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The novel opens with an anonymous person narrating the happenings on a Christmas Eve, which he spent with a group of friends in an old country house. As the friends sit around the fire, they entertain themselves by relating exciting stories. One of them narrates the story of a child possessed by a ghost. Hearing it, another person named Douglas boasts that he knows a more thrilling story of two children involved with ghosts. However, before relating the story, he has to wait for the manuscript of the story to arrive from home.
The script arrives but Douglas continues to postpone telling the story. However, when the others persuade him, he tells them about the protagonist of the story, who has also written the script. The narrator of the tale is a lady who had worked as a governess to the sister of Douglas. In the past, the same lady has served as a governess to two children in a country house at Bly. She takes up the job in that remote place because she is charmed by the personality of her employer, who is also the uncle of the children. She also accepts his condition that, she will not disturb him in the future with any matter relating to Bly.
On a bright June morning, the governess arrives at Bly with apprehension. However, she is relieved when she gets a hearty welcome from both Flora, the niece of her employer and Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper. Miles, Flora's brother, is away at school and would visit them during the summer holidays.
The governess is both confused and concerned. She asks the housekeeper about the nature of Miles. When Mrs. Grose tells her that the boy is as lovable as the girl, the governess feels that the school has made a mistake. During the course of her conversation with the housekeeper, she also learns about the former governess Miss. Jessel and a male employee. Miss. Jessel died a mysterious death, after going away from Bly.
Miles arrives on the appointed day and the governess is pleased with his charming ways. The governess is impressed by his behavior and thus, relieved of her doubts. Miles and Flora are intelligent, attentive and co-operative children and the governess finds it a pleasure teaching them. Thus, the summer passes off pleasantly.
One day the governess takes a walk outside and as she does so, she thinks about the man of her dreams, that is, her employer. Thus immersed in her thoughts she looks up at the tower and is surprised to see a figure standing and staring at her. At first, she mistakes it to be her employer but later, she realizes that it is someone else. Retracing her steps back to the house, her mind dwells on the vision, but does not share her thoughts with anyone.
A few days later, as she goes to get her things from the study, she notices the same figure peering through the window. She tries to nab the culprit but fails in her attempt. When Mrs. Grose appears on the scene and the governess tells her about the figure at the window. Hearing her description of the man, Grose identifies him as Peter Quint, the wicked valet who had lured many ladies and cast his evil influence on the children. However, when the housekeeper informs that the man is dead, the governess is shocked.