When it comes to the Haunting universe, there's always more to everything than meets the eye. The anthology series proved that in a whole new way with its second season by hiding little clues in each of its episode titles. Hill House's episode titles were pretty straightforward, with matter-of-fact names like "Steven Sees a Ghost" and "Eulogy," but Bly Manor's episode names are a bit more complex. So, what do the Haunting of Bly Manor episode titles mean? Not only are they a nod to the author who inspired the season, but they also hint at what's going on beneath the surface of each episode.
There are a few immediately evident ways in which The Haunting of Bly Manor distinguishes itself from Hill House in terms of structure and inspiration. For one, the new season is only nine episodes long, making it one episode shorter than its predecessor. But whereas Hill House adapted only one novel (Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House), Bly Manor pulled inspiration from Henry James' full collection of works. James, who is considered one of the masters of ghost stories, wrote scores of seminal works in the genre throughout the late 1800s and up to his death in 1916.
The primary inspiration for Bly Manor is James' 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, but as the season's episode titles emphasize, several other works are also adapted in the show. Each episode shares a title with one of James' novels or short stories. The premiere episode, for example, has the same title as James' 1900 short story The Great Good Place, which was about a harried writer who unexpectedly escapes to a calming retreat house and recovers his peace of mind. The themes of the story echo in Dani's own decision to take up the nannying position at Bly Manor, having suddenly left a stressful situation in the U.S. and coming upon a quaint, gorgeous country manor.
The following episode titles continue this theme of mirroring the James work with which they share a name without outright adapting the stories. The references to James' stories include 1891's The Pupil, 1900's The Two Faces, 1896's The Way It Came, 1895's The Altar of the Dead, and 1903's The Beast in the Jungle.
Spoiler alert: The rest of this post includes spoilers from throughout The Haunting of Bly Manor. While most of the episodes only tangentially reference or reflect an important theme present in the James work they are titled after, two Bly Manor episode stand apart as much more straightforward adaptations. Episode 6, called "The Jolly Corner," focuses on Henry Wingrave confronting a smug doppelgänger version of himself as he processes all his regrets in life. It's a very close adaptation of James' 1908 short story of the same name, which is about a man who battles with a ghostly alter-ego after thinking back on his life choices.
The most prominent adaptation of all, though, is Episode 8, which very closely retells James' 1868 short story The Romance of Certain Old Clothes. The special Bly Manor episode is set apart from the rest of the season, filmed in black-and-white in a flashback to the 1600s, used to tell the backstory for the season's prominent ghost: The Lady In The Lake. The show even uses the exact same name as the characters in James' story, as sisters Viola and Perdita grow resentful of one another over their shared love of Arthur Lloyd. The only major switch the show makes is that Viola dies and her ghost strangles Perdita when she opens her chest of dresses, rather than the sisters being in opposite positions in James' story.
Since each episode is a nod to a different Henry James story, fans who really enjoyed The Haunting of Bly Manor and want to delve deeper into the story can check out all the stories referenced to unlock deeper secrets about the season. Most of James' work is available to read for free online via Project Gutenberg, and they're relatively quick reads, so if you really enjoyed a certain episode of Bly Manor, it might be worth your time to check out the story that inspired it.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is on Netflix now.