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Haunting of Bly Manor: Faulty Memory and the Need to be Remembered











Promo Image for Haunting of Bly Manor with a woman in front of two children, one boy and girl
Haunting of Bly Manor Promo

The Haunting of Bly Manor is a slow-burn, creeping horror show that critiques classism, softly embraces queer love, and haunts its audience with tragedy. Gabe discusses the overall theme memory plays in the show and how this is a love story more than a ghost story. Kat talks about why people want to be remembered when they die and how to assure you will be.


Sources in this Episode:


Film Reviews:


 

Media from this week's episode:

Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

After an au pair’s tragic death, Henry hires a young American nanny to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who reside at Bly Manor with the chef Owen, groundskeeper Jamie and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose.

 


Haunting of Bly Manor: Giving up the Ghost of Loving & the Trials of Memory

by gabe castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Synopsis 

The Haunting of Bly Manor is a slow-burn, creeping horror show that critiques classism, softly embraces queer love, and haunts its audience with tragedy. Loosely based on Henry James’, "The Turn of the Screw."  The series also references other stories by the same author such as “The Jolly Coroner” and “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes.”


The story, told as a ghost story to a group after a wedding service in front of a fireplace, follows an American au pair named Dani Clayton, who is hired to care for two orphaned children, Miles and Flora, at the remote Bly Manor in England. As Dani settles into her new role, she discovers dark secrets haunting the manor and its inhabitants. The series weaves a complex narrative involving love, loss, and the supernatural, exploring themes of grief and the enduring impact of past traumas.


During Dani’s stay, we learn of the fate of her predecessor Miss Jessel, and her abusive partner, Peter (who’s rumored to have fled with stolen money). Dani along with the other Manor staff, Hannah the housekeeper, Jaime the gardener, and Owen the cook, care for the children while being seemingly haunted by the remnants of trauma endured in this house. The Haunting of Bly Manor combines elements of psychological horror, ghostly apparitions, and intricate character relationships, creating a chilling and emotional tale that explores the haunting nature of love and loss. 


the Trials of Memory

Where Hill House explored family trauma and grief, Bly Manor is a story about love and memory. Bly Manor addresses the power of memories, and how they can trap or free us.  The characters are unable to move on with their lives, they’re both haunted by their pasts and present but also haunting the world around them, not fully present in their lives and unable to move forward. 


We see this with Owen’s mother who passed away after a long battle with dementia, a battle that haunts Owen who struggles with reconciling his mother’s loss of time and information. We see it in Hannah who through her nonlinear experience of time after death, can’t keep a hold of what has really happened and what she is fabricating to stay “alive.” This is made even more heartbreaking when we consider how Owen just lost someone who’d often forget or misremember him and now, the woman he loves is losing him too. In the end, when Dani has taken on the presence of Viola Willoughby to protect everyone, she fights for her remaining days to hold on to some semblance of herself, her memories and her potential future. It's in finally acknowledging the loss of this fight that sends her to her own watery grave early. Most often, we see it in the “tucking away” that those who are being possessed do to save themselves. The children get tucked away into memories with their mother, while actively stuck in the past they can’t move forward towards a future, they can’t heal. Trauma and memory are often experienced similarly, we tuck ourselves away to protect our minds but if we don’t confront the reality and the now, we can’t move forward. Memories can be both a safe haven and a prison. 


Giving up the Ghost of Loving 

Bly Manor is also a tale about the difference between love and possession. Characters become so wrapped up in other people that they lose themselves. Flanagan, in many interviews, referenced a quote from David Foster Wallace: “Every love story is a ghost story,” as inspiration. Dani, through her growing relationship with Jaime slowly begins to feel okay in her own skin, accepting her sexuality and her right to be loved. She has to work through her grief and guilt which has manifested as the ghost of her deceased fiance. She was never allowed closure and her escape to the isolated countryside was her attempt at keeping the darkness at bay, though lucky for her, it saves her. Hannah, whose heart had been broken by her adulterous husband, finds love in the soft, warm Owen and in the children’s need for her. Miss Jessel unfortunately falls for a wolf in wolf’s clothing, Peter who warps love with possession. Like we discussed in our Don’t Worry Darling episode, love cannot exist in the shadow of possession and control. Peter could never truly love Rebecca. Where Dani was freed from her guilt and trauma through love, Rebecca was condemned to an eternity of it through her love and death at the hands of Peter.


