Douglas is the man who tells the governess's tale at the
Christmas Eve gathering. Douglas knew the governess, who had been his sister's
governess after she left Bly. He describes her as "a most charming person."
Flora is a beautiful little
girl who the governess loves at first.ï¿½ But as time goes by, she comes to
believe Flora is evil because she associates with ghosts.ï¿½ As the book closes,
the governess confronts Flora, and the shock of being accused of speaking to
ghosts makes the little girl ill.ï¿½
The governess is the
daughter of a parson.ï¿½ She has been educated, but her family has little money
or status, so she does not fit into the upper class, but she is too educated
for a job as a servant or in a shop.ï¿½ Young women who found themselves in this
predicament often became governesses, caretakers and tutors for upper-class
The governess is rather
sexually frustrated.ï¿½ She easily falls in love with the master and exhibits a
sordid interest in the affair between Quint and Miss Jessel.ï¿½ It is unclear
whether she is just a romantic whose sexual repression makes her crazy or if
she did have an affair with the master and that sexual experience haunts her.ï¿½
She becomes obsessed with
the idea of the children seeing ghosts and begins to fabricate more and more
details about the ghosts as the story continues.ï¿½ Eventually, her obsession
deeply affects the children, and Miles dies.ï¿½ However, since she goes on to
remain a governess, it is clear that she is not blamed for the death.
Mrs. Grose is the
housekeeper at Bly.ï¿½ She is uneducated and not particularly sharp, but she is a
faithful servant and friend.ï¿½ She loves the children, but she is easily led to
believe the worst of them because she trusts the governess's superior
Miss Jessel is the
children's former governess.ï¿½ She had a sexual relationship with the caretaker,
Quint, and then had to leave Bly, probably because she was pregnant.ï¿½ The wages
for sin were steep for her; she died after she left.ï¿½ The current governess believes
Miss Jessel's ghost is haunting Flora to get the child to share eternal
damnation with her.
The master is an upper-class
bachelor who does not wish to be troubled by the orphans he has inherited.ï¿½ He
uses his charm and money to get other people to take on those burdens for him.
Miles is a beautiful,
intelligent boy.ï¿½ He was kicked out of school for unnamed reasons, although
near the end it seems the reason might have been saying inappropriate
homosexual things to other boys.ï¿½ He realizes the governess is not doing her
job and might be losing her sanity, so he tries to confront her.ï¿½ Ultimately,
the strain of facing her and imagining the ghosts kills him.
Quint was the master's
valet.ï¿½ He was lower class but he did not behave appropriately humbly.ï¿½
Instead, he wore the master's clothes and had an affair with the governess.ï¿½ He
also spent much more time than was appropriate with Miles.ï¿½ He died before the
story begins, but the governess believes his ghost is haunting Miles.