Douglas is the guest at the Christmas party in the frame story who has the document of the main ghost story presented in “The Turn of the Screw.” He knew the governess personally when he was twenty years old at college. She was his sister's governess after the events had occurred in the story. He became her friend, though she was ten years older. She entrusted the written document to him before she died. He has kept it for forty years, and now reads it to the guests.
The Employer in the main story is a gentleman in London who interviews the governess for a position to care for his orphaned niece and nephew at Bly, his county house in Essex. He is handsome and gallant, winning the governess to want to please him. She fancies herself half in love with him. He wins her by not acting as a superior but by putting it to her as a favor to do this for him. He will trust her completely to be in charge, and he never wants to hear about the matter again.
Flora is the beautiful eight-year-old girl of the ghost story. Her parents died in India, and both children were left with their uncle, the bachelor in London. Flora had a governess, Miss Jessel, until she died, and then Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper at Bly cared for her until the new governess arrived. Flora is precocious like her brother, charming, and affectionate, trying to please the governess, yet she seems to do as she likes. Though she appears to be innocent, the governess discovers her to be a lost soul, possessed by the ghost of the dead Miss Jessel. Flora, according to the governess, pretends she does not see the ghost of Miss Jessel, and when confronted with this, screams obscenities and asks to be taken away. Mrs. Grose removes her from Bly.
The governess of the main story is not named, but it is her first-person account written down that is the source of the main story. She was twenty years old when the events happened, and this was her first job. She was the youngest child of a poor parson and became a governess for her career, teaching the sister of Douglas after this first tragic job. Douglas declares she is very respectable and intelligent. He became friends with her later. The guests at the Christmas party ask if he was in love with her, but he does not say. The reader only has the governess's word about what went on at Bly, and she presents herself as a responsible, moral, and idealistic young woman when she arrives. She tries to recount the details with objectivity, giving every nuance of her thinking and speculations and how she arrived at her conclusions. Her only adult friend at Bly is Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, who is a nice person but not on her level of education or perception. The governess realizes she is alone with the mystery and problems of Bly. The events make her nervous and sleepless, but she is strong, and she decides to stay to protect the children from the evil ghosts. As she is drawn into the events, she becomes shocked by the degree of evil and corruption she finds at Bly and in the children. She believes that the children have seen and been exposed to great evil and horror. Her attempt to save Miles ends in his death. The governess is the only one who is able to see the ghosts.
Griffin is the storyteller in the frame story who tells the story of the child haunted by a ghost, which challenges Douglas to produce the story of two children and ghosts.
Mrs. Grose is the kindly housekeeper at Bly who takes care of Flora after the first governess dies. She becomes the only friend of the new governess and seems determined to stick by her as she unravels the mystery of Bly. She supplies the governess with details of the past about Miss Jessel and Quint and identifies the ghosts from the description the governess gives her. Mrs. Grose seems to believe the governess and believe in the ghosts though she cannot see them herself. She is unable to read, as the governess finds out. Her name indicates that she does not notice refined details around her. Mrs. Grose is the one who removes the hysterical Flora at the end and takes her to London to the employer. She is the governess's only witness to the events at Bly.
Miss Jessel was the young and pretty governess of Flora before the current governess. Apparently, she had a love affair with Quint, the valet of the employer, and failed to come back to assume her duties again after vacation because she died. It is not said why she died, but as a ghost, she is dressed in black and in an attitude of woe, as though she may have committed suicide. The governess believes she is after the soul of Flora and influences her.
Miles is a ten-year-old fair-haired English boy, the brother of Flora. Like her, he is beautiful and intelligent and charming, giving the governess no trouble when he arrives home from school for summer break. She is alarmed, however, to receive a letter from his school saying he has been dismissed and may not return. His crime is not specified, so the governess decides he has somehow corrupted the other boys. She and Miles flirt and play games about their social moves, never directly confronting her suspicions, that the ghost of Quint is influencing him. The governess keeps Miles in sight at all times to protect him from the ghost. When he is not allowed to go back to school, he challenges her and asks for his uncle. He steals her letter to the uncle to see what she says. He confesses he was dismissed from school for bad language. Though apparently not seeing the ghost of Quint in the final scene, he appears terrified of the possibility and dies in the arms of the governess.
Peter Quint was the valet of the master of Bly whom he sent to the country apparently for his health. He gave Quint complete control of Bly, according to Mrs. Grose, including the children who were under the care of their governess, Miss Jessel. Quint had red hair, was handsome and a lady's man, apparently the lover of Miss Jessel. He used to borrow his master's clothes and pretend to be greater than he was. It is hinted that he had secret vices and dealings. He was found dead on the road with a blow to the head. The inquest said it was due to a fall while drunk instead of murder. Quint was a vulgar and despicable man according to Mrs. Grose who spent all his time with Miles. The governess fears that somehow Miles learned evil crimes from Quint. She fears that as a ghost, he is possessing Miles and making him do bad things. She fights Quint for the soul of Miles in the last scene.
Turn of the Screw: Characters