The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James
The Turn of the Screw Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
I drew a great security in this particular from [Mrs. Grose's] mere smooth aspect. There was nothing in her fresh face to pass on to others my horrible confidences. She believed me, I was sure, absolutely: if she hadn't I don't know what would have become of me, for I couldn't have borne the business alone. But she was a magnificent monument to the blessing of a want of imagination, and if she could see in our little charges nothing but their beauty and amiability, their happiness and cleverness, she had no direct communication with the sources of my trouble. If they had been at all visibly blighted or battered, she would doubtless have grown, on tracing it back, haggard enough to match them; as matters stood, however, I could feel her, when she surveyed them, with her large white arms folded and the habit of serenity in all her look, thank the Lord's mercy that if they were ruined the pieces would still serve. (11.1)
Unlike Quint and Miss Jessel (and perhaps the Governess herself), Mrs. Grose is the ideal hired help – she knows exactly what the limitations of her job and rank are, and she doesn't even think about stretching beyond them. She is also apparently exceptionally unimaginative, and takes everything at face value, from the Governess's claims to the children's innocence.
Mrs. Grose watched them with positive placidity; then I caught the suppressed intellectual creak with which she conscientiously turned to take from me a view of the back of the tapestry. I had made her a receptacle of lurid things, but there was an odd recognition of my superiority – my accomplishments and my function – in her patience under my pain. She offered her mind to my disclosures as, had I wished to mix a witch's broth and proposed it with assurance, she would have held out a large clean saucepan. (11.2)
Again, good old Mrs. Grose shows us just how amenable she is to abiding by class definitions– though the Governess basically just keeps filling her mind with rather poisonous thoughts, she keeps accepting them, perhaps largely because she acknowledges the superiority of the Governess's office – and therefore her supposed superiority as a person.
Seated at my own table in clear noonday light I saw a person whom without my previous experience I should have taken at the first blush for some housemaid who might have stayed at home to look after the place and who, availing herself of rare relief from observation and of the schoolroom table and my pens, ink, and paper, had applied herself to the considerable effort of a letter to her sweetheart. (15.5)
Though we know that Miss Jessel is/was a "lady," here she is compared to a servant writing a love letter. This implies that a different moral code might be applied to the working classes – it's all right for a mere maid to have a sweetheart somewhere, but it was not OK for Miss Jessel and Quint to have a relationship. We wonder if this image also plays upon the Governess's own desires to have a sweetheart somewhere to write to.