Summary of Section VII
The narrator finds Mrs. Grose and tells her hysterically that the children know about the ghosts! She says that Flora saw a ghost. Mrs. Grose asks if Flora admitted it, and the narrator says that is the horror of it; she hid the fact that she could see it by turning her back and pretending to play. This time it was not Quint, but a woman in black. She is sure that this ghost is the former governess, Miss Jessel. She fixed her stare on the child as though she wanted her. The narrator describes the ghost she saw as beautiful and infamous. Mrs. Grose agrees that Miss Jessel was that. There was something between Quint and Miss Jessel, even though Miss Jessel was a lady and Quint, a servant. Mrs. Grose exclaims that Quint did whatever he liked, with all of them. The two women hint about why Miss Jessel had to leave Bly and why it was better she did so. The narrator bursts into tears exclaiming that she has not saved the children at all; “They're lost” (p. 33).
Commentary on Section VII
The narrator's horror keeps growing as she sees new pieces of the mystery. She claims she is clearly aware that Flora can see the ghost of Miss Jessel as she can. This is the point at which the governess loses credibility with many readers. Her proof that Flora sees the ghost is that she turns her back to it and pretends she cannot see it by playing with a toy boat. If the child were innocent, she would have cried out at seeing it. In the narrator's eyes, Flora's gesture shows that she is perfectly familiar with the ghost but does not want the governess to notice it. On the other hand, it could be that Flora really does not see it but is just playing. At this point, one trusts the governess or not. Once again, however, her description of Miss Jessel seems accurate according to Mrs. Grose who corroborates her notion that Miss Jessel was infamous. This word suggests that the ghost woman did not look innocent but fallen.
The two women do no more than hint at what must have happened, and the reader gets the message without explicit explanations. Miss Jessel and Quint were probably having a sexual affair, and perhaps Miss Jessel did not come back to Bly because of that. Mrs. Grose intimates that Quint had a lot of women. Why did Miss Jessel die? Perhaps suicide. The ghost always looks depressed, as though she knows she ruined her life. These impressions are left with the characters and readers, part of what James is trying to do—let the reader's imagination run wild, as the narrator's is doing.
The sin of the servant and lady is not the chief horror here. The governess bursts into tears because she believes the ghosts have already corrupted the children. Flora and Miles are not innocent, but playing a part to fool her. This is indeed a turn of the screw because children are generally not thought to be evil or corrupt. These children look angelic, but now the governess thinks they may be possessed by the ghosts.