'The Haunting of Bly Manor' Twists the Terrifying Ambiguity of 'The Turn of the Screw'

Photo credit: Elaine Chung
From Esquire
The following contains spoilers for all episodes of Netflix's The Haunting of Bly Manor.
With The Haunting of Hill House from 2018, writer and director Mike Flanagan adapted Shirley Jackson's classic novel of the same name and transformed the original story, which tells of a group of strangers who visit a haunted house as part of an investigation into the paranormal, into a decade-long one Family epic.
In Flanagan's follow-up series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, many ingredients are the same. Although there are many fresh faces, Hill House actors like Victoria Pedretti, Henry Thomas and Oliver Jackson-Cohen are all returning. And just like last time, this season adapts a classic ghost story - in this case, it's Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. But the series deals with the source material very differently than Hill House. Here's what you should know.
The show is way more loyal to the source material this time around.
The Haunting of Hill House was based on Shirley Jackson's story only in the broadest sense. The book characters Eleanore Vance, Theodora and Luke are strangers brought together for an experiment with the paranormal. On the show, it's Luke, Nell and Theo Crain, the youngest of the five Crain siblings whose parents made the unfortunate decision to buy Hill House.
Photo credit: Eike Schroter / Netflix
Bly Manor is working much more closely on its source material. The Turn of the Screw is a story within a story, the story of an unnamed governess who takes a job caring for two orphaned children on a charming English country estate called Bly. There she is convinced that her protégés are exposed to the ghosts of her former governess, Miss Jessel, and of her uncle's valet, Peter Quint, who were involved in a socially forbidden romance before her death.
The show's broader plot points are pretty similar. The Haunting of Bly Manor takes place in the 1980s rather than the 19th century. However, it tells the story of teacher Dani Clayton, who works as a private tutor for orphans Flora and Miles Wingrave. She soon realizes that the house is haunted by the ghosts of Jessel and Quint and that they may be wielding a malicious influence on the children.
Some of the biggest changes are additions that expand the story into a nine-episode TV season.
James' work is less than 100 pages. To bring the story to the length of the TV series, many characters and backstories have been added. There is no personal subplot for Mrs. Grose in the novella - and she lives through it. Bly Chef Owen is out of the story, and neither is groundskeeper Jamie, which obviously means none of them fall in love with their Bly colleagues. Flora and Miles' uncle is far less present, and the paternity plan is another Flanagan creation.
Like the novel, Bly Manor is a story within a story. On the screen, the narrator passes the story on to a wedding reception and is revealed in the finale as Jamie, who tells the story at Flora's wedding. But in the book, the person who reveals the Bly story is a man named Douglas - and while he was once in love with the governess, the novella ends without ever going back to him.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the novella and the series is that Miles dies in the governess arms after an alleged confrontation with Quint's ghost in the book, while at Bly Manor the boy survives and Dani dies years after her original time in the house.
The series also takes up aspects of James' other works.
Some of the additions to the story may not have appeared in The Turn of the Screw, but rather came from James' other stories. The Lady in the Lake does not appear in the novella, but her origins as an eighteenth-century woman's ghost come from James' short story "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes". Owen and the Wingraves probably got their name from James' story "Owen Wingrave", while the menacing double that haunts Henry Wingrave on the series comes from the story "The Jolly Corner".
However, some of the biggest changes are more subtle.
While the show is pretty faithful to the source material, the spirit of the show and the novel are very different. The rotation of the screw has been carefully analyzed for years due to its deeply ambiguous text. The book leaves readers unsure of the circumstances surrounding Quint and Jessel's deaths, of Miles' expulsion from school, and of whether or not their spirits are real as far as the governess's imagination goes.
But the show is pretty straightforward - not only are the ghosts real, but we are also told the full backstory about how they came to cast Bly, how and why they own the kids, and what details their relationship has in life . Not only is it a departure from James' story, it is very different from Flanagan's Hill House adaptation. There the spirits remained relatively unsettled. As early as 2016, he wrote on his Facebook page that when it comes to horror, "the explanations are never as satisfactory as the question". This time around, the show decided against leaving most of the questions unanswered.
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