The story is based on the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw, with a few twists.
Here are the biggest differences between The Haunting of Bly Manor and the book that inspired it.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
"At its foundation, the Haunting series is very much about haunted spaces and haunted people," creator and showrunner Mike Flanagan told Vanity Fair back in August. Flanagan has also called The Haunting of Bly Manor, which hit Netflix on October 9, a "gothic romance story." It's a centuries-old story as well, in part. Like season 1, The Haunting of Hill House, the new installment's tale of governess Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) and her young charges, Flora and Miles (Amelia Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) is largely based on a book: This time, Henry James's 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw.
The story has been adapted many times over, most recently in 2020's The Turning, starring Mackenzie Davis and Finn Wolfhard. But Bly Manor bears a much closer resemblance to its best-known version, the 1961 horror classic The Innocents (it's likely no coincidence that Dani Clayton shares a last name with The Innocents director Jack Clayton).
"I think of Turning of the Screw as the backbone of this season—the through line that carries us from beginning to end," Flanagan told Total Film in October 2019. Still, it's very much its own thing, with twists and turns a diehard James fan hasn't seen before. "You're not going to do much better than The Innocents anyway," he added. As in the original book, the governess's story is introduced by a narrator (Carla Gugino), one who even quotes James's novella ahead of her tale: "If the child gives the effect, another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children?"
Here's a summary of the biggest differences between The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Turn of the Screw. Series spoilers ahead!
The governess in Turn of the Screw may have made everything up in her head.
The governess in James's book, who doesn't have a name, is a classic unreliable narrator. The reader can't entirely trust her version of events—not because she's intentionally lying, as some unreliable narrators in literature do, but because she might be mentally ill.
There are few other characters present in The Turn of the Screw aside from the children, the meek housekeeper Mrs. Grose, and the governess (the uncle, who shunts all responsibility for the orphans in his charge, only appears at the beginning of the story to charm the governess into accepting the job). Only the governess definitely sees the ghosts; she slowly becomes convinced that everyone can see them too, but are pretending they can't.
By the descriptions of the ghosts, Mrs. Grose speculates that the governess has seen the kids' previous caregiver Miss Jessel, who died under unknown circumstances, as well as Peter Quint, the uncle's clever yet shady valet, who'd been found dead with a head wound on the road into town. Mrs. Grose tells the governess that Peter Quint spent a lot of time with Miles when he was alive, while Miss Jessel took care of Flora. Though she never names it specifically, this causes the governess to decide something nefarious was going on between Quint and Miles.
The governess comes to believe that Flora and Miles lie about not seeing the ghosts, and are actually meeting with Miss Jessel and Quint in secret. Whether that's true is left ambiguous: She does find the children missing from their beds at various points—Flora's hiding in a curtain in one instance, and by the lake another time, when the governess spies Miss Jessel there. During another one of her restless nights, the governess sees Miles wandering outside on the lawn. Miles also seems to play with the governesses' speculation on his character after he's kicked out of boarding school, telling her, "when I'm bad I am bad."
But kids do seemingly random things all of the time, and traumatized children with parents who died suddenly in India possibly more so. Was the governesses' experience a true ghost story, or was it the product of her distorted reality? That remains a debate among critics and fans to this day.
On The Haunting of Bly Manor, some viewers may initially question Dani's mental state, as she seems spooked and we see her covering mirrors (we soon learn it's to avoid her late fiance's ghostly glasses-glint gaze). But everything that happens to Dani at Bly Manor is witnessed by other people, too. Miles and Flora do spend time with Quint and Miss Jessel in secret, because Quint is manipulating all of them—and there's also no such thing as being "tucked away" in the book.
Miles dies at the end of The Turn of the Screw.
Those familiar with Henry James's original novella (or The Innocents) might have watched The Haunting of Bly Manor with mounting trepidation, hoping that the sweet, intermittently-possessed Miles won't meet the same fate. Thank goodness, he doesn't—in fact, we see in episode 9 that he's grown into a young man.
At the very end of the book, Miles is left alone with the governess at Bly while Mrs. Grose is bringing Flora to her uncle (Flora falls ill toward the end of the story, the day after declaring that she'd like to be taken away from the strange-acting governess). The governess asks Miles if he'd taken a letter she wrote to his uncle about the unrest at Bly, as it was never delivered because a servant couldn't find it. "I burnt it," he tells her, explaining he'd opened it to see what she'd said. During a conversation about why he'd been kicked out of school—a mystery the governess obsesses over throughout the book—she sees Quint once more. Miles tries to see what she sees, and then:
With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss, and the grasp with which I recovered him might have been that of catching him in his fall. I caught him, yes, I held him—it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.
Again, it's not clear how or why Miles dies, exactly—though the governess does seem to hug him very hard several times in the book, prompting speculation she actually killed him. Either way, let's be grateful that Mike Flanagan didn't go there.
Dani's late fiancé and several other characters are brand new.
In Turn of the Screw, nearly nothing is known about the governesses's life before she accepted the job, aside from that she's 20 and was the daughter of a "poor country parson." Dani's engagement, her fiancé's fate, and her romance with gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve) are all original to The Haunting of Bly Manor, and so is what Dani chooses to do in the end. Owen (Rahul Kohli), Flora and Miles's parents are new characters, as well.
And then there's the murderous Lady in the Lake (Kate Siegel), whose origins are heavily lifted from another Henry James story, The Romance of Certain Old Clothes.
For more articles like these, sign up for our newsletter!
You Might Also Like