Chapters 1, 2, and 3
"I remember the whole beginning as a succession of flights and drops, a little seesaw of the right throbs and the wrong." The governess takes a coach down to Bly, which turns out to be a large and handsome estate, and is welcomed by Mrs. Grose and Flora, the "most beautiful child I had ever seen." She is very surprised by how wonderful she finds everything there, except for the somewhat disturbing observation that Mrs. Grose is unusually glad to see her-so glad that she appears to be trying not to show it too much. The governess arranges to have Flora's bed moved into her room, and is excited about the prospect of teaching and forming the child. She gets on well with Mrs. Grose at supper, and the next day Flora takes her on a tour of the house. She is struck by Flora's courage and self-confidence, and she and the little girl make friends during the tour.
Two days later she and Flora will drive out to meet Miles, who is returning by coach from school for the holidays. The night before the trip, she receives a letter from her employer, who has enclosed an unopened letter from Miles' headmaster and who reiterates that he does not wish to be troubled with any details. The headmaster's letter states that Miles has been expelled from the school. The governess tries to show it Mrs. Grose, who cannot read, then, embarrassed at her mistake, reads the letter out loud. Flora walks in and both the governess and Mrs. Grose agree that Miles is incapable of real badness, just as Flora is-at that moment Flora looks incredibly innocent, affectionate, and young.
Later in the day the governess finds Mrs. Grose and asks if she's ever known Miles to be bad. Mrs. Grose answers that he's only been naughty, like any boy of spirit. She also asks about the previous governess. Mrs. Grose says she was young and pretty, and after much pressing admits that she went off for the holidays and died while she was gone. Mrs. Grose doesn't admit to knowing what she died of, saying at one point that she "doesn't like to tell tales," and speaks in a very evasive and ambiguous way.
When the governess picks Miles up at the inn, he too looks incredibly beautiful, fresh, and pure to her-he has an air of having known nothing but love in the world. She feels a rush of tenderness for him. The governess feels indignant at the slur of expulsion on him, and tells Mrs. Grose that she will neither answer the headmaster's letter, write to her employer, or send the boy off anywhere; she will do "nothing." Mrs. Grose embraces and kisses her, and says she will stand by the governess.
A period of pleasant and quiet days follow. The governess says that in this period she was taken in by her own vanity or imagination, deceived by the apparent goodness and purity of the children. A favorite thought of hers was that she was giving pleasure to her employer, and that she might happen on him in a walk and see just from his face that he knew and approved of her actions. This time passes untroubled until one late afternoon walk, when the governess sees the figure of a man standing at one of the building's towers. She gasps, because she has never seen this man before. The garden seems stricken with death in this moment. She and the uncanny stranger, who has taken the familiarity of not wearing a hat, stare at each other as if making a challenge.
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Chapters 1, 2, and 3
Chapters 4, 5, and 6
Chapters 7, 8, and 9
Chapters 10, 11, and 12
Chapters 13, 14, and 15
Chapters 16, 17, and 18
Chapters 19, 20, and 21
Chapters 22, 23, and 24