but in fact the "better place"
Randolph is talking about is Schenectady, New York, where Mr.
Miller runs a large and profitable business.

NOTE: James is drawing a funny and not very flattering portrait
of an American family traveling in Europe. The image of
Americans abroad as loud, overly patriotic, and unsophisticated
is often noted by readers of Henry James. You might want to
consider whether Americans abroad today resemble James's

Randolph leaves them, and Daisy chatters on as if she has known
Winterbourne for a long time. Europe is just as she had
expected, she says. Her only disappointment is in the lack of
society--particularly after the whirlwind social life she led in
New York. "I have always had," she explains, "a great deal of
gentlemen's society."

Daisy is like no other young woman that Winterbourne has ever
met. No young woman in Geneva would ever speak this way--in
Geneva such a remark would be seen as evidence of social
misconduct. Winterbourne wonders if he has lived in Geneva too
long, if he no longer understands the "American tone." Is Daisy
a pretty, charming, and sociable girl, or is she a scheming and
dangerous young woman? Winterbourne suspects she is nothing
more than an American flirt.

Daisy tells Winterbourne how her plans to see the Chateau de
Chillon have been foiled by her mother's ill health and
Randolph's not wanting to go. When she suggests that he stay
with Randolph so she and her mother can visit the castle,
Winterbourne replies that he would much rather go to the castle
with her.

A young woman in Geneva would have leapt to her feet, blushing,
at Winterbourne's suggestion, but Daisy does not appear
offended. Worried, though, that he has gone too far,
Winterbourne adds, "With your mother." But Daisy doesn't seem to
notice either the outrageousness of his suggestion or the
respect with which he attempts to repair the blunder.

NOTE: The Chateau de Chillon was built in medieval times on a
rocky island in Lake Geneva. During the course of this story,
it is referred to as "the Chateau," or "Chillon," or simply "the
castle." It is well-known as the setting of the 1816 poem
entitled "The Prisoner of Chillon" by the English poet, Lord
Byron. The speaker in that dramatic monologue is a champion of
human liberty named Franois de Bonivard.

As she tries to work out a plan, Daisy mentions that if her
mother stays behind, then Eugenio will too. (Eugenio is the
Miller family's courier, a servant engaged to make travel
arrangements.) It dawns on Winterbourne that Daisy's plan is for
the two of them to go, unchaperoned.

At that moment a tall, handsome man approaches, bows to Daisy,
and announces lunch. It is Eugenio. The courier looks
Winterbourne up and down. When Daisy informs Eugenio that she
has made arrangements to visit the castle after all, he looks
back at Winterbourne in a manner that Winterbourne finds most
offensive. His look implies that Daisy is in the habit of
"picking up" men, and that Winterbourne is one of her "pick
ups." As a guarantee of respectability, Winterbourne offers to
present a person who can tell Daisy all about him. He is
referring to his aunt. Although he resents the courier's look
of disapproval, Winterbourne's offer to present his aunt seems
to acknowledge the impropriety of the excursion that he
Promising they will go to the castle someday, Daisy smiles and
walks back to the inn with Eugenio. As he looks after her,
Winterbourne thinks she has the figure of a princess.

NOTE: As you read this opening scene, observe how efficiently
James has established some of the characters and themes of his
story. You quickly see that Winterbourne is attracted to Daisy.
But you also see that he's extremely aware of the social
restrictions of the day. Daisy, on the other hand, seems
unaware of any kind of restrictions at all. Winterbourne
worries that he's offended her by talking to her without an
introduction, but Daisy is not offended--she's simply
distracted. She couldn't care less about the rules of polite
conversation. You soon see that she is just as unconcerned
about many other social rules--about traveling with a man
unchaperoned, or about being unduly friendly with servants. Her
manners strike Winterbourne as almost dangerous. In other ways,
though, she reminds him of a princess. The puzzle of Daisy's
character will occupy Winterbourne for the rest of the story.

Note, too, Daisy's comment to Winterbourne: that she would
never have taken him for an American. The question of
Winterbourne's character--whether he hasn't become more European
than American--will be another continuing theme of the story.


Winterbourne goes to see his aunt, Mrs. Costello, as soon as
her headache abates. He mentions the Miller family in hopes
that she'll allow him to introduce Daisy to her as he promised.
But Mrs. Costello has already noticed the Millers and she wants
nothing to do with them. She cannot welcome such common people
into the exclusive circles in which she travels. Daisy may be
pretty and may dress in the best of taste, but Mrs. Costello is
horrified by the fact that they treat their courier more like a
friend or a gentleman than a servant.

Winterbourne admits to having been charmed by Daisy, and his
aunt expresses her hope that they were "properly" introduced.
At his admission that they "simply met" in the garden and
talked, Mrs. Costello is aghast. He explains that he's offered
to introduce her to Daisy to guarantee his respectability. His
aunt snaps back, "And pray who is to guarantee hers?"

Winterbourne defends Daisy, saying that she may lack culture but
she is very pretty and very nice. He confides his plans to take
Daisy to the Chateau, and Mrs. Costello is outraged. She
reminds Winterbourne that he has been away from the United
States for a very long time, and warns him not to "meddle with
little American girls who are uncultivated."

Winterbourne asks if her refusal to meet Daisy is final, and she
asks, in turn, if it's true that Daisy is going alone with him
to the Castle. When he answers that Daisy fully intends to go,
she declines "the honour" of the acquaintance, saying that she
is not too old to be shocked. Winterbourne makes one last stab
at casting Daisy in a favorable light, and suggests that perhaps
all American girls behave as Daisy does. Mrs. Costello knows
better: her granddaughters in New York do not. The comparison
is enlightening for Winterbourne. His cousins are notorious
flirts. If Daisy is worse than they are, who knows what she
might not do?

NOTE: This scene provides a good example of the interaction of
the characters known as the central intelligence and the
confidant in the works of Henry James. In Daisy Miller,
Winterbourne is the central intelligence and Mrs. Costello is
the confidant. As Winterbourne confides his feelings about
Daisy to Mrs. Costello you hear firsthand what his thoughts
are, rather than getting them secondhand from a narrator.

Winterbourne is torn. He is eager to see Daisy again, but he
doesn't know how to explain his aunt's refusal to meet her.
When he comes upon Daisy in the garden that evening, she tells
him she's heard all about his aunt: Mrs. Costello is very
comme il faut (proper), very exclusive, never eats at the table
d'hote (the common table in the hotel dining room), and is
plagued by headaches. Not realizing that she has stumbled onto
a sensitive subject, Daisy rattles on, saying that she can't
wait to meet the woman. When Winterbourne says that his aunt's
headaches will prevent a meeting, Daisy is not put off. She
reasons that his aunt can't possibly have a headache every

NOTE: A European influence on the American characters is
evident in the language of this section. Along with the
phrases, comme il faut and table d'hote, you'll also find the
following: rouleaux, a small roll or coil; Tout bonnement!
"Just like that!"; tete a tete, private conversation; oubliette,
a dungeon with an opening only at the top. Such language is
another indication of the cosmopolitan, sophisticated world that
James's characters inhabit.

Winterbourne is in the position he has been dreading. Not
knowing what else to say, he replies that his aunt claims she
does have a headache every day. Finally, Daisy understands.
With a little laugh, she asks why he didn't just come out and
tell her that his aunt doesn't want to meet her. Daisy's voice
sounds a little shaky, and Winterbourne is mortified. The last
thing he wants is to hurt this lovely girl's feelings. Again,
he pretends his aunt's health is to blame. He claims she meets
no one.

Daisy's mother appears at the end of the garden, and when she
doesn't approach the pair, Winterbourne offers to leave. Always
sensitive to the social niceties, he worries that his presence
might be upsetting Mrs. Miller. Daisy urges him to remain.
Mrs. Miller says nothing in response to Daisy's introduction of
Winterbourne, nor does she look at Winterbourne as Daisy
chatters about the troubles Randolph has caused on the trip.

Daisy mentions her plans to visit the Castle. When Mrs. Miller
says nothing in response, Winterbourne assumes that she is very
displeased. It's a natural reaction. Consider the disapproval
just shown by his aunt on the same subject--and Mrs. Costello
doesn't even have a mother's interest in protecting Daisy's

Daisy wanders a few steps ahead of them, and Winterbourne and
Mrs. Miller have a tricky conversation. You know all along
what Winterbourne is thinking. He hasn't given up his hope of
going, unchaperoned, with Daisy to Chillon. First he tries to
discover how strongly Mrs. Miller opposes the trip, and then he
tries to impress her with his respectful behavior. Mrs. Miller
is a "simple. easily-managed person", he thinks, and he expects
that politeness will temper her reaction against the outing.

But Mrs. Miller seems too listless to care about Daisy's outing
at all. She knows that she doesn't want to go to Chillon. The
trip is too strenuous, and in any case she wants to see only the
most important castles in Europe. Chillon is not as important
as those she saw in England, or the ones ahead in Italy. (Here
James is poking fun at American tourists, who only want to see
sights other tourists have told them are important.) If Daisy
wants to see the castle, she'll have to go unchaperoned with
Winterbourne. Winterbourne is utterly amazed. A mother in
Geneva would never think of allowing her daughter to go off for
the day with a young man.

NOTE: Modern readers sometimes have difficulty understanding
the strict social codes that governed behavior in Daisy's day,
and Henry James doesn't always spell them out. But you can
learn a great deal from passages such as this one in which
Winterbourne compares the behavior of Daisy and her mother to
what he would expect in Geneva.

Winterbourne's thoughts are interrupted when Daisy asks if he
would take her out in a boat. He thinks she must be teasing,
but he offers to row her to Chillon by the light of the stars.
Mrs. Miller is shocked--not by the idea of a boat ride alone
with a young man, but by the idea of a boat ride at eleven
o'clock at night. Eugenio appears and urges Daisy to heed her
mother. Winterbourne wishes she wouldn't listen to advice from
a servant--another example of the way he shares the European
awareness of class differences more than the American ignorance
of them. When Eugenio finally yields to her wish, Daisy decides
she doesn't want to go after all. She was hoping, she says, for
more of a fuss--that was all she wanted. Offering her hand to
Winterbourne, she says "Good night. I hope you are
disappointed, or disgusted, or something!" Winterbourne is
completely mystified.

When he and Daisy meet for their excursion to Chillon a few days
later, Winterbourne hopes they've begun a romantic adventure.
But he looks in vain for this same sense of romance in Daisy.
Still, she is beautiful and if her nonstop talk is mostly
shallow, he finds it charmingly so.

Daisy, on her part, seems to find Winterbourne almost as
mysterious as he finds her. To her, he looks grim--yet he tells
her he's never been happier in his life. "You're a queer
mixture," she says to him. The manners he minds are those of
the Europeans.

Winterbourne tips the guide so that they can proceed through the
tour at their own pace. The guide misinterprets the generosity
as a sign that the couple would like to be alone, so
Winterbourne is left to tell Daisy what he knows about the
castle. Daisy is far less interested in old castles than she is
in Winterbourne. After hearing the story of Bonivard, "The
Prisoner of Chillon," Daisy wishes Winterbourne would travel
with her family and tutor Randolph. When he explains that
commitments require his return to Geneva the next day, she
becomes visibly upset.

Daisy, it turns out, has heard the rumor about Winterbourne's
"mysterious charmer" in Geneva. Unable to contain her jealousy,
she berates him for his relationship with the woman. "Does she
never allow you more than three days at a time?... Doesn't she
give you a vacation in the summer?" Winterbourne is amazed by
Daisy's treatment of the subject. She seems "an extraordinary
mixture of innocence and crudity."

Earlier in their trip, Winterbourne had wished that Daisy would
seem more emotionally involved with him. Here he gets his wish.
She offers to stop her attack if he will promise to visit her in
Rome during the winter, Winterbourne has already planned to
visit his aunt, who has taken an apartment there for the winter,
and when he says he will come to Rome, Daisy drops the subject.
Their ride back to Vevey is a quiet one.

When Winterbourne tells his aunt that he spent the afternoon
with Daisy at Chillon, Mrs. Costello asks if she went with him
"all alone." When he replies, "All alone," her worst fears are
confirmed. She takes out a bottle of smelling salts and
exclaims, "And that is the young person you wanted me to

NOTE: Daisy is becoming more and more mysterious to
Winterbourne. He doesn't know what to expect from her. First
she claims to want to go on a boatride, then says she only
wanted to create a fuss. Daisy's comments about being
accustomed to men's society in America make her sound
romantically experienced, but on the trip to Chillon she doesn't
act romantically toward him, However, she is dearly upset when
he tells hers he's leaving to return to Geneva.

What do you think of Daisy at this point? Is she a flirt? If
so, is she a calculating and dangerous flirt, or merely an
innocent one? How sound are Winterbourne's judgments of her?


In the second half of Daisy Miller, Mrs. Costello takes up
residence in Rome for the winter and writes to Winterbourne to
suggest a visit. She mentions that Daisy, who spends much of
her time with "third rate Italians," is the subject of a great
deal of gossip.

NOTE: In her letter, Mrs. Costello requests a copy of Paule
Mere, a novel by Victor Cherbuliez, published in Geneva in 1865.
Daisy Miller bears a number of similarities to this work. A
young woman's name serves as the title of each book. Both
stories begin in a Swiss hotel and end in Italy, and deal with
the prejudices of European society. Both heroines are spirited
and independent and are slandered because of unchaperoned
outings with a man. But Paule is not as "natural" a young woman
as Daisy, and her story is a very sentimental one, whereas
Daisy's reflects greater subtleties and complexities. James
reviewed Paule Mere for The Nation when it appeared in 1865 and
it seems likely that the novel, at least in part, suggested the
events of Daisy Miller.

When Winterbourne arrives in Rome, Mrs. Costello gives him more
details about Daisy. Not only does the girl go around with her
foreign friends unchaperoned, she has "picked up" half a dozen
of the regular Roman fortune hunters and takes them with her to
other people's homes.

