New Netflix horror The Haunting of Bly Manor (opens in new tab), Mike Flanagan's follow-up to the 2018 hit The Haunting of Hill House, takes its cues from Henry James. But while the many other adaptations of James' novels and short stories stick to just one work—think The Turning, the 2020 movie that starred Finn Wolfhard as Miles, which was adapted from The Turn of the Screw—Bly Manor weaves several of James' works, both long and short, into a single narrative (opens in new tab). It's not an adaptation as much as it is a love letter to James' unique brand of horror. Said Flanagan in an interview (opens in new tab)with GamesRadar+: "The Turn of the Screw is only one of a dozen stories that we're telling. All Henry James; all thematically linked." Flanagan mentioned stories The Jolly Corner and The Romance of Certain Old Clothes as two more influences.
More than anything else, Bly Manor is inspired by The Turn of The Screw, although it has a very different take from The Turning and other adaptations of the original book. Let's break down some of the biggest Henry James influences in Bly Manor—no spoilers for the series here, but there will be spoilers for the James works.
The Turn of the Screw
If you didn't read this one in English class, here's a summary: A governess is hired to take care of two children, Flora and Miles, at an isolated country manor called Bly Manor. As she settles in, she keeps seeing a strange man on the grounds—a former Bly employees called Peter Quint, who, it emerges, is dead. The governess also sees a woman dressed in black on the grounds, which she assumes is the prior governess. Who is also dead.
The kids start to exhibit increasingly odd behavior, like Flora talking to the ghost of the dead governess. At her wits' end and thoroughly terrified, the governess gets in touch with the man who's employing her—and then Quint appears at the window suddenly, and Miles dies instantly in the governess' arms. Is the governess unhinged? Are the kids possessed? Is the history of the house to blame? James never offers any answers, and literary critics continue to debate the meaning of the text today.
The Jolly Corner
Don't be fooled by the cheerful name: The Jolly Corner is an homage to what might have been. Spencer, an American who's been abroad for decades, returns to his childhood home in New York and the adjacent property that he owns. It becomes clear that Spencer has a real gift for property management, one that he's never really used in his life thus far. He starts to wonder: What would I have been if I'd never left New York?
Spencer realizes that the ghost of the man he might have been, who is a successful businessman, is haunting the site and making the rounds every night. Eventually, he confronts the ghost, who overpowers him because the ghost's personality and life is so much stronger than Spencer's. It's unclear whether Spencer dies or is just rendered unconscious.
The Romance of Certain Old Clothes
Two beautiful sisters, Viola and Perdita, fall in love with the same man, Arthur, who chooses to marry Perdita. Perdita and Arthur move away from Viola—but when Perdita is in labor with their firstborn, Arthur and Viola run into each other at a wedding. Arthur returns to find Perdita dying but well aware that her husband was with Viola while she was giving birth to their child. Perdita saves her most beautiful gowns in an old chest for her newborn daughter, and makes Arthur promise he won't let harm befall it.
Perdita dies, and Viola and Arthur get married. Viola insists on opening the chest, even though Arthur tries to stop her. Then she goes silent—and when Arthur goes to find her, he finds Viola dead by the chest, riddled with wounds caused by Perdita's ghost.
Jenny is the Director of Content Strategy at Marie Claire. Originally from London, she moved to New York in 2012 to attend the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and never left. Prior to Marie Claire, she spent five years at Bustle building out its news and politics coverage. She loves, in order: her dog, goldfish crackers, and arguing about why umbrellas are fundamentally useless.
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