"a disguised excitement that might well, had it continued too long, have turned to something like madness"

Public Domain"Portrait of an Insane Woman", 1852-54 - Credit: Hugh Welch Diamond
Despite the wealth of evidence that Quint and Jessel do really appear, to the governess at least, Henry James never makes it entirely clear that she isn't mad. Through the dexterous handling of his material, he is able to create two contradictory yet simultaneous readings: one which features ghosts and diabolically-influenced children; another in which these are creations of the governess's hysterical imagination.

For the Victorian observer, the latter interpretation would have conformed to general assumptions regarding the mental stability of governesses. According to Millicent Bell, "Contemporary records indicate that in the 1840s... governesses accounted for the single largest category of female patients in English asylums for the insane" (Meaning in Henry James, p. 225).