NOTE: Fortune hunters are people who hope to gain wealth by
marrying into money. In the nineteenth century, Americans
traveling in Europe were among their favorite prey, because
Americans were thought to be wealthy but unsophisticated. Often
the fortune hunters would pretend to be members of European
nobility, thus claiming they could bring a title of
nobility--even if no money--to the marriage. Some Americans,
however, reversed the chase: they wanted to marry European
nobility nearly as much as European fortune hunters wanted to
marry American millionaires. Newspaper society pages frequently
featured the exploits of title-seeking American heiresses.

Once again, Winterbourne finds himself in the position of
defending the Millers. He says they are "very ignorant--very
innocent only. Depend on it they are not bad." Mrs. Costello,
who seems to make no distinction between manners and morals,
maintains that the Millers are "vulgar," and "bad enough to
Winterbourne had imagined Daisy pining away, awaiting his
arrival. He decides not to visit her right away, and goes
instead to see Mrs. Walker, an American friend from Geneva, who
is staying on the Via Gregoriana.

NOTE: The second half of Daisy Miller is set in Rome and is
filled with references to Roman landmarks. The Via Gregoriana
is a fashionable street near the Spanish Steps. The Pincio,
also called the Pincian Hill, affords a good view of the city
and is the site of the large public Pincian Gardens. Villa
Borghese is a large, seventeenth-century palace, surrounded by a

Moments after his arrival at Mrs. Walker's, a servant announces
"Madame Mila," ("Madame Miller" pronounced in a heavy Italian
accent). It's Daisy, her mother, and her brother. James
continues to use Randolph Miller in particular to make fun of
American tourists in general. Randolph is just as loud, rude,
and greedy as he was in Switzerland, and just as sure that
nothing in Europe can possibly be as good as what the Millers
own in Schenectady. "We've got a bigger place than this," he
says now. "It's all gold on the walls."

At the sound of Winterbourne's voice, Daisy turns in surprise.
He reminds her of his promise to come to Rome, but Daisy only
complains about his not having been to see her. He is reminded
of something he once heard about pretty American women: that
they are "at once the most exacting in the world and the least
endowed with a sense of indebtedness." That is, they demand many
favors of men but never thank men for them. Do you think that's
an apt description of Daisy?

Daisy accepts an invitation to an upcoming party at Mrs.
Walker's house and wonders if she might bring Mr. Giovanelli,
"an intimate friend." Mrs. Walker glances at Winterbourne--a
sign, perhaps, that in their social circles young ladies do not
make friends with unknown Italians, much less create suspicion
by calling their friendship "intimate." Still, Mrs. Walker says
she would be happy to have Mr. Giovanelli at her party.

Mrs. Miller prepares to leave, and Daisy urges her to go home
alone. Daisy plans to walk to the Pincio. Mrs. Walker advises
against walking through the throngs of carriages and
pedestrians; Mrs. Miller worries that Daisy might catch the
Roman fever. Daisy assures them that she will be quite safe,
for she will be meeting a friend. Mrs. Walker asks bluntly if
"the friend" is Mr. Giovanelli. Winterbourne listens keenly
for the answer. "Mr Giovanelli," Daisy answers, "the beautiful

Daisy asks Winterbourne to walk with her, and he winds up in the
unenviable position of escorting her to meet another man. Daisy
attracts a great deal of admiration from the passing crowd. Her
experience of Rome, she says, has been unlike her experience of
the rest of Europe. She loves the society, the people, and all
the activity. Her family, she says, plans to stay all winter
"if we don't die of the fever."

NOTE: This scene offers a good example of foreshadowing, a
technique James uses often. Here, the subject of Roman fever
comes up. First Daisy's mother warns her that Giovanelli cannot
protect her from the fever; then Daisy predicts a long stay in
Rome if she doesn't die of the fever first. The talk of Roman
fever foreshadows crucial events later in the story.

At the gate of the Pincian Gardens, Daisy looks around for
Giovanelli. A short distance away stands a little man with "a
handsome face, an artfully poised hat, a glass in one eye and a
nosegay in his buttonhole." Winterbourne announces that he won't
leave Daisy alone with this character, but Daisy answers that
she has never "allowed a gentleman to dictate" to her.
Giovanelli spots the pair, hurries over, and bows. After
introducing the two men, Daisy strolls with one on each arm.

Giovanelli has no doubt expected an intimate rendezvous, not a
threesome. As they walk, he talks polite nonsense to Daisy.
Winterbourne is struck by "that profundity of Italian cleverness
which enables people to appear more gracious in proportion as
they are more acutely disappointed." He curses Giovanelli's good
looks. Certain that Giovanelli is not a gentleman, Winterbourne
wonders for a moment what Giovanelli might really be: a
third-rate artist? a music master? Winterbourne is annoyed
that Daisy cannot tell the difference between a real
gentleman--like Winterbourne--and an imitation. A "nice girl"
should be able to tell the difference. But is Daisy a nice
girl? Would a nice girl behave in such a way? She seems to
want to flaunt her rendezvous with this Italian low-life by
meeting him here, in broad daylight in the busiest section of

Daisy is not a well-behaved young lady, Winterbourne tells
himself. Therefore, he must dismiss the possibility of
establishing a serious, socially acceptable involvement with
her. All he can hope for is a "lawless passion"--a cheap,
tawdry romance. Yet at the same time she doesn't seem immoral.
Though she's meeting her supposed lover, she apparently doesn't
mind Winterbourne's being along. If she did, Winterbourne would
have a reason to like her a little less. If he liked her a
little less, he might not wonder so much about her. Instead she
remains as puzzling as ever, "an inscrutable combination of
audacity and innocence."

An open, horse-drawn carriage leaves the mainstream of traffic
and pulls up beside them. It's Mrs. Walker. She waves
Winterbourne over to her. She is flushed and excited. "That
girl must not do this sort of thing," she says of Daisy's
unchaperoned walk with the two men. "Fifty people have noticed
her." Mrs. Walker is afraid that Daisy's reputation will be
ruined, that she will be cast out of society.

She suggests that they get Daisy into the carriage, drive around
so people can see that she is "not running absolutely wild," and
then take her home. Winterbourne predicts failure, but he
catches up with Daisy and leads her to the carriage.

The understated but emotion-charged scene that follows is
typical of the best of James. In it you see a dramatic
confrontation between two very different sets of manners and
values--Mrs. Walker's formal and European, and Daisy's carefree
and American. Mrs. Walker suggests that Daisy get in the
carriage, but Daisy replies that she prefers walking--especially
in the company of two gentlemen. Mrs. Walker explains that in
Rome it is not the custom for a young woman to walk
unchaperoned. Daisy replies that it should be. "And then you
know," she adds with a laugh, "I am more than five years old."
Mrs. Walker finds Daisy's response maddening. "You are old
enough" she announces, "to be more reasonable. You are old
enough, Miss Miller, to be talked about."

Daisy asks what she means, and Mrs. Walker offers to tell her
if she gets into the carriage. With a look at each of her
escorts, Daisy says she doesn't think she wants to know.

NOTE: Some readers have used this passage to point out a
possibly less positive aspect of Daisy's innocence. If
knowledge is unpleasant, she doesn't want to have it. What do
you think of this attitude? Are Mrs. Walker's rules the kind
it's better not to know? Or is Daisy being dangerously immature
by ignoring the social reality they represent?

Giovanelli straightens his gloves, laughs, and bows. He is
clearly uncomfortable. Winterbourne wishes Mrs. Walker would
just drive away, but she doesn't give up. "Should you prefer
being thought a very reckless girl?" She asks Daisy. Daisy
blushes, and turns to Winterbourne. He tells her he thinks she
should get into the carriage.

Daisy has never heard anything so stiff in her life. She
announces that if walking around with a gentleman is considered
improper, then she will just have to be improper, for she
doesn't plan to give it up. Mrs. Walker is stunned and hurt.
Winterbourne joins her and remarks frankly that she was not
"clever" and has only succeeded in alienating Daisy. Mrs.
Walker thinks it's for the best. If Daisy is determined to
"compromise herself," she herself would like to know so she can
"act accordingly." Daisy has gone too far, doing "everything
that is not done here. Flirting with any man she could pick up;
sitting in corners with mysterious Italians; dancing all night
with the same partners; receiving visits at eleven o'clock at
night." Winterbourne tells Mrs. Walker that they have probably
lived in Geneva too long. He means that they are no longer
Americans in spirit.

Mrs. Walker offers to stop the carriage if Winterbourne wants
to catch up with Daisy. With a toss of her head, she indicates
a gentleman and a lady looking out over a view of the Villa
Borghese palace and its large park. It's Daisy and Giovanelli.
Winterbourne gets out. Daisy and Giovanelli do not notice
him--they are completely absorbed in each other. Winterbourne
watches as Giovanelli sits down on the broad ledge of the
parapet, takes Daisy's parasol out of her hands, and opens it.

Daisy moves closer to Giovanelli, who holds the parasol and lets
it rest on her shoulder, shielding both their heads from a
bright shaft of sunlight and from Winterbourne's view.

Daisy and Giovanelli seem determined to justify Mrs. Walker's
bad opinion of them. Though James doesn't give you
Winterbourne's thoughts here, he doesn't need to. You know
they're not favorable to Daisy because Winterbourne chooses not
to walk toward the couple but goes toward the house of his aunt,
Mrs. Costello--who, like Mrs. Walker, is a guardian of the
social rules Daisy prefers to ignore.


For days, Winterbourne tries in vain to see Daisy at her hotel.
Finally, the day of Mrs. Walker's party arrives, and although
Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker did not part at the Pincian
Gardens on the best of terms, he goes in hope of seeing Daisy

When Daisy's mother arrives, Winterbourne overhears her say that
she has come unescorted because Daisy and Giovanelli can't tear
themselves away from the piano. Mrs. Walker is incensed. She
suspects this is Daisy's revenge for her meddling at the Pincio,
and she decides the time has come to carry out her threat to
"act accordingly." She confides her plan to Winterbourne: "When
she comes I shall not speak to her."

NOTE: In this section of Daisy Miller, you find many more
examples of James's rich vocabulary. The French and Italian
phrases are as follows: Elle s'affiche, "She is making a
scene"; tete a tete, "private conversation"; cavaliere avvocato,
gentleman lawyer; marchese, marquis; qui se passe ses fantaises,
"who behaves according to her whims"; and du meilleur monde, "of
the best society."

The English words or expressions that may be unfamiliar to you
are as follows: barber's block, a wooden model of a head used
for fitting wigs; chopping logic, arguing points of minute
distinction; cicerone, a guide for sightseers; circus, an arena
used for athletic contests and other spectacles; and miasma, a
heavy atmosphere.
Daisy finally arrives with Giovanelli. Everyone at the party
stops and stares as she rustles forward to greet Mrs. Walker,
claiming she is late because Giovanelli had to practice some
songs before coming. Looking around the room, she asks, "Is
there any one I know?" Mrs. Walker can't resist this
opportunity to make a snide remark, and answers, "I think
everyone knows you!" She means that Daisy's behavior in the last
few weeks has been so outrageous, that the entire American
community has heard of her--but they haven't heard good things.
Giovanelli seems to fit his role of handsome Italian fortune
hunter perfectly. Although she has claimed to admire his
singing, Daisy talks while he is performing--a clue, perhaps,
that she isn't as infatuated with him as everyone thinks she is.
She approaches Winterbourne at first as if nothing had happened
between them, then remarks, "I hope you enjoyed your drive with
Mrs. Walker."

In the scene that follows, James masterfully demonstrates how
misunderstandings are building between Winterbourne and Daisy.
If you've ever misunderstood--or been misunderstood by--someone
you like, you'll probably appreciate James's skill here.
Appearance and reality are at odds, in part because neither of
them knows when the other is speaking truthfully.

Winterbourne tells Daisy that he preferred walking with her to
riding with Mrs. Walker. Daisy criticizes Mrs. Walker's
expecting her "to get into the carriage and drop poor Mr.
Giovanelli; and under the pretext that it was proper. People
have different ideas!" That, of course, could be the theme of
this scene and of Daisy Miller as a whole: the different ideas
people have about right and wrong. That Daisy might have her
own ideas of what is proper is something that Mrs. Walker (and
even Winterbourne) can't really understand, just as Daisy can't
understand their rules about the way a young lady should

Winterbourne won't side with Daisy. He declares that her
"habits" are those of a flirt. Daisy replies, "Of course they
are," adding that all nice girls are flirts. When she wonders
if Winterbourne considers her a nice girl, he responds with more
conviction than you might expect: "You're a very nice girl, but
I wish you would flirt with me, and me only."

In Winterbourne's candid remark, you hear one reason for his
shifting impression of Daisy's behavior. While he was the
object of her attention, Winterbourne was willing to be
flexible, to be almost "American" in his approach to decorum.
But as Daisy focuses her attention on another man, Winterbourne
becomes increasingly intolerant of her free-spirited ways.

Winterbourne begs Daisy to stop flirting with Giovanelli, and he
explains that flirting is an American custom that doesn't exist
in Europe. She may be flirting, he says, but Mr. Giovanelli is
not. When Daisy claims that she and Giovanelli are "very
intimate friends," Winterbourne thinks she means they've gone
beyond the flirting stage, and says, "Ah! if you are in love
with each other it is another affair."

Daisy appears deeply offended by his remark. (That may indicate
to you that Winterbourne's judgment isn't as correct as he
believes.) Winterbourne thinks that American flirts are "the
queerest creatures in the world." Giovanelli finishes at the
piano and asks Daisy to join him for tea. Saying she prefers
weak tea to Winterbourne's advice, Daisy walks off with
Giovanelli and spends the rest of the evening with him.

When Daisy approaches to say good night, Mrs. Walker has a
chance to show her disapproval. Without a word, she turns her
back on Daisy, leaving the girl to exit with whatever grace she
can muster. Daisy turns pale and looks at her mother, but Mrs.
Miller is unaware of the snub. It doesn't escape the notice of
Winterbourne, however, who sees that Daisy is too shocked and
puzzled to be indignant. "That was very cruel," he says to Mrs.
Walker, who replies, "She never enters my drawing room again."

Winterbourne goes frequently to see Daisy at her hotel, but the
Millers are rarely in. When they are, Giovanelli is always
present. Daisy is forever teasing him and flirting with him,
but seems neither embarrassed nor annoyed by an interruption.
She seems as happy to chatter with two men as with one, and her
conversation is "the same odd mixture of audacity and
puerility." But Winterbourne has come to expect the unexpected
from Daisy, and he is beginning to feel as if she has no more
surprises for him. Increasingly, his curiosity about her is
becoming more intellectual than romantic, and he has decided
that she is a puzzle easily solved.

