No; it was a big, ugly, antique, but convenient house, embodying a few features of a building still older, half replaced and half utilized, in which I had the fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship. Well, I was, strangely, at the helm!
This quotation closes Chapter I, in which the governess first arrives at and describes Bly, and introduces the ship imagery that pervades the novella. After spending a day at Bly, the governess finds that her optimism has replaced her trepidation about her situation. Her day has been lovely, largely thanks to Flora, an extraordinarily beautiful and well-behaved child. After one day, however, the governess imagines Bly to be a “great drifting ship” lost at sea. This image appears several more times as the novella progresses and ultimately foreshadows doom. Of course, the gloomy, doom-filled images of Bly might simply be part of the governess’s distorted perceptions. We know that the governess is “in love” and possibly irrational, and her eager portrayal of her situation as “lost” seems strange and suspect.
If the governess is eager to be on this “great drifting ship,” she is even more eager to be at the helm. Her declaration of this desire is resoundingly cheery, a note of optimism ringing through the impending doom. She imagines herself the captain and navigator of the situation and her passengers “lost.” As the novella goes on, she remarks that she is close to port or has just narrowly avoided a wreck. In her imagination, she is steering events. The quotation sets up the governess as a woman eager to think herself heroic. Her attraction to her employer may drive the governess’s zeal. In seeing herself at the helm, steering Bly to safety, she sees herself impressing her employer and winning him over.