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Solomon's The Return of the Screw
Mrs. Grose, playing cleverly on the governess' visions, convinces
her she is seeing Peter Quint and Ms. Jessel in an effort to drive her mad.
At least, that is according to Eric Solomon's "The Return of the Screw."
Mrs. Grose tries to remove the governess to get to Flora.
Mrs. Grose will do anything to gain control of Flora, as she proved
when she murdered Peter Quint. He, along with Ms. Jessel, was too much of
an influence on the children. Quint died somewhat mysteriously, on a path
between town and Bly. He died from a blow on the head, supposedly from
falling upon a rock in the road. The reader's only impression of the
death is through Mrs. Grose's story, though, and so, Solomon hypothesizes,
she filters the information to make it seem less extraordinary a demise.
Perhaps Mrs. Grose killed him out of jealously. The reader can infer from
this point of view that Mrs. Grose somehow also had a hand in Ms. Jessel's
Mrs. Grose then proceeds, after the murders, to twist the new
governess' visions of ghosts into visions of Quint and Jessel. Solomon
does not address the issue of whether or not what the governess sees is
actually there. His explanation is logical either way. If the governess
sees real ghosts, or if she is imagining it all, does not matter. What
matters is that Mrs. Grose tailors Quint and Jessel to the governess'
descriptions. She listens to the descriptions and tells the governess'
she is seeing Quint and Jessel. Mrs. Grose does not herself create the
visions that the governess sees, instead, she bends them to her purpose.
The governess' visions of ghosts are twisted by Mrs. Grose. When the
governess reports seeing a ghost, Mrs. Grose seizes the opportunity,
exclaiming that the ghost she sees must be Peter Quint. She also labels
the other apparition as the ghost of Ms. Jessel. In this way, she can
give the ghosts an evil quality, imparted to them because of the evil
lives of Quint and Jessel. Making the ghosts evil forces the governess'
Victorian mind to attempt to shield the children from the evil. Mrs. Grose
knows the governess will read too far into the children's actions, and
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with the governess' conclusions to confound things, she has created a lot
of turmoil in the governess' mind. Mrs. Grose created the monster that
matured in the governess' mind.
Solomon explains Mrs. Grose's motive by showing that she wants
control of Flora. Since the governess is in charge, Mrs. Grose strives to
remove her. The governess is the only obstacle between her and Flora, so
Mrs. Grose finds a way to eliminate her. She decides to drive her insane,
and she uses the governess' hallucinations against her.
Having read both Solomon's "The Return of the Screw" and Mark
Spilka's "Turning the Freudian Screw," I would tend to agree with
Solomon's interpretation of the story. Mrs. Grose's actions themselves
can be looked at as either deliberate or unintentional, but coupled with
James' subtle innuendoes, her guilt is almost certain.
Since much of the information the reader learns about Bly's past is
indirectly through Mrs. Grose, it cannot really be trusted. The governess
tells us about the house, the grounds, the people who live there, and
especially the lives and deaths of Peter Quint and Ms. Jessel. She tells
us Quint was an evil man, but her opinion could be tainted. She thought
Quint exposed the children to too much in his relationship with Ms. Jessel.
She dislikes him, and Solomon gives the reason that she was jealous of his
relationship with Ms. Jessel. I am more inclined to believe, however,
that she dislikes him because in her Victorian thinking she wants to
protect the children, just as the governess does. James himself leaves
this for the reader to decide, since he gives no other clues besides the
unreliable source, Mrs. Grose. He does, however, allow the reader to
realize that Mrs. Grose murdered Quint. She must have done it because she
had no other way to separate him and the children. Her story, while meant
by her to be reasonable, is allowed by James to be somewhat suspicious.
She never states anything concretely, she says that his wounds seem to be
caused by a fall. This slight probability not only leaves open the
possibility of her lying, but it also reinforces the fact that she simply
wants to protect the children. Had Mrs. Grose been consumed by jealousy,
she might have covered her tracks a little more deviously. Instead, she
makes a half-hearted attempt, caring not for her safety but martyring
herself for the sake of the children.