At St. Peter's one afternoon, Winterbourne notices the pair and
points them out to Mrs. Costello. Mrs. Costello asks if
Daisy's "intrigue with that little barber's block" is what has
been upsetting him. Winterbourne is surprised to hear how
preoccupied he has appeared. He wonders aloud if an affair
conducted so publicly could be called an intrigue, but Mrs.
Costello argues that many people say Daisy is "quite carried
away" by Giovanelli. Daisy probably thinks he is the most
elegant man she has ever seen. Mrs. Costello even suspects
that Eugenio arranged the meeting, and that he stands to receive
a large commission if Giovanelli and Daisy ever marry.
Winterbourne disagrees. Daisy wouldn't think of marrying
Giovanelli, he says, nor does the Italian think of marrying her.
Mrs. Costello assures him that Daisy thinks of nothing, and she
says he shouldn't be surprised to hear that Daisy is engaged.

Winterbourne now finds himself in the unlikely position of
defending Giovanelli. He confides to his aunt what he has
learned in making inquiries. Giovanelli is a respectable
cavaliere avvocato, a gentleman lawyer with no money, no title,
and only his handsome face to offer. Daisy, on the other hand,
comes from a family with a great deal of money. "There is a
substantial Mr. Miller in that mysterious land of dollars,"
Winterbourne says of Daisy's father in America. Giovanelli must
wish he were a count or a marquis, although he himself doubts
that the Millers are yet even sophisticated enough to think of
trying to snare a titled European.

A number of Americans greet Mrs. Costello on their way through
the church, and most of them have a comment about Daisy's
behavior. Winterbourne is not happy with what he hears. It
upsets him to have the "pretty and undefended and natural" young
woman described as "vulgar."

NOTE: Along with the characters in Daisy Miller, you enjoy a
sightseer's tour of Rome. St. Peter's Church, where
Winterbourne and Mrs. Costello see Daisy and Giovanelli, is
part of the Vatican and is the largest Christian church in the
world. The action now moves to the Corso, an avenue in central
Rome where the eighteenth-century mansion called the Doria
Palace is located. Known for its fine painting gallery, the
Palace houses the portrait of Pope Innocent X by the Spanish
painter, Velasquez (1599-1660), mentioned by the friend who
reports seeing Daisy and Giovanelli.

One afternoon, Winterbourne meets a friend who has just come
from the Doria Palace, where he saw "that pretty American girl"
in a secluded nook with a "little Italian with a bouquet in his
button-hole." The friend remembers Winterbourne describing Daisy
as being of the best society, but what he has just seen makes
him wonder. Figuring that Mrs. Miller must be alone,
Winterbourne jumps into a cab and goes to see her. His mission
is to give Daisy's mother a hint of the bad reputation her
daughter is acquiring.

Mrs. Miller explains that Daisy is, as usual, out with Mr.
Giovanelli. She assures Winterbourne that Giovanelli is "a real
gentleman," and says she keeps asking Daisy if she is engaged.
Daisy always denies it, but Giovanelli has promised to tell Mrs.
Miller any "news" if Daisy doesn't.

Winterbourne doesn't believe his ears. Mrs. Miller doesn't
seem to care if Daisy is accepted by society--Giovanelli's
society is high enough for her. Nor does she seem to mind the
idea of Daisy's marrying Giovanelli, though by everyone else's
standards he is below her station in life. With such a mother,
thinks Winterbourne, Daisy doesn't have a chance.

Daisy is never in when Winterbourne calls, and he no longer sees
her at parties, for she is no longer invited. The Americans in
Rome are eager to disown Daisy as a disgrace to their country.
Winterbourne wonders how she feels about being snubbed. It
upsets him to think that she may not have noticed. At times he
curses her childishness, her provincialism, her lack of reason
and want of cultivation. At others, he thinks she must know
perfectly well what image she projects. He wonders if her
defiance is an aspect of her innocence, or if she is simply a
reckless person. He is tired of picky arguments about her. He
is annoyed at himself for not knowing for sure if her wild
behavior is personal or characteristic of her nationality. And
he is upset that he has missed his chance for romance with

Winterbourne runs into Daisy one day in the Palace of the
Caesars, strolling through the ruin of marble and monuments.
Rome has never looked lovelier, he thinks, nor Daisy prettier.
Even Giovanelli looks brilliant. When Daisy remarks on his
always being alone, Winterbourne regrets that he is not as
fortunate as Giovanelli.

Giovanelli has always been extremely polite to Winterbourne,
listening attentively to his remarks and laughing at his jokes.
He has never acted like a jealous boyfriend, nor has he seemed
deluded by hopes of marriage and money. Now, he leaves Daisy
and Winterbourne in order to pick an almond sprig and arrange it
in his button-hole.

Daisy doesn't believe Winterbourne when he tells her people
think she sees too much of Giovanelli. But he predicts that
people will have a disagreeable way of showing that they do
care. Daisy wonders how he can allow people to be so unkind to
her, and Winterbourne assures her that he does speak up in her
defense. Then he adds, "I say that your mother tells me that
she believes you are engaged."

Giovanelli starts back to where they are standing. Daisy
answers quickly that she is engaged. "You don't believe it!"
she says. At first, Winterbourne says nothing, then answers,
"Yes, I believe it!" "Oh, no, you don't," says Daisy, to which
she adds, "Well, then--I am not!"

At this point you might excuse Winterbourne for being baffled by
Daisy. Is she deliberately being difficult? Or is she still
simply a high-spirited, sometimes thoughtless girl?

NOTE: James continues to use Rome as an evocative setting for
his tale. The Caelian and the Palatine hills are two of the
seven hills on which Rome was founded. The Palatine is also the
site of a large park where many monuments are located. The Arch
of Constantine commemorates Constantine the Great's defeat of a
rival for his position of emperor of Rome in A.D. 312. The
Forum is what remains of the center of ancient Rome; it served
as the marketplace as well as the place where public assemblies
were held and judicial business conducted. The Colosseum--one
of ancient Rome's most famous ruins--is a very large
amphitheater, that was used for public entertainment. It was in
the circus, or arena, of the Colosseum that the Christian
martyrs were thrown to the lions.
On his way home from a dinner party a week later, Winterbourne
is lured by the prospect of the Colosseum in the moonlight. His
instinct is correct. A deep shadow covers one half of the
arena; dim moonlight illuminates the other half. The place has
never looked more impressive, and Winterbourne is reminded of
lines from Lord Byron's poem, "Manfred," which describe the ruin
under similar conditions:

I stood within the Coliseum's walls,

Midst the chief relics of almighty Rome;

The trees which grew along the broken arches

Waved dark in the blue midnight....

(Act III, Scene iv)

Winterbourne knows he shouldn't stay in the Colosseum for long.
However poetic its atmosphere may be, the darkened ruin is also
thought to be a breeding ground for the "Roman fever," as Romans
call malaria. He walks quickly to the middle of the
amphitheater to have one look at the entire place. As he nears
the great cross in its center, he discerns two other visitors:
a woman and a man. The two have seen him walking toward them,
but have not recognized him. They joke about the threat he
might pose. The woman's voice says that he looks at them the
way a lion or a tiger might have looked at the Christian
martyrs. Her companion hopes the man is not hungry. The voices
are those of Daisy and Giovanelli.

NOTE: Daisy's remarks here refer to the early Christians who
were martyred before Christianity became an accepted religion in
early Rome. These Christians were often thrown to wild animals
before an eager crowd in the Colosseum. Daisy's remark is
unconsciously prophetic. Like the Christian martyrs, she will
be sacrificed for her beliefs by what one reader has called "the
predatory public"--the Americans in Rome who attack her for not
following their strict social rules.

Winterbourne is filled with horror. Under no circumstances
should Daisy be out at midnight in the Colosseum with a man.
But his horror quickly changes to relief. This indiscretion on
her part is the last straw for Winterbourne, and it is as if
light is suddenly shed on the question of her behavior. The
riddle that she has been to him all along is suddenly easily
solved. She has revealed herself as not deserving of his
respect. He can't believe he has wasted so much time puzzling
over her.

Since arriving in Rome, Winterbourne has tended to think of
Daisy less and less in terms of his feelings for her and more
and more in terms of the intellectual problems posed by her
behavior. Instead of trying to develop his friendship with
Daisy, he has become obsessed with trying to figure her out.
Now, in this sharply etched scene, his head finally triumphs
over his heart, and he feels confident in his ability to judge
by appearances.

Winterbourne can see Daisy and Giovanelli only dimly. It
doesn't occur to him that he is quite visible to them. Afraid
of what he might say, he turns away from the couple. As he
does, Daisy's voice reaches him again. She exclaims that the
man is Winterbourne and that he has snubbed her. Winterbourne
may have dismissed Daisy as undeserving of respect, but he has
his pride. He won't allow Daisy to portray him as the one whose
behavior is less than exemplary, and he turns back toward the

Winterbourne still has concern for his former friend's health.
She's a delicate young girl, and her moral corruption, he feels,
is not reason enough for her to risk death by fever by remaining
in the Colosseum. In a gruff voice, he asks how long she has
been there. "All the evening," Daisy replies, adding that she
has never seen anything so pretty. Winterbourne suggests that
she will not think Roman fever is very pretty, and explains that
staying out late in the damp air of the Colosseum is how people
catch it. He turns on Giovanelli, who, as a native of Rome,
should know better. Giovanelli claims to have advised against
the outing, but he says that Daisy would not be put off.

NOTE: Some readers have cited this scene as one that shows the
reckless side of Daisy's character. Just as she prefers to
ignore European warnings about her social conduct, she prefers
to ignore warnings about dangers to her health. James may be
saying that while some European beliefs are rigid and
restrictive, others deserve to be followed; and that while
American innocence and independence are admirable, they can be
destructive when they mix with ignorance and stubbornness.

Winterbourne advises Daisy to go home as fast as she can.
Giovanelli rushes off to get their carriage.

Now comes the climactic scene of Daisy Miller. Once again you
see the gap between appearance and reality, between what Daisy
believes and what Winterbourne believes. As she chatters about
the beauty of the Colosseum, Daisy doesn't seem embarrassed in
the least. She doesn't realize that to Winterbourne her
presence there with Giovanelli is final proof that she is
unworthy of his respect or love.

Gradually, though, his silence tells her that something is
bothering him. When she asks him why he isn't saying anything,
he just laughs. Giovanelli has the carriage ready, but Daisy
stops in the darkness of one of the arches and looks at
Winterbourne. "Did you believe I was engaged the other day?"
she asks. Winterbourne, still laughing, answers that it doesn't
matter what he believed the other day. When Daisy asks what he
believes now, Winterbourne says that it makes very little
difference to him whether she is engaged or not. In effect,
he's saying that she is beneath his notice.

Daisy is shocked. She has ignored the slights of other members
of society, but she can't ignore Winterbourne's. Does this
indicate to you that her feelings for him are deeper than he
believes? James doesn't tell you her thoughts, but you see that
Winterbourne has upset her enough to make her even more reckless
than usual. When Winterbourne warns her to take medicine
against the fever, she answers in a strange tone of voice, "I
don't care whether I have Roman fever or not!"

Somehow, word of Daisy's moonlit visit to the Colosseum leaks
out and shortly is common knowledge among members of the
American circle. Hotel servants, a few days later, spread the
rumor that "the little American flirt" is seriously ill, and
Winterbourne goes to Daisy's hotel to find out more. Mrs.
Miller cannot see him--she is spending all her time at Daisy's
side. It is plain that Daisy is dangerously ill.

While at the hotel one day to ask for news, Winterbourne sees
Mrs. Miller. Daisy, delirious much of the time, gave her a
message for Winterbourne. She was never engaged to Giovanelli.
Three times she repeated her instruction, "Mind you tell Mr.
Winterbourne," and wanted her to ask if he remembered going to
the castle in Switzerland. Mrs. Miller can't imagine why Daisy
would want her to send such a message. She is only happy to
learn that Daisy was never engaged to Giovanelli, who has not
shown his face since Daisy fell sick.

The news that Daisy was never engaged matters very little. A
week later she dies of the fever. Giovanelli is among the
mourners at her grave. He is very pale, and there is no flower
in his buttonhole. Winterbourne has the feeling that Giovanelli
wants to say something to him. Finally Giovanelli says, "She
was the most beautiful young lady I ever saw, and the most
amiable. And she was the most innocent."

Winterbourne is stunned by Giovanelli's words. He repeats those
that surprise him most, "And the most innocent?" he asks. "The
most innocent," Giovanelli affirms. Suddenly, Winterbourne
realizes that despite all the weeks of observing Daisy and
judging her character, he was entirely wrong about her. He
feels angry, but he turns his anger against Giovanelli. "Why
the devil did you take her to that fatal place?" he asks.
Giovanelli answers simply that he wasn't afraid for himself and
that, typically headstrong, Daisy wanted to go. He would have
had no future with Daisy, he says; she never would have married
him. For a while he had hoped she might, but he gave up that
hope long ago.

Winterbourne leaves Rome right after Daisy's funeral, but he
thinks of her often. The following summer he returns to Vevey
to visit his aunt. His injustice to Daisy has weighed on his
conscience. Mrs. Costello wonders in what way his injustice
affected Daisy. Winterbourne says, "She sent me a message
before her death which I didn't understand at the time. But I
have understood it since. She would have appreciated one's
esteem." That is, by telling him that she was never engaged to
Giovanelli, Daisy was trying to tell him that she was in fact
the nice girl she said she was. Mrs. Costello asks if this is
"a modest way of saying" that Daisy would have returned his
affection for her. After a minute Winterbourne says, "You were
right in that remark that you made last summer. I was booked to
make a mistake. I have lived too long in foreign parts."

In spite of his revelation, Winterbourne returns to live in
Geneva. There are still conflicting reports about why he has
chosen that city. Some say he is "studying hard," others claim
he is "much interested in a very clever foreign lady."

Winterbourne was mistaken in his judgment of Daisy, and he
admits it. He failed her, and he knows why. He is an American
transplanted into foreign soil, and left there too long. But
his self-knowledge does not change him. He returns to the life
he led before he met--and misjudged--Daisy Miller.


The Turn of the Screw is a story within a story.

To a group of people who have been trading ghost stories, a man
named Douglas reads a personal account written by his sister's
governess years before. His reading of this "horrible" story is
prefaced by some facts about the governess's background.

The daughter of a poor country parson, the young woman was
twenty when she went to London to apply for her first job, in
answer to an ad placed by a handsome and charming bachelor. The
man had been named guardian of his orphaned niece and nephew,
and needed a governess to care for them at his country estate.
At first, the young woman was reluctant to take the position,
but the uncle prevailed upon her and she agreed. He asked only
that she never bother him with news of the children.

Her own story begins, as Douglas reads it aloud, on the day she
sets out nervously for the country estate called Bly. Bly turns
out to be a pleasant surprise. The house is large, the setting
serene, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, friendly. Flora, the
little girl, is beautiful and perfectly behaved. The little
boy, Miles, is still away at school. Her life would be perfect,
the governess thinks, if only her dashing employer could see how
well she is serving him.

But right away, things start to go wrong at Bly.   By letter, the
governess learns that Miles has been expelled from school, but
no explanation is given. Nor can Mrs. Grose shed light on the
matter. In her efforts to put together a picture of the boy's
troubled past, the governess uncovers only the mysterious death
of the children's former governess, Miss Jessel.

One evening, as she is strolling through the grounds and
daydreaming about her employer, the governess believes she spies
the figure of a man on the tower at one end of the house. At
first she mistakes the man for her employer, but she quickly
realizes her mistake. This man is no one she has ever seen.

It isn't until the man's second appearance--outside the dining
room window--that the governess confides in Mrs. Grose. When
she describes him to the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose recognizes the
man as Peter Quint, the former valet of their employer. This
identification causes one problem: Peter Quint is dead!

Another day, while she sews and Flora plays beside the lake, the
governess senses someone watching them from across the water.
When she finally faces the presence, she finds not Peter Quint,
as she had expected, but the figure of a woman dressed in black.
There is no doubt in the governess's mind. The figure is the
ghost of Miss Jessel.

The young woman turns to Mrs. Grose with her terrible theory
that Peter Quint is after Miles and Miss Jessel after Flora. At
this suggestion of a conspiracy between the ghosts, Mrs. Grose
confides to the governess that there had--in life--been
something between the pair.

After the two sightings, all the governess can think about is
shielding the children from the spirits of the depraved Peter
Quint and Miss Jessel. The ghosts have not appeared to anyone
else. But to the governess they seem to be everywhere: at the
window, on the stairs, on the lawn at night.

Her fears grow as she suspects that the children see the ghosts
as well, and are conspiring to hide that fact from her.
Everything about their behavior seems--to her--to point to this
theory. In addition, she still has not resolved the mystery of
Miles's expulsion from school. More and more, she feels certain
that the two mysteries--that of the dismissal and that of the
ghosts--are somehow intertwined.

The tension increases one afternoon when Flora slips away while
Miles is playing the piano for his governess. When she
discovers Flora is missing, the governess announces to Mrs.
Grose that the girl has gone to meet Miss Jessel, and that
Miles--who has also disappeared and is probably now with Peter
Quint--helped to arrange the meeting. The two women find Flora
exactly where the governess suspected they would, on the far
shore of the lake, where she had first spotted Miss Jessel.
Unable to contain herself any longer, the governess asks the
little girl directly about Miss Jessel. Flora is angered and
Mrs. Grose shocked by the mention of the dead woman's name, but
as the governess speaks that name she witnesses Miss Jessel
rising on the shore before them. She cries out and gestures
toward the ghost, but Flora and Mrs. Grose don't seem to see

Flora's agitation deepens into hysteria, and Mrs. Grose takes
her away from Bly. The governess, alone with Miles, is
determined to make the boy confess to the evil that led to his
dismissal from school. As she questions Miles after dinner, the
face of Peter Quint appears to her at the window. As she tries
to keep Miles's back to the window, the young woman feels that
she's struggling with the ghost for the soul of the little

Miles becomes aware of the attention his governess is directing
toward the window. He has learned from Flora of the incident at
the lake and now asks if Miss Jessel is there with them. The
governess says no, but she tells him that "the horror" is at the

Miles guesses that "the horror" is Peter Quint. His eyes search
the room wildly, but he doesn't see Quint anywhere. As the
governess clutches the boy in her arms, he lets out a little
groan. The face in the window disappears. And suddenly the
governess realizes that Miles's heart has stopped.


The governess is the principal narrator of The Turn of the
Screw. It is her account, written in the first person, that is
read aloud. The youngest daughter of a poor country parson, she
went to London at the age of twenty to look for work. Although
apprehensive about accepting the position of governess at Bly,
she was so infatuated with her prospective employer that she
took the job. An unsophisticated young woman, she finds the
large country estate of Bly is "a different affair" from the
home she has just left.

From these few facts, the governess may seem quite unremarkable.
But at the heart of all controversy about The Turn of the Screw
lies controversy about the true character of this young woman.
What sort of person is she? Almost every scene of the story can
be read in two ways, depending on your estimation of the
governess's character.

Some readers see her as a conscientious employee, attempting to
serve her employer and perform her duties in the face of
enormous strain. They believe she is devoted to shielding her
charges from the threat of evil at any cost to herself. For
these readers, The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story. The
ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel do exist in the story.

Other readers contend the governess is mad. They believe she is
a sexually repressed young woman whose frustrated desires for
her absent employer cause her to see spirits. These readers
claim that her courage and heroism are nothing more than
attempts to show her value to the employer who has ignored her.
They say the governess is unreliable. At one point in the
story, they note, she lies to the housekeeper about having a
conversation with the ghost of Miss Jessel. For these readers,
who do not believe in the existence of the ghosts, The Turn of
the Screw is a psychological novel.

You can have many questions about the governess's character.
Note that James seems to encourage those questions by not giving
this major character a name. Her namelessness seems to
emphasize both the ambiguities and the eerieness of the story:
she's like an unfinished painting, with the reader forced to
paint in the blank spots.

What do you think the governess's true nature is? That's the
question you must decide for yourself as you read the story.


Mrs. Grose is a longtime resident of Bly. She is now the
housekeeper, but started as a personal maid to her current
employer's mother. In the eyes of the governess, she is a
"stout simple plain clean wholesome woman," and "a magnificent
monument to the blessing of a want of imagination." As you read,
see if you agree with the governess's estimation.

Mrs. Grose serves as the governess's confidant (see Point of
View). In her conversations with Mrs. Grose, the governess
articulates her feelings, and you have an opportunity to
overhear them. It is from Mrs. Grose that the governess learns
the few facts that she knows about Miss Jessel and Peter Quint.
And it is in these conversations that the governess develops her
increasingly elaborate theories about the children's conspiracy
with evil spirits.

Mrs. Grose defers to the governess on most matters. After all,
the governess is her superior. Mrs. Grose can't read or write,
whereas the governess is an educated woman. Throughout the
tale, the housekeeper's plain heartiness and realistic attitude
offer a solid contrast to the young woman's more high-strung and
fanciful nature.

Does Mrs. Grose believe the governess's story of the ghosts?
Some readers point to her moving Flora from the governess's
room--and eventually taking Flora from Bly--as evidence that
Mrs. Grose is actually trying to save the girl from the
governess. Yet, after hearing the bad language that Flora uses
when she falls ill and becomes delirious, Mrs. Grose announces
that she does believe in the presence of the two evil ghosts.


Miles is ten years old. After the death of their parents he and
his sister, Flora, were left in their uncle's care. They were
tutored at Bly by the former governess, Miss Jessel, until her
mysterious death. During that period, Miles spent a great deal
of time with Peter Quint, his uncle's valet at Bly. When Miss
Jessel died, Miles was sent away to school. As the story opens,
he has just been expelled--possibly for using bad language (he
"said things"). At first his governess can't believe that such
a charming, angelic-looking boy could be guilty of any
wrongdoing. But as the story proceeds, she suspects that the
ghosts she sees are after Miles's soul. Eventually, she
believes that Miles is in league with them.

Miles's nature is as ambiguous as the natures of the other major
characters in the story. Is he a child on the verge of losing
his innocence to the corrupt spirit of Peter Quint? If you
believe that, you'll agree with the governess that he and his
sister are conspiring against her to meet with the ghosts. Or
is he simply a normal ten-year-old, usually well-behaved but
sometimes mischievous, who wants to return to school so he can
be with boys his own age? If you believe that, you'll believe
that through no fault of his own, Miles has become the object of
the governess's unhealthy obsession.

Even Miles's fate at the end of the story is left unclear. Is
it the departing spirit of the evil Peter Quint that causes
Miles's heart to stop? Or has he simply been scared to death by
his own governess?


You know even less about Flora than about Miles. She is younger
than Miles and like him is exquisitely beautiful and charming.
As with her brother, there is no proof that Flora communicates
with the spirits of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. She does
nothing more to arouse suspicion in her governess than get out
of bed twice in the middle of the night. To the governess, this
constitutes clear proof that Flora is conspiring with Miles and
the ghosts. But when Miss Jessel's name is finally mentioned,
the child is so upset that she suffers a nervous collapse.
Would this be the reaction of a child who has been consorting
with evil spirits?


Douglas appears only in the prologue to the tale.   He is one of
the houseguests trading ghost stories as The Turn of the Screw
begins. It is Douglas who remembers the story of a ghost
appearing to two children, and it is he who reads the
governess's written account aloud.

He gives you your first glimpse of the governess. "She was a
most charming person... the most agreeable woman I've ever
known in her position.... We had... talks in the garden--talks
in which she struck me as awfully clever and nice... I liked
her extremely."

The testimony Douglas gives about the governess makes him an
important character in the story. He's the only person who has
an independent opinion about the governess; everything else you
learn about her is from the manuscript she herself wrote.
Douglas's respect for the governess, therefore, makes you more
inclined to believe her story. On the other hand, some readers
have raised the possibility that Douglas's fondness for the
governess developed because as a boy he was in love with her.
In their opinion, Douglas's childhood infatuation with her was
perhaps as unwholesome as they believe the governess's feelings
for Miles are and Douglas is just as unreliable a narrator as
the governess is herself.


Miles's and Flora's uncle looms large in The Turn of the Screw,
but he is not present during the events of the story. He sets
the events of the tale in motion, however, by hiring the
governess to take charge of his orphaned niece and nephew.

The uncle is wealthy and handsome, and the governess is so
anxious to please him that at times she doesn't seem to behave
sensibly. In fact, to many readers it is the governess's
repressed sexual desires for her employer that cause her to
imagine the ghosts. To you, he may seem a somewhat sinister
figure, or at least a very cold and aloof one. What do you
think of an uncle who hires a governess for his niece and nephew
and then orders her not to bother him with any news of them?
Though you don't see the uncle, he adds greatly to the sense of
mystery and secretiveness that permeates The Turn of the


You learn little about Peter Quint--only the information the
governess gleans from Mrs. Grose. Quint is the master's former
valet, who was inclined to take liberties with his position. He
tried to dress like his master, and he became overly friendly
with the master's young nephew, Miles. He apparently had an
affair with the former governess, Miss Jessel. After her
departure, he was found lying dead on the road, apparently from
a fall he suffered while drunk.

These are the facts about Quint. In the governess's telling of
them, however, this red-haired servant becomes the center of all
the corruption in the story. His friendship with Miles takes on
sinister (possibly demonic and sexual) overtones. The governess
is convinced that even after death Quint is determined to regain
his influence over the boy and his sister. She is battling him
for the souls of the children, she believes. Quint's final
appearance (perhaps real, perhaps only in the governess's mind)
results in Miles's death.


The children's former governess, Miss Jessel, a lady by the
social standards of the day, apparently had a sexual
relationship with the brutal, lower-class servant, Peter Quint.
Miss Jessel left Bly for a brief vacation, and about the time
she was expected to return, word came that she had died.

This is all you know for sure about her. But in the eyes of her
replacement--the governess who narrates The Turn of the
Screw--Miss Jessel is a specter who has returned from the dead
and is in league with Peter Quint. Whereas Quint seems to
direct most of his evil attention toward Miles, Miss Jessel
seems determined to claim Flora.


After a brief prologue set in an old house on Christmas Eve, The
Turn of the Screw is set in summer and early autumn at the
country estate of Bly. The big, old house has a tower, open
windows, fresh curtains, and bright flowers on its extensive
grounds, which include a shallow lake.

To the governess who is the main character in the story, Bly is
beautiful enough to increase her feelings of gratitude toward
her employer, yet different enough from her own home to seem
strange. Sometimes it seems romantic, provoking fantasies of
life in a castle, but at other times it's ugly enough to remind
the governess of a big, old drifting ship with only herself at
the helm. The grounds are peaceful, making the presence of evil
seem unlikely--almost impossible--and yet so isolated that the
presence of an unknown man seems an immediate threat.

Bly has been likened to a Garden of Eden, a place of beauty and
serenity spoiled by the evil that visits it. Like the
exquisite, other-worldly beauty of Flora and Miles, it offers a
striking contrast to that evil.

Some readers have wondered if the house at Bly isn't based in
part on James's own estate, Lamb House. Others have wondered if
he didn't subconsciously take it from a magazine in which one of
his earlier stories appeared. The Christmas 1891 issue of Black
and White, an illustrated London weekly, contained a drawing
called The Haunted House. The picture shows a frightened girl
and boy looking at a house (with a tower) from which an eerie
light is shining. The children are separated from the house by
a lake ringed with dense undergrowth. In the same issue of the
magazine is Sir Edmund Orme, a tale by Henry James. James would
have undoubtedly looked at the magazine his story appeared in.
Would the memory of one of the illustrations in the magazine
contribute to the setting for The Turn of the Screw?


The following are themes of The Turn of the Screw.


Like Nathaniel Hawthorne, James saw in the tale of the
supernatural a place where "the actual and the imaginary" could
meet. There is sometimes a fine line between what is and what
is not of this world, and in The Turn of the Screw, you cross
that line many times. In the tale, it is often not clear what
actually happens and what the governess imagines.

The governess arrives at Bly knowing that her employer wants
never to see or hear from her again. But before long, she
imagines meeting him on her evening walks, and she fantasizes
about his satisfaction with her performance. When she sees the
ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, The Turn of the Screw you
wonder if they are real or imagined. You may decide simply that
the governess thought she saw the ghosts, and leave it at that.
But then the governess embellishes her story. In a second
telling of her encounter with Miss Jessel in the schoolroom, the
governess claims that the ghost spoke to her, though in her
first telling you heard only what she said to the ghost. At
points like these, the governess seems to have wandered beyond
reality. The actual and the imagined have become fused in her
consciousness and are fused in the tale as a whole. In the end,
is it an actual ghost or merely the governess's mad imaginings
that causes Miles's death?


Closely related to the theme of actual versus imaginary is the
theme of ambiguity. Is the governess courageous or neurotic?
Are the children good or evil? Does Mrs. Grose believe in the
ghosts or not? Henry James could have given you the answers.
He could have explained why Miles was expelled from school and
how Miss Jessel died. He could have graphically described the
evil visited upon the children by the depraved Peter Quint and
Miss Jessel. But are those specifics the point of the story?
Isn't the point rather what the mind makes of those mysteries,
how understanding or misunderstanding flourish in an environment
of ambiguity? The ghost story as a form appealed to James
because there such ambiguity was possible. The unanswered
questions raised in The Turn of the Screw have helped to make it
a popular tale for almost a century. The controversy that rages
about possible answers has, at times, almost eclipsed the tale

3.   EVIL

The suggestion of evil permeates The Turn of the Screw, whether
you believe the ghosts exist in the story or are products of the
governess's insanity. As the governess sees their tormented
spirits returning to threaten the children, the corrupt Peter
Quint and the dishonored Miss Jessel seem as evil in death as
they did in life. Here the suggestion of wrongdoing is
greatest--in some unspeakable and unnatural evil visited upon
the children first by the living couple and then by their
ghosts. Whatever it is that the four do together (the
possibilities have sexual overtones), it is so terrible as to be
unmentionable. Even the minor mysteries--Miss Jessel's untimely
death, Miles's unexplained dismissal from school--seem to be
rooted in evil.

Images that are traditionally associated with good only serve to
bring evil into sharper focus. The daughter of a country parson
is visited by ghosts. The peaceful estate of Bly is an Eden
from which Quint and Miss Jessel have been expelled. The
children's angelic beauty offers a marked contrast to their
hideous natures that would conspire with spirits. Their model
behavior seems a sign of their corruption and their silence a
constant reminder of their secret.

The theme of The Turn of the Screw is not merely the evil that
infiltrates Bly, but the evil latent in each of us as well.
It's for that reason that James didn't spell out in detail the
nature of Peter Quint's crimes. Henry James wrote, "Only make
the reader's general vision of evil intense enough... and his
own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy... and
horror... will supply him quite sufficiently with all the
particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for


Readers of The Turn of the Screw who don't believe in its ghosts
are quick to identify sexual repression as one of its themes.
According to these readers, the young woman's frustrated sexual
attraction to her employer causes her to conjure up ghosts and
suggest an unspeakable evil visited upon the children. Her
imaginings about what goes on with the ghosts and the children,
therefore, are actually related to her frustrated feelings for
the handsome uncle.
The belief that strong feelings that have been repressed in the
subconscious may emerge in relation to other circumstances is
derived mainly from the work of the Viennese psychologist,
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Readers who take this interpretation
of The Turn of the Screw argue that James, whose brother William
was a famous psychologist and who himself was interested in the
discipline, was undoubtedly aware of Freud's work. Some readers
have even argued (unconvincingly, others feel) that James might
have derived his story of a disturbed governess from a case
history of one of Freud's patients.

Readers who believe the story is primarily about sexual
repression in a troubled mind find sexual symbolism in the
governess's sighting of Quint on a tower (a symbol of male
sexuality) and Miss Jessel on a lake (a symbol of female
sexuality), as well as in Flora's toy boat and mast (a flat
piece of wood with a hole in it, and another piece that is
inserted into the hole). They claim that as the story
progresses, the governess turns her sexual attentions on Miles,
and they cite as evidence statements with sexual overtones, such
as her description of herself and Miles being like embarrassed
newlyweds in front of the maid.


The Turn of the Screw was written in the late 1890s, and belongs
to what is called the late period in the work of Henry James.
His concern in this period was no longer chiefly with manners,
as it was when he wrote Daisy Miller twenty years earlier, but
with human consciousness. The stories are no longer as
concerned with how characters behave, as with how characters
think and feel.

By the time he wrote The Turn of the Screw, James had begun
dictating to a secretary--rather than writing--his stories.
Some readers believe that dictation caused his sentences to
become longer and more convoluted, capturing the rhythms of the
thought process. Here is an example from Section XIII of The
Turn of the Screw.

After these secret scenes I chattered more than ever, going on
volubly enough till one of our prodigious palpable hushes
occurred--I can call them nothing else--the strange dizzy lift
or swim (I try for terms!) into a stillness, a pause of all
life, that had nothing to do with the more or less noise we at
the moment might be engaged in making and that I could hear
through any intensified mirth or quickened recitation or louder
strum of the piano.

This sentence reads like the transcript of a person's speech,
which--more accurately than prose--reflects thoughts as they
occur in a person's mind. Whether or not dictation influenced
James's style, he was developing a "stream of consciousness"

James was a master stylist. The language of his descriptions
was always precise. James's fiction of all periods drew on his
enormous vocabulary, which included many archaic words and
expressions borrowed from languages other than English. In The
Turn of the Screw, one character "blenches," or recoils in fear.
"Raison de plus," says another, using a French expression
meaning "All the more reason."

When James revised The Turn of the Screw in 1908 for the
publication of his collected novels and tales called the New
York Edition, he made changes that placed greater emphasis on
the psychological aspects of his tale. The changes may seem
minor--he removed many commas and changed some verbs of
perception to verbs of feeling. The effect, however, was great.
With fewer commas, the governess's thoughts run together more.
They seem less organized, less carefully measured. And having
the governess say "I felt" instead of "I saw" emphasizes not
what happened, but the governess's feelings about what happened.
The prose style puts the story more within the mind of the
governess, thereby creating more of the ambiguities for which
The Turn of the Screw is so famous.


The Turn of the Screw is unusual in that it has two narrators.
One exists only in the prologue. That first narrator, who is
nameless, describes the scene in an old house where a number of
houseguests are telling ghost stories. He then introduces a
guest, Douglas, who tells the others about the governess. The
rest of the tale is Douglas's reading of the governess's

The governess is considered the principal narrator, and the
story is told from her point of view. She is also what some
readers call the central intelligence--the character through
whose eyes you see the story. James gives you her thoughts and
perceptions directly, and presents them through her
conversations with Mrs. Grose. Mrs. Grose is what James's
readers call the confidant--the character who serves as a
sounding board for the ideas of the central intelligence. (See
also Point of View in the discussion of Daisy Miller.)

Telling The Turn of the Screw from the point of view of its main
participant has an enormous effect. In fact, it's the main
reason for the sense of mystery surrounding the story. In a
sense, readers are at the governess's mercy. They know only
what she tells them.

Why do some readers refuse to believe the governess's story?
Probably because, to them, the governess is a perfect example of
an unreliable narrator. They believe that the governess is the
victim of an obsession so strong that it drives her to the edge
of madness, and in this agitated condition she hallucinates the
threatening ghosts. These readers point out that she is the
only one who sees the ghosts, and that many of the events she
finds sinister can be explained in other ways. These readers
find The Turn of the Screw one of the most subtle and most
ambiguous examples of first-person narrative in all


The Turn of the Screw is counted among the tales of Henry James,
despite its length of some 53,000 words. (That's the length of
a short novel; most of James's other tales run only about 10,000
to 20,000 words.) It was first published in twelve installments
in Collier's Weekly in 1898. Publishing a long work of fiction
in installments was common among magazines at the turn of the
century. "Serialization," as this practice was called, was so
popular that it was not unusual for James to see the first part
of one of his stories published in a magazine before he had even
decided how that story would end.

The Turn of the Screw's birth as a long magazine serial
undoubtedly influenced its structure. It comprises a prologue
and twenty-four parts; these short sections gave James many
opportunities to leave his readers hanging in suspense and so
encourage them to buy the next issue of the magazine.

The Turn of the Screw can also be described more simply as a
ghost story--one of the classic ghost stories in literature.
The ghost story was a form James used often; it was for him what
the romance (a tale of the extra-ordinary) was for the earlier
American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne: a middle ground for the
meeting of what Hawthorne called "the actual and the

The British novelist Virginia Woolf suggested that James "uses
the supernatural effectively.... where some quality in a
character or in a situation can only be given its fullest
meaning by being cut free from facts." As you read, try to
decide if that's an apt description for the events of The Turn
of the Screw. James himself said once that "a good ghost-story,
to be half as terrible as a good murder-story, must be connected
at a hundred points with the common objects of life." Again, as
you read The Turn of the Screw, you'll want to decide if it is
indeed "terrible"--that is, terrifying--and if that terror
results from its connections to everyday life.


On Christmas Eve in an old house a group of guests is trading
ghost stories. A guest named Douglas recalls a story in which
ghosts appear to two children--a story unsurpassed, he says, for
ugliness, horror, and pain. The others press him to continue,
but Douglas explains that he doesn't know the story by heart.
It is a personal account written by his family's governess and
given to him before her death twenty years ago. At the
insistence of the other guests, Douglas sends to London for the
manuscript. As the group awaits its arrival, Douglas furnishes
background material for the tale.

In making the houseguests wait to hear the story, James
introduces the element of suspense early in his tale.

NOTE: James refers to several locations in England that may be
unfamiliar to you. Harley Street, where the young bachelor
lives, is a residential area in London that was fashionable at
the time this story was written. It was often called
Physician's Row, because many doctors had offices there. The
governess is from Hampshire, a county southwest of London in
southern England. Essex, where the bachelor's country estate is
located, is a county northeast of London, also in southern

The young woman was twenty when she left the house of her
father, a poor country vicar (parson), and went to London to
look for work. She answered an ad for a governess, placed by a
handsome, charming, young bachelor who had suddenly found
himself the guardian of his niece and nephew. Unwilling to keep
the children with him, the bachelor had sent them to live at his
country estate, called Bly, to be cared for by a household staff
and a governess. This governess had recently passed away, and
it was this position he hoped the young woman would fill. She
would be in complete charge, he promised. He would ask nothing
but that she handle everything herself. She was never, under
any circumstances, to bother him about the children. Do you
find this an unusual request? Why wouldn't the governess
question her prospective employer's demand?

The young woman had many reservations about a life that promised
little but responsibility. But the uncle's charm won out and
the young woman accepted the position. When he held her hand in
gratitude, she felt rewarded. But she never saw him again.

Some of the listeners question Douglas about his relationship
with the woman and wonder if there was something between them.
Douglas explains that his sister's governess was ten years older
than he, and that he simply spent time with her while home from
college for the summer. Still, the question of Douglas's
judgment has been raised. Is he an unbiased judge of the
governess' character? She must have liked him, because she told
her story to him alone.

NOTE: As the guests retire for the evening, James uses two
unusual words to describe their actions: "...we handshook and
'candlestuck,' as somebody said, and went to bed." Handshook
means to shake hands. Candlestuck means to set a candle on a
candlestick. In the days before electricity, it was necessary
to carry candles in order to see in the hallways of a darkened

The manuscript arrives.    The next night, Douglas begins to read

The tale from now on is Douglas's reading of the manuscript the
governess wrote years ago. It is told in the first person from
her point of view. Douglas and the other houseguests no longer
figure in the tale.


The first few days bring a series of emotional ups and downs for
the young woman. Has she made a mistake in accepting the
position? The nagging doubts travel with her on the bumpy road
toward Bly. She had imagined the estate to be a dreary place,
but beyond an expanse of lawn, trees, and flowers is a large
house with open windows and fresh curtains, with two maids
peering out. Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, is a "stout simple
plain clean wholesome" woman who treats her as a distinguished
visitor and seems very happy for the company. Flora--the
younger of the two pupils--is the most beautiful child the
governess has ever seen.

During her first night at Bly, the governess gets up several
times to look around her new room and to listen to the
unfamiliar sounds of the house. At one point, she thinks she
hears a child crying in the distance. At another, she has the
feeling that someone has just passed her bedroom door. Is
insomnia beginning to influence her perceptions? This is the
only night that she will spend alone. In undertaking the "whole
care" of little Flora, the governess has arranged for the girl's
bed to be set up near hers.

Her admiration for the little girl does not escape the notice of
Mrs. Grose. The little boy, Mrs. Grose promises, is also very
remarkable. If the governess likes Flora, then she will be
"carried away" by her brother, Miles, who will return from
school in a few days. The governess admits to being easily
carried away, and confides she was carried away in London. Mrs.
Grose guesses that it was their attractive employer who caught
her fancy. Keep the young woman's attraction for her employer
in mind, for it provides important motivation for her actions
throughout the story.

In just a few days, her life has changed considerably, and the
change is overwhelming. Her new responsibilities both scare her
and make her feel proud. Her first duty, she reasons, is to get
to know Flora and to win her over. As they tour the house
together, Flora is courageous and confident on staircases and
towers that make the governess dizzy. The little girl seems
like a "rosy sprite" inhabiting a romantic castle, and her
governess is enchanted. But as Flora shows her governess the
house "secret by secret," does she perhaps mention something
about the valet or the governess who were at Bly before this new
governess? Readers who feel that the ghosts of Quint and Miss
Jessel do not exist believe that Flora may have provided details
that may have helped in their fabrication.

Is Bly a storybook over which the governess has fallen asleep
and is dreaming? No, she thinks, it is only a big, ugly old
house, and its inhabitants are almost as lost as passengers on a
drifting ship. It occurs to the young woman that she is,
strangely, at the helm--that she has been given the great
responsibility of steering the ship safely.


Mail from the governess's employer the next day contains an
unopened letter from the headmaster of Miles's school and the
instructions: "Read him please, deal with him; but mind you
don't report. Not a word. I'm off!" Before going to bed, the
governess opens the letter to find the shocking news that Miles
has been expelled from school. Wishing she had not opened the
letter until she could share it with Mrs. Grose, the governess
spends yet another sleepless night.

This is a traumatic episode for the governess. Already
exhausted from several sleepless nights, she receives one letter
from her employer reiterating his wish never to hear from her,
and another complicating her job considerably. Her hopes of
romance with the handsome bachelor are dashed. At the same
time, the character of the young boy she has never met is now
shrouded in mystery.

Conversations with Mrs. Grose shed little light on the matter.
The housekeeper is evasive in answering questions about Miles,
and her evasiveness introduces an element of ambiguity into the
tale. She admits that Miles has been naughty at times, but
never bad. And she mocks the idea that Miles might be a
corrupting influence on the governess, or on anyone.

Even though the governess laughs with Mrs. Grose at the idea
that Miles could be a corrupting force, notice that she has
introduced the subject of corruption, of the evil influence one
person can exercise over another. Is this a foreshadowing of
actual events to come, or is it more an indication of the
governess's unhealthy obsession with evil?

Mrs. Grose describes the former governess, Miss Jessel, as
young and pretty, and the young woman remarks, "He seems to like
us young and pretty!" Mrs. Grose answers, "Oh he did, it was
the way he liked every one!" adding quickly in explanation, "I
mean that's his way--the master's." The change of tense and
immediate attempt at clarification do not escape the young
woman's notice. She has the distinct impression that Mrs.
Grose referred to someone other than their employer in her first
remark, and tried to cover this up in her second. But when Mrs.
Grose wonders innocently who else she could mean, the answer is
"so obviously no one else" that the governess forgets her
suspicion that Mrs. Grose has said more than she meant to.
Still, you're probably wondering if Mrs. Grose is trying to
hide something or if the governess is so high-strung and
suspicious that she searches for evil where none exists.

Mrs. Grose explains that around the time Miss Jessel was
expected to return to Bly after a short vacation, word came that
she was dead. Claiming not to know the cause of Miss Jessel's
death, the housekeeper asks to be excused so she can return to
her work. Here again her seemingly evasive attitude makes you


When the governess meets Miles, she is more bewildered than ever
about his dismissal from school. The boy is "incredibly
beautiful" and seems as pure and innocent as his little sister.
The governess decides not to answer the headmaster's letter, and
to say nothing to the school, to her employer, or even to the
boy himself. Do you find that a reasonable reaction? Or is it
the reaction of a woman overly anxious to prove her authority to
herself and others? In her ignorance and confusion, she thinks
she can deal with Miles's entire education when--in many
ways--this unsophisticated young woman has as much to learn as
the children. In her speculations about what the future might
hold for the children, James foreshadows the trouble to come.

NOTE: Both children are described in language that stresses
their unearthly beauty. Earlier, Flora was compared in her
serenity to "one of Raphael's holy infants." Raphael (1483-1520)
was an Italian Renaissance painter of religious works. Flora
has also been described as "beatific," an adjective that is
closely related to the religious term beatify, which means "to
declare blessed." (Beatification is the first step to
sainthood.) Here Miles, too, is characterized as possessing a
"divine" quality. Does James mean to establish the children as
genuine innocents and use their beauty simply as a contrast to
the horror that will soon surround them? Or is he aiming at
something larger--the duality of the children's natures?
Physical beauty is often contrasted with inner corruption in the
works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, a writer James admired.

During her first few weeks at Bly, the governess often finds
herself with a free hour in the evening and spends that hour
walking on the grounds in the lingering light. Her enjoyment of
the estate could not be greater if she owned Bly herself. Her
walks afford her a chance to think about her new position and
about how--by doing her job so well--she is pleasing her
employer. She sometimes fantasizes that she will suddenly meet
him, smiling at her in approval, at a turn in the path. While
walking one evening with his handsome face in mind, she is
startled by the figure of a man on the tower Flora had shown her
on her first day at Bly. At first glance she thinks the man is
her employer. A second later, she realizes he is not. The
sounds of evening are stilled as she confronts the stranger.
Neither says a word.

During an experience like this, it is impossible to tell how
much time is passing. The encounter lasts long enough for the
young woman to consider a dozen possible identities for the
figure and to wonder if there could be someone she doesn't know
living at Bly. It lasts long enough, too, for the figure to
study her in the same way she studies him. Without taking his
eyes off her, the man changes his position on the platform,
turns, and is gone.

Because this is the first time the governess sees one of the
figures who represent the evil at the heart of The Turn of the
Screw, you'll want to pay particular attention to this scene.
As you read and reread it, try to decide whether you can trust
what the governess is telling you.

Is it significant that the governess first sees the apparition
while fantasizing about her employer and wishing she could see
him? Could the young woman's infatuation with her employer
evoke an apparition of a man who looks a great deal like him?
Is the figure real, or the product of the governess's


As the governess ponders what she saw, she wonders if there is
"a 'secret' at Bly--a mystery of Udolpho or an insane,
unmentionable relative kept in unsuspected confinement."

NOTE: In this sentence, James refers to two books whose central
situations are not unlike the one now confronting the governess.
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe is a ghost story
published in 1794 in which the heroine is abducted and confined
in an isolated castle in the Apennine mountains of Italy. The
remark about a relative kept in confinement refers to Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Bronte, a novel published in 1847 in which a
governess is the heroine, and her employer's insane wife is
secretly confined in another wing of the house.

In her agitation, the governess circles the house again and
again until she has walked several miles. When she enters the
house and encounters Mrs. Grose, her instinct is to spare the
housekeeper. Using her wet feet as an excuse, she goes to her
room. There is simply no accounting for the man she has seen.
After questioning the household staff, she feels confident that
the apparition was not a practical joke played by them. This
leaves only one other possibility: an intruder--possibly a
harmless lover of old houses--has been among them at Bly.

Letters from her family bring only troubling news of problems at
home, and offer little relief from the anxiety she feels. The
best distraction is her work with Miles and Flora, who are a
source of constant joy and discovery. But there is one area in
which she makes no discovery whatsoever; the matter of Miles's
dismissal from school. He never mentions the place nor any of
his teachers or friends, and he seems too innocent to have
committed any wrong.

NOTE: This passage contains a few expressions that are probably
unfamiliar to you. In qualifying Miles's gentleness, the
governess uses the word "muff," British slang for "sissy." In
her remark about cherubs who had "nothing to whack," she
compares the children to angels who are too physically
insubstantial to be spanked. It's a flattering comparison--or
is it? Do you think it makes the children sound too good to be

While dressing for church one afternoon, the governess retrieves
a pair of gloves from the dining room. In the waning afternoon
light, she is just able to see the gloves on a chair. As she
bends to pick them up, she is confronted by an unexpected
sight--the face of a man in the dining room window. It is the
same man she saw on the tower. His stare is as deep and hard as
at their first meeting, but this time it wanders and fixes on
other things around the room. The governess is gripped by
horror. She senses that the man has come not for her, but for
someone else.

She reacts with a selflessness often cited as reason enough to
trust and accept her version of the story. Compelled by courage
and a sense of duty, she runs out the door and around to where
she saw the intruder. The man has vanished. As the governess
stands where he stood, she sees the entire scene as he had.
Coincidentally, Mrs. Grose enters the dining room at that
moment. When she spots the face in the window, her reaction is
the same as the younger woman's had been. The governess wonders
why Mrs. Grose looks so frightened.


The governess now needs the housekeeper's support. She reports
to Mrs. Grose her sighting of an "extraordinary man" at the old
tower and again at the dining room window. He is no one from
the house or the village. He is a horror, she says. As she
describes his long pale face, sharp eyes, thin lips, red,
close-curling hair, arched eyebrows, and little red whiskers,
Mrs.   Grose's eyes widen in recognition.

The man is Peter Quint, their employer's personal servant who
lived at Bly when their employer did. When their employer
returned to London, Quint remained, in charge of the estate.
Then, "He went too," explains Mrs. Grose. When the governess
wonders aloud where Mr. Quint went, Mrs. Grose answers, "God
knows where! He died." The governess almost shrieks in terror.
"Yes," Mrs. Grose reports, "Mr. Quint's dead."

NOTE: This section is often referred to as the "identification
scene," for it is here that the man's identity is established as
Peter Quint. It is almost always to this scene that readers
turn when trying to determine whether or not the ghosts really
exist in the story. Those who say the governess really sees
ghosts point out that Mrs. Grose recognizes the figure as Peter
Quint and ask how the governess could furnish such a
recognizable description of Quint if she were just imagining the
man. Those who think the governess imagined the ghosts note her
possible sources of information about Quint. Did Flora mention
the valet as she showed the house to her governess "secret by
secret"? Mrs. Grose certainly hinted at the existence of
another man at Bly when talking about Miss Jessel. And after
the sighting at the tower, the governess questioned the
household staff and the villagers. She may have learned about
Quint in those conversations. What do you think?


Mrs. Grose has not seen "the shadow of a shadow," but she
accepts the young woman's story as the truth. The two vow to
bear the burden of the knowledge together.

Readers who believe the ghosts to be products of the governess's
troubled imagination point out that she seems to be leaping to
conclusions here. She immediately assumes that the figure she
saw is evil, and that it is after the children. Is her
intuition correct, or is it more an indication of her overactive
and unhealthy imagination? When she vows that if necessary she
will shield the children by becoming a victim herself, is she
showing true bravery? Or is she trying to make herself into a
heroine, unconsciously hoping that she can make her absent
employer fall in love with her?

How strange, the governess thinks, that the children haven't
mentioned Quint! Flora may be too young to remember him, but
Miles would. Mrs. Grose pleads with the governess not to
mention Quint to Miles. The two spent a great deal of time
together at Quint's insistence, and "Quint was much too free,"
she adds. "Too free with everyone!" What does this mean? James
never spells it out, leaving you to imagine the worst. But some
kind of sexual misconduct seems hinted. Mrs. Grose never
informed their employer that Quint was "definitely and
admittedly bad." After all, he had instructed his employees not
to bother him. And she was afraid of what Quint might do. The
children were in his charge, not hers. Besides, Quint's stay at
Bly ended soon enough. He was found dead one morning on the
road from the village. It seems he had taken the wrong path on
his way home from the tavern, and he had slipped on an icy hill
and hit his head.

The governess is haunted by the sense that Mrs. Grose is
keeping something back. Is she right, or is this just more
evidence of her high-strung and suspicious nature? In any
event, she takes a certain amount of joy in the heroism the
circumstances demand of her. The children have only her to
protect them. She imagines how impressed her employer will be
that she has succeeded where another young woman might fail.

One afternoon, while Miles is reading, the governess takes Flora
onto the grounds. Flora, quite happy to amuse herself, plays at
the edge of the pond while her governess sews.

NOTE: The children's imaginations are fueled by recent lessons
in the schoolroom. In Flora's game on the grounds this
afternoon, the pond represents the Sea of Azof (Azov), an arm of
the Black Sea about which she is learning in geography.

Suddenly, the governess senses someone watching them, and from
the corner of her eye can make out a figure across the pond. It
could be one of the caretakers or the mailman, but the governess
feels that she knows the identity of the spectator without ever
looking up to see who it is. Who do you think it is? And do
you trust the governess's positive identification?

The governess turns her eyes to Flora, and her heart stands
still as she wonders if she, too, will see the figure. The
child shows no sign of fear or interest. In fact, she almost
seems to be purposely turning her back to the figure as she
intently makes a boat and mast out of two pieces of wood.

NOTE: The Freudian reading of this story emphasizes the sexual
imagery in this section. Peter Quint, the male ghost, appeared
first on a tower--a phallic symbol. Miss Jessel now appears
over a feminine symbol--a body of water. And what could be more
sexual than Flora's toys: a flat piece of wood with a hole in
it, and another that she sticks into the hole? Those who
believe in a Freudian interpretation of the story feel that
James uses sexual imagery to show that the specters the
governess sees are not real but come instead from her repressed


The governess confides to Mrs. Grose her suspicion that Flora
saw the figure across the pond, then tried to conceal that fact
from her. Mrs. Grose wonders how she can know since Flora
hasn't said a word about it. Notice that--except for the word
of the governess--there is no evidence that Flora has seen the
ghost. Do you believe the governess? Do you think Mrs. Grose
believes her? The governess tell you that the housekeeper is
horrified to learn that the apparition was a woman--a pale,
beautiful woman dressed in black. The governess feels sure that
Flora knows the woman, and that Mrs. Grose must, too. She is
certain that the woman is Miss Jessel, the governess at Bly
before her.

You'll want to take a close look at this second identification
scene. It is considerably different from the first. There, the
governess's description of the man was quite detailed, and it
was Mrs. Grose who first linked the ghostly figure with Peter
Quint. This time, the description is vague. Pallor and a black
dress are hardly traits peculiar to any one person. Nor does
Mrs. Grose recognize Miss Jessel from the young woman's
description. It is the governess who names the figure. It is
she, not Mrs. Grose, who claims it is Miss Jessel returned from
the dead.

Mrs. Grose wonders how the governess--who never knew Miss
Jessel--can be sure. And why was Flora not upset by seeing the
woman? Could this be proof of her innocence? The governess
concurs that it must be, for the woman, shabbily dressed in
mourning clothes, is a horror who stared at Flora with fury and
determination--as if she wanted to get hold of the little

Though beautiful, the figure looked infamous (like a person of
bad reputation). Mrs. Grose confirms this, saying, "They were
both infamous." When Mrs. Grose seems reluctant to tell the
story, the governess guesses that there was something between
Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. She is overwhelmed by a sense of
defeat in her effort to protect the children. What she imagines
is too terrible. As she bursts into tears, she says, "It's far
worse than I dreamed. They're lost."

What could have prompted Miss Jessel to leave Bly if not simply
the vacation she had coming? What could have caused the death
of so young a woman? Why would her ghost appear to the
governess in mourning clothes? James never furnishes the
answer, but leaves the question to be answered by each
individual reader. What does the withholding of such
information do to the story?


The governess's suspicions now take a new turn. It seems
impossible to her that Flora didn't notice the figure of Miss
Jessel. Indeed, it almost seems to her that Flora and the
figure were in league with each other, with Flora so intently
making her little toy boat that the governess was distracted
from Miss Jessel. How long have the ghost and the child been
communicating, the governess wonders. Are you wondering whether
the governess's suspicions are well-founded, or whether they're
a sign of her growing hysteria?

Still, the children continue to soothe her anxiety. When the
governess is with Miles and Flora, everything ceases to exist
but their beauty and their helplessness.

Miles has been a model child since he returned from school, and
his governess asks if he was ever bad. Mrs. Grose can report
nothing worse than his spending time with Quint. At the time,
she mentioned the impropriety of their close relationship to
Miss Jessel, but Miss Jessel told her to mind her own business.
Then, when she mentioned it to Miles himself, he denied being
with Quint on several occasions when she knew they had been
together. He also denied that Quint was involved with Miss
Jessel. The two women wonder to what degree the couple made
Miles their accomplice in their evil relationship. When Miles
was with Quint, they speculate, Flora was with Miss Jessel.

NOTE: In this scene, Mrs. Grose seems to confirm the
governess's suspicions by admitting that something was not right
in the relationship between Miles and Quint and Flora and Miss
Jessel. As you read the dialogue between the two women,
however, notice that like so much in The Turn of the Screw, it
can be read in more than one way.

While Mrs. Grose still seems to believe in the innocence of the
children, the governess sees everything in the worst possible
light. Mrs. Grose says that Miles "prevaricated." The
governess uses a much stronger word--she calls the boy a liar.
Mrs. Grose may admit that something was wrong in the
relationship between the boy and the servant. But the governess
calls Quint not just a servant but a "base menial" and believes
that the relationship was not merely wrong, but unspeakably
awful. Mrs. Grose reminds the governess that Miles is usually
an angelic little boy. But the governess says that Miles was a
"fiend" at school. (Though as far as you know, she still
doesn't have any information on the reasons for his being

Is the governess heroically trying to persuade Mrs. Grose of
the danger that surrounds them, or is she trying to spread her
own hysterical fantasies? Readers who believe the latter say
that James gives clues that the governess is not a good judge of
the situation by having her speak of her own "dreadful boldness
of mind," and by having her say that Mrs. Grose's suggestion
that Miss Jessel corrupted Flora "Suited me too, I felt, only
too well.

James deliberately leaves it to your imagination to guess what
went on between the depraved couple and the children. He could
say quite plainly what it was. But what would that do to the
story? Instead, he suggests an unspeakable horror. By not
supplying you with the information, he forces you to imagine the
horrible scene for yourself. The images you conjure up are
probably more terrible than any he could have supplied.


The governess tries not to betray her anxiety to the children,
who go out of their way to please her. They read to her, tell
her stories, act out scenes, and recite passages from memory.
They seem so clever and charming that she completely forgets
about arranging for Miles to attend a real school. They're also
remarkably close, and they seem to work together. Sometimes,
for example, when their governess herself becomes tiresome, one
keeps her occupied so the other can slip away for a little

NOTE: Here is an example of foreshadowing. In describing the
seemingly innocent spirit of cooperation between Miles and
Flora, James prepares you for a less innocent scene in which
Miles plays the piano for his governess while Flora slips away
alone, purportedly to meet Miss Jessel.

While reading one night, the young woman has the impression that
someone or something is moving through the house. She puts down
her book and leaves her room. By the first light of morning,
she sees a figure on the staircase landing, staring as he did
from the tower and from the garden. The young woman faces him
with equal intensity, and for an extraordinary moment she feels
no fear. She is confident that if she can just stand her
ground, he will disappear.

For that moment, the figure seems human. The only unnatural
element is the dead silence of the long gaze that passes between
the two. They stand frozen in this position for so long that
the governess begins to wonder if she is still alive. As the
figure turns on the stairs and disappears, the governess thinks
that a hunchback could not look more deformed.

NOTE: The book the governess was reading before she was
startled in this scene is Amelia by Henry Fielding (1707-1754),
a novel published in 1751. The good and patient heroine of this
novel has been suggested as an inspiration for the governess.


The governess returns to her room and finds Flora's bed empty.
The terror she was able to resist in the ghost's presence now
courses through her until Flora pops out from behind the window
shade, asking where her governess has been. What has happened?
The governess is convinced that Flora was trying to deceive her
and that she too, saw the ghostly figure. But Flora claims she
saw no one, and her calm, pleasant tone makes the governess's
fears sound foolish. The girl behaves as if she has nothing to
hide. Do you think she does?

NOTE: When the governess says that her questions disturb Flora
no more than "Mrs. Marcet or nine-times-nine," she refers to
questions she might pose to Flora about her schoolwork. Mrs.
Marcet was Jane Marcet (1769-1858), a popular author of
elementary school texts. "Nine-times-nine" refers to the
multiplication tables Flora was expected to memorize.

Now the governess begins a nightly vigil, staying up in hopes
she will again encounter Peter Quint. Indeed one night she
spies a woman on the stairs with her head in her hands. The
woman vanishes without ever looking up, but the governess is
certain it was Miss Jessel. Another night, exhausted after two
weeks of little sleep, the governess dozes off at a normal hour,
but soon awakens. By the light of a match, she makes out
Flora's figure behind the window shade. The child notices
neither the light nor the sound of her governess dressing and
leaving the room. The governess suspects that Flora is
face-to-face with the ghost of Miss Jessel.

In a tower room with a view of the garden, the governess presses
her face to the window. In the moonlight, she sees a figure on
the lawn. But it is not the person she expected to see. The
figure is Miles himself!

Does the governess see a woman on the stairs, or is it the
hallucination of an exhausted mind? Is there any reason to
believe that Flora is communicating with ghosts from her window
and that Miles is communicating with them on the lawn? Or is
this paranoia born of insomnia? You must decide this question
for yourself.


The next day the governess goes to Mrs. Grose with her story.
The housekeeper, she thinks, is a "magnificent monument to the
blessing of a want of imagination." Mrs. Grose is full of
common sense if not formal education (she can neither read nor
write). For that reason, the governess is especially pleased
that this stolid woman believes her story, even if Mrs. Grose
has trouble imagining that the lovely, innocent-looking children
could be in danger.

Mrs. Grose listens patiently as the governess relates her story
of the previous night: Miles was silent as his governess led
him inside, and she wondered if he were trying to formulate a
plausible story. She felt a thrill of triumph at his
embarrassment. But could she pretend to be ignorant any longer?
Miles really "had" her. She had no choice but to ask him what
he was doing outside. The boy answered simply that he wanted
her to think him bad for a change. It was arranged ahead of
time, he claimed. Flora was to get up and serve as his lookout.
The governess fell into their trap.

Once again, you're faced with a choice. Was this as Miles
claims, the childish prank of two usually well-behaved children?
Or is it, as the governess believes, damning evidence that the
children's very souls are in danger?


The governess is now sure that Miss Jessel, Flora, Peter Quint,
and Miles meet regularly. It's a conspiracy. The children
pretend to be reading when, in fact, they are talking of Quint
and Miss Jessel. It's all a fraud--their "unearthly beauty,
their absolutely unnatural goodness." The children are not
"good," they are simply "absent." They are possessed by Quint
and Miss Jessel.

Mrs. Grose can't imagine what the infamous pair would want with
the children. The dead return, the governess says, for the love
of the evil they put into the children. Still, Mrs. Grose
can't understand what the ghosts can do now. The ghosts can
destroy the children, cries the young woman, and the children
will perish unless the two of them can prevent it.

NOTE: Mrs. Grose serves as the kind of character often called
the confidant in discussions of James's fiction--a character who
serves as a sounding board for the ideas expressed by the
central intelligence. You see her in that role here. Because
Mrs. Grose has trouble following the younger woman's hints, the
governess must spell out her theory. This gives you a chance to
hear the governess's thoughts as well.

Mrs. Grose believes the uncle must be notified. The governess
questions the wisdom of bothering a man who has asked only that
he not be disturbed. Should she write and say his little niece
and nephew are mad? What if she is the one who's mad? Her mind
reels at the thought of asking the handsome bachelor to visit.
She imagines his contempt for her failure, his scorn for her
attempt to attract his attention to her "slighted charms." She
makes her feelings very plain: Should Mrs. Grose appeal to
their employer on her behalf, she will leave Bly at once.

NOTE: Readers who doubt the existence of the ghosts in the
story often cite this passage in support of their argument. The
governess's description of her own expression ("a queerer face
than ever yet"), her fears of her employer's reaction, and her
mention of her "slighted charms," are, these readers argue,
evidence that the governess is suffering from delusions, perhaps
caused by her repressed sexual desires for her employer.

The governess is unable to confront the children with what she
knows, but she is sure that they are aware of her predicament.
What remains unspoken and unnamed among them creates a kind of
maze. Every conversation is a passageway that brings them
face-to-face with what they are trying to avoid. Miles and
Flora are always eager to hear about her life before Bly. Her
past is the only subject with which the governess feels at ease,
but talking about it makes the children's own silence more
pronounced by comparison.

NOTE: Among the stories the governess repeats is "Goody
Gosling's celebrated mot." Mot is French for word; in this
context it can also mean remark. No one knows for sure what
Goody Gosling's celebrated remark refers to. It may be a Mother
Goose rhyme that Henry James recalled from his childhood.

Summer ends, and in the scattering of dead leaves Bly looks like
"a theatre after the performance--all strewn with crumpled
playbills." The governess expects to meet Quint around many
corners, and often the time seems right for the appearance of
Miss Jessel. But since sighting a woman on the stairs, the
governess has seen nothing. There are times, even when she is
with them, when she is sure the children have visitors. But she
never sees the "outsiders."

In describing her feelings, the governess asks, "How can I
retrace to-day the strange steps of my obsession?" Does hearing
her refer to herself as "obsessed" tip the scales in favor of
the interpretation that she is mad? Or is it a natural-enough
response to the fear inspired by Quint and Miss Jessel?

Relief comes soon, the kind of relief "that a snap brings to a
strain, or the burst of a thunderstorm to a day of


One Sunday morning, Miles and the governess are walking to
church. By this time, she's so filled with tension and fear
that she feels it necessary to keep the boy at her side at all
times. Then Miles asks a question: when will he be returning
to school? The governess stops short. In her mind, the matter
of a new school for him is connected with his mysterious
dismissal from the old school. And his dismissal, in turn, is
somehow connected with the evil visited on him by Peter Quint.
All at once, doubts that the governess had been trying to
suppress come out in the open.

Miles says it isn't proper for a boy always to be with a lady,
and he reminds her of how good he has been--except for that one
night when he left the house. The governess tries to make him
say more--something about Miss Jessel or about why he was out in
the moonlight. Neither of them mentions a word about the
ghosts, but the governess is convinced that "the whole thing" is
"virtually out" between them anyway.

NOTE: Once again, you have a conversation that can be
interpreted in two entirely different ways. If you believe in
the story's ghosts, you'll probably agree with the governess
that the "whole thing" of the ghosts is "virtually out" between
them, and that Miles seems to be testing her. If you believe
that the ghosts exist only in the governess's mind, it is she
who seems to be reading something sinister into even the most
innocent remarks. When Miles cries, "I want my own sort!" is he
simply expressing a boy's natural desire to be with boys his own
age? Or is he expressing a desire to be with other
children--like his sister Flora, the governess suggests--who
conspire with ghosts?

Miles wonders if his uncle knows the way he is "going on."
(Notice the ambiguity of this phrase. Does it refer to his
desire to return to school, or to his meetings with the devilish
Quint?) When the governess says that his uncle probably doesn't
much care, Miles wonders if he can somehow make his uncle visit


The young woman sits in the churchyard, reading into what Miles
has said. She is embarrassed to go in to church late. Besides,
it would be a sign to Miles that he had gotten something out of
her. He now knows how afraid she is of dealing with his
dismissal from school, and she worries that he may use this fear
against her. She should clear up this mess about his schooling.
She should welcome having the uncle come to Bly and handle the
matter, but she cannot face "the ugliness and pain of it." All
she wants is to get away, and here is her chance--now, while the
entire staff of Bly is at church.

Retracing her steps, she meets no one. Back in the house, she
sinks down on the foot of the stairs to decide the matter of
transportation, but straightens up as she remembers that this is
the exact position in which she last saw Miss Jessel.

As she rushes into the schoolroom to collect her things, the
governess encounters a woman seated at the desk with her head in
her hands. Unaware of her presence, the woman
rises--"dishonoured and tragic"--before her. It is Miss Jessel,
in all her "haggard beauty" and "unutterable woe." The governess
feels for a moment that it is she who is the intruder, and is
surprised to hear her own voice ringing through the empty house,
crying, "You terrible miserable woman!"
A moment later, there is nothing in the schoolroom with her but
the sunshine and the sense that she must stay.

Driven by her fear that Miles will expose her incompetence to
his uncle, the young woman is preparing to leave Bly. In so
doing, she would abandon the children and Mrs. Grose to the
horror she suspects there. By deciding to stay, is the
governess heroically conquering her fears in order to do battle
with evil? Or has she, in a time of emotional crisis, suffered
another hallucination?


When Mrs. Grose returns from church, the governess explains her
absence, saying she came back to the house for a talk with Miss
Jessel. Miss Jessel, the governess reports, spoke to her,
saying that she suffers "the torments-!" The two women try to
make sense of the remark. The governess believes that Miss
Jessel's remark means she wants Flora so the child can share the
torments of the lost.

In the previous chapter you witnessed the scene between the
governess and the ghost, and you know that the governess
reported no such remark. You know also that the governess
didn't go back to the house to meet Miss Jessel, but rather to
pack her bags and leave. Why then is she lying to Mrs. Grose
now? Is she engaging in a harmless exaggeration in order to
convince Mrs. Grose of the danger of their situation? Or are
the lies evidence that the ghosts exist only in her mind?

The young woman has decided to send for the children's uncle.
She will show Miles that she isn't afraid. She will show his
uncle the letter from the school, and say she can do nothing on
behalf of a child expelled for wickedness. She believes that
Miles is wicked, and she blames his uncle for leaving the boy in
Peter Quint's charge. Mrs. Grose wrestles with her own guilt
for not having mentioned the trouble with Quint to the uncle
earlier. The two women wonder how to present their story. They
decide that the governess should write.


That evening, when the governess pauses at the door to Miles's
room, he calls to her to come in. The boy is a model of grace
and sociability, and there is no evidence of any trouble between
them. The matter of school is still troubling him. It isn't
that he dislikes Bly--he just wants to get away. His governess
starts to explain that he can't return to his old school, but
Miles claims he doesn't want to go back there. She asks if
there is anything he wants to tell her. All he wants, he says,
is for her to leave him alone.
She tells him she is writing to his uncle, and Miles urges her
to finish the letter. He begs her to get his uncle to Bly and
tell him everything. Boldly, she asks what happened at his
school. In his echo, "What happened?" the governess thinks she
hears a "small faint quaver of consenting consciousness." But
does Miles say anything to indicate his guilt? Or have her
months of worry about his dismissal led the governess to invent
something like an admission here? She drops to her knees and
begs him to help her in her effort to save him.

In answer, a gust of cold air shakes the room. Miles shrieks,
but is it a shriek of terror or one of jubilation? In spite of
the darkness, the governess can see that the curtains are still
drawn, that the window is still closed. She cries that her
candle is out. Miles answers that it was he who blew it out.

NOTE: One of the first critics to suggest that the ghosts exist
only in the governess's mind has suggested that a good way to
understand The Turn of the Screw is to imagine its scenes as
they would be experienced by normal children. Here, he says, is
a ten-year-old boy whose governess barges into his room, asking
him questions in a strange tone of voice, throwing herself upon
him, then begging him to let her save him. Is it any wonder, he
asks, that the boy might shriek in fright?

Do you agree with this approach, or do you think the boy's
shriek indicates the evil that surrounds him? When Miles blows
out the candle, is it the normal act of a boy about to go to
bed, or the evil act of a boy in love with darkness?


The governess has written her letter to the children's uncle,
but she hasn't mailed it. Meanwhile, Miles and Flora seem to be
trying to calm her. They perform their lessons brilliantly.
Miles in particular seems so bright and handsome that she has to
fight against doubting her previous judgment of him: she
"aches" for proof that evil in Miles "could ever have flowered
into an act."

One afternoon, Miles plays the piano for the governess, and
plays as he never has before.

NOTE: The young woman says, "David playing to Saul could not
have shown a finer sense of the occasion." This refers to I
Samuel, xvi 14-23 in the Old Testament. In the biblical story,
King Saul--possessed by an evil spirit--sends for the young
David. As the youth plays on his harp, the evil spirit leaves
the king. Here the governess is likened to Saul, and Miles to
David. While Miles plays the piano, the governess forgets the
matters that have been troubling her. In a sense, the "evil
spirit" leaves her while he is playing.
The governess starts up. Did she doze off under the influence
of the music? No, she has done something much worse: she has
forgotten about Flora. Miles claims not to know where she is.
Mrs. Grose and the governess vow not to panic, but when there
is no sign of her, they cannot suppress their alarm. The
governess suspects that Flora has gone to meet Miss Jessel while
Miles, she says, must be in the schoolroom with Quint. His
piano playing was a distraction so "they" could work their plan.
Telling Mrs. Grose not to worry, she takes her letter to their
employer from her pocket and leaves it on the hall table for a
servant to carry to the village.


The governess and Mrs. Grose head for the lake, where Miss
Jessel first appeared. The governess is sure that Miles managed
for Flora to return there alone. When Mrs. Grose asks if the
children actually talk about Miss Jessel and Quint, the
governess replies with assurance that "They say things that, if
we heard them, would simply appal us." She promises that Miss
Jessel will be with Flora.

The governess does not give up, even when they come within sight
of the lake and find no trace of Flora. She believes that Flora
has taken the boat, then hidden it in a clump of trees on the
opposite shore. Mrs. Grose wonders how a small child could
accomplish this alone, and the young woman reminds her that
Flora is not alone. "At such times," she adds, "she's not a
child: she's an old, old woman."

NOTE: This image of Flora, transfigured by the spirit of the
dead, stands in marked contrast to descriptions of her as a
beautiful child, and graphically illustrates the other side of
the child's dual nature, as seen by the governess. The image is
reminiscent of the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and illustrates
his influence on the work of Henry James.

Both women spot Flora at the same moment. She smiles as they
approach her with solemnity, and asks gaily where Miles is. The
question strikes the governess like the "glitter of a drawn
blade, the jostle of the cup" that the governess had "held high
and full to the brim and that now, even before speaking," she
"felt overflow in a deluge."

"Where, my pet," the governess asks in turn, "is Miss Jessel?"

NOTE: Once again, readers who believe that the governess is mad
find it useful to imagine this scene from a normal child's point
of view. A little girl has gone off happily to play by herself.
Suddenly she's confronted by her governess, greatly upset, who
asks her if she has seen a woman that everyone knows to be dead.
What would your reaction be in such a situation?

As the governess utters the dead woman's name, she sees Miss
Jessel appear on the opposite shore. Here at last is proof of
her sanity. In an extraordinary moment she throws out to the
ghost "an inarticulate message of gratitude." Once again, it is
interesting to note that a ghost appears to the governess at a
moment of crisis: when she loses Flora and then finally
mentions the dead governess's name to the little girl. What
might this suggest about the ghosts?

The governess screams that Miss Jessel is there, but Flora only
stares at her. Mrs. Grose blinks at where the young woman is
pointing, and wonders, "where on earth do you see anything?" The
governess is devastated. Mrs. Grose would back her up if at
all possible. Flora protests against the cruelty of her
governess, and begs to be taken away. The governess feels
stunned and bitter. Of course she has lost Flora--she has
interfered with Miss Jessel's plans.

Weeping, the young woman falls to the ground. The next quarter
hour is a blur. Back at the house, she sees neither Flora nor
Mrs. Grose, and discovers that Flora's things have been moved
into Mrs. Grose's room. Miles comes and sits with her in
absolute silence, and she has the feeling that he wants to be
with her.

Notice how carefully James has balanced the scales in this
scene, so that you continue to be unsure of what the governess
did or did not see. At first, the governess's description of
Miss Jessel is so vivid that it provides to her (and to you)
final confirmation that the ghost is real. But when Mrs. Grose
cannot see the phantom, you and the governess both begin to
suffer doubts.


Later, the governess is awakened by Mrs. Grose. Flora is
running a fever. She is raving against her governess, and still
claims not to have seen Miss Jessel. But her language is so
shocking that Mrs. Grose can't imagine where Flora could have
picked it up--unless from the evil ghost. In spite of her
inability to see Miss Jessel the day before, the housekeeper now
believes in the ghosts and their doings. The governess feels a
surge of joy. She urges Mrs. Grose to take Flora to her uncle,
away from the influence of Quint and Miss Jessel. She thinks
Miles wants to say something to her, and she needs time to win
him over before she faces her employer.

Mrs. Grose resolves to leave that morning, and the governess
warns that her letter will have arrived ahead of Mrs. Grose,
alerting Flora's uncle to the problems at Bly. The servants
never saw the letter, replies Mrs. Grose, and the only
explanation is that Miles must have taken it. Could it be that
Miles stole letters at school? The governess is determined to
make Miles confess.

The letter, she assures Mrs. Grose, contained nothing more than
a request for an interview. This may seem strange to you.
After all, didn't the governess promise that this letter would
save them all? Even at this late date, is she still so afraid
of her employer's disapproval that she can only write to request
an interview--not explain a terrible emergency? Is this another
example of the young woman's unreliability? Does it influence
your impression of her in any way?


Once Flora and Mrs. Grose leave, the relationship between Miles
and his governess changes. She no longer pretends she has
anything to teach him, and he is free to do what he pleases.
The governess tries shutting her eyes to the fact that what she
has to deal with is, "revoltingly, against nature," and tries to
pretend that her ordeal requires "only another turn of the screw
of ordinary human virtue."

At dinner, Miles asks if Flora is very ill, and wonders if Bly
did not agree with her suddenly. His governess explains that it
had been building for a while. While the maid clears the table,
neither of them speaks. The governess thinks their silence is
like that of a young couple at an inn on their wedding night,
who feel shy in the presence of a waiter. When the maid leaves
them, Miles turns to his governess and says, "Well--so we're
alone!" The image of the bashful bride and groom on their
wedding night can be seen as evidence of an unhealthy attraction
on the part of the governess for her young charge, whom she
often calls "my boy."


"Of course we've the others," Miles adds. Is he simply
referring to members of the household staff at Bly? His
governess concurs, but which "others" do you suppose she means?
Even a slight misperception such as this can result in a great
misunderstanding. If the governess thinks Miles is referring to
the ghosts, then she not only has a confirmation of her own
suspicions, but an admission from Miles that he is involved as

Miles stands with his forehead against the window, seeming shut
in or out, uncomfortable and anxious. In his free time today he
has seen more of Bly than ever before. His governess asks if he
likes his freedom, and he wonders in turn if she likes hers.
Miles is surprised to hear it is his company that she enjoys and
that now keeps her on at Bly. His governess reminds him of her
pledge to help him. He remembers that she wanted him to tell
her something. Is that what she is still waiting for? It is,
she answers. Why doesn't he--here and now--make a clean breast
of it?

Miles seems afraid. Is it significant that he is now fearful of
her? He promises to tell her everything, but not now. He turns
to the window as if there were someone outside to be reckoned
with. He must see one of the servants. But his governess wants
just a fraction of the story before he goes. Did he take her
letter from the hall table?


When she sees the face of Peter Quint appear at the window, the
governess struggles to keep Miles unaware. As she shields the
boy from the apparition, her heroism takes on missionary zeal.
It is, thinks this vicar's daughter, "like fighting for a human

Miles's face is as white as the face in the window. His voice
sounds far away as he admits to having taken the letter. Quint
wheels at the window like "a baffled beast." Miles took the
letter, opened it, and read it. He wanted to see what she had
said about him. At the window there is now nothing at all.
Miles found nothing in the letter.

The governess asks if this is what he did at school, and Miles
is amazed that she knows about his dismissal. He answers with
difficulty that he did not steal, but he "said things." Use of
bad language may hardly seem like grounds for dismissal, but
Miles assures her that it was enough. Both Flora and Miles have
picked up language that Mrs. Grose and the schoolmasters find
shocking. Is this what they learned from Quint and Miss Jessel?
The whole matter becomes less and less clear. The young woman
is gripped with alarm as she wonders if Miles might be innocent.
For, if he is innocent, what does that make her? When she asks
bluntly what he said, Miles starts moving away, but the
governess springs straight at him. For there, at the window,
the white face has reappeared. "No more, no more, no more!" she
screams at the ghost as she presses Miles against her.

Miles grows wild with fear. In a panting voice he asks if "she"
is there. He has clearly spoken with Flora since the incident
at the lake and has heard of the sighting of Miss Jessel's
ghost. His governess answers that the horror is not Miss
Jessel. In a bewildered rage, Miles searches the room. "It's
he?" he asks. Certain that he means Peter Quint, the governess
is determined to have her proof. "Whom do you mean by 'he'?"
she asks. Convulsing, Miles screams, "Peter Quint--you devil!
Where?" At the window Miles sees nothing but the quiet day. He
utters a cry like "the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss,"
and his governess catches him, and holds him. The ghost of
Peter Quint is gone. And Miles's heart has stopped.

NOTE: When Miles says, "Peter Quint--you devil," was he
addressing the ghost or his governess? Did the ghost's
departure stop Miles's heart? Or did his governess scare him to

Whichever interpretation you choose, the important themes remain
the same. One is ambiguity: what is real? Another is evil:
whether evil exists externally (in the shape of actual ghosts)
or internally (in the obsessions of a deranged mind), it is
always with us. That sense of evil remains at the end of The
Turn of the Screw, one of the greatest tales of the supernatural
in all literature.


Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an
immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest
silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and
catching every airborne particle in its tissue. It is the very
atmosphere of the mind; and when the mind is imaginative--much
more when it happens to be that of a man of genius--it takes to
itself the faintest hints of life, it converts the very pulses
of the air into revelations... The power to guess the unseen
from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the
whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling life in
general so completely that you are well on your way to knowing
any particular corner of it--this cluster of gifts may almost be
said to constitute experience.... If experience consists of
impressions, it may be said that impressions are experience just
as (have we not seen it?) they are the very air we breathe.
Therefore, if I should certainly say to a novice, "Write from
experience and experience only," I should feel that this was
rather a tantalising monition if I were not careful immediately
to add, "Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!"

Henry James, "The Art of Fiction," 1888


James's formal concerns, in sum, are closely related to his
preoccupation as a psychological novelist. He was interested in
psychological manifestations of all kinds, and the interest in
the varieties of consciousness is reflected in his technical
experiments with limited narrative points of view. At first
this method of presenting and organizing his subjects served him
primarily as a compositional device to achieve focus and thereby
clarity and intensity. In time consciousness became his very

Christopher Wegelin, Tales of Henry James, 1984


Henry James's ghosts have nothing in common with the violent old
ghosts--the blood-stained sea captains, the white horses, the
headless ladies of dark lanes and windy commons. They have
their origin within us. They are present whenever the
significant overflows our powers of expressing it; whenever the
ordinary appears ringed by the strange. The baffling things
that are left over, the frightening ones that persist--these are
the emotions that he takes, embodies, makes consoling and

Virginia Woolf, "Henry James's Ghost Stories," 1921


We have here thus in reality two stories, and a method that
foreshadows the problems of the stream-of-consciousness writer.
One is the area of fact, the other the area of fancy. There is
the witness, in this case the governess and her seemingly
circumstantial story, and there is the mind itself, the contents
of which are given to the reader. The reader must establish for
himself the credibility of the witness; he must decide between
what the governess supposed and what she claims she saw....

The reader's mind is forced to hold to two levels of awareness:
the story as told, and the story to be deduced. This is the
calculated risk Henry James took in writing for audiences not
prepared to read him so actively. The writer of stream of
consciousness takes the same risk.

Leon Edel, The Psychological Novel:   1900-1950, 1955

                               THE END

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