The series ultimately invites viewers to contemplate the enduring impact of love and the inescapable nature of memories, emphasizing the bittersweet and often haunting interplay between these two fundamental aspects of the human experience.


Black Women Suffering & Serving

I absolutely cannot go through this episode with my Media Literacy glasses on and not discuss the glaring flaws in plot regarding the two Black women in this show. Though phenomenally acted, casting these two women in these specific roles cannot go without some critique.  “For a Black woman to play the saving grace of self-serving white aristocracy proves that in regards to the creation of diverse storylines, old habits have yet to die hard. The savior syndrome attitude rehashes the same plot device that disregards the Black individual as deserving of any other arc — except to save everyone else,” shares Monika Estrella Negra in their article, Hannah Grose remains one of the most compelling yet heartbreaking characters of Bly Manor on Syfy Wire.


In a helpful article by Dr. Franchesca Sobande titled On Black Women’s Trauma and The Haunting of Bly Manor, on her website, Margins, she discusses the problems of harming these two women in very specific ways. Whereas Dani and Jamie get months of love to make up for their suppressed existence, both Rebecca and Hannah are in relationships marked by loss and tragedy. Sobande addresses the two women’s deaths at the hands of the titular villain, Peter saying, “That Pete, a white man, kills both Hannah and Rebecca is especially jarring given the domestic and intimate partner violence that Black women, including Hannah, face. Some how Pete is able to evade accountability and is afforded subplots to do with his experience of childhood abuse which seem to be intended to invoke sympathy for him and recuperate his character.”


Sobande brings up some interesting points of thought, including the issue of Hannah being the only character who was dead since the moment we met her. Sobande explains, “In other words, we can’t gloss over that a large part of Hannah’s character arc is based on the fact she has been dead all along, and even in death, has continued to honor her promise to care for the two white children of The Manor and to create a hospitable environment for everyone who lives there. Even in death, Hannah does not get to stop serving and stop working. Furthermore, when the show finally makes it clear why despite being dead Hannah was able to continue to appear alive and interact with the living, the message is that this is simply down to her not facing the reality of her own death. Hannah’s denial is what has allegedly made it possible for her to pass as living, or at least, existing. Somehow, even in death, Hannah is blamed for her inability to rest deep sigh.”

At the heart, both of these characters suffer at the hands of white characters who control them or have a hold over them. Hannah, who accepted the “love” and new found family with her employer who is the embodiment of the White Saviour complex is killed by the child she cares after, though inhabited by the man who tried to remind her of her station - her place in the hierarchy, never being one of them. Further, Hannah and Owen’s story is background noise, impactful and heartbreaking noise, but noise nonetheless. They never get those precious moments of growth and connection that Dani and Jamie got. Owen never even gets to hear from Hannah that she loves him. They never get Paris.  And Rebecca, who is written and told to be strong only to be easily controlled and manipulated by a pathetic and controlling man. 


Tumblr user FunneFatale remarks on all these injustices and more when asked, “How is Bly Manor racist,” including a super valid point about the women’s deaths saying, 


“Hannah and Rebecca both have super traumatic deaths! Rebecca trusts Peter and he literally walks her body into the lake so he won't be alone and she continues to talk to him??? Hannah gets pushed down a well by (a possessed) child and fucking cracks her head open? Like what the fuck.

Compare that to Charlotte who dies off-screen while trying to fix her marriage. Or to Dani who gets to have a fucking decade with Jaimie where she lives and loves and gets married and travels. Dani and Jaimie get to have a life together, and yes it's cut short, but Dani gets far more life and agency than Hannah or Rebecca ever did, both of whom don't expect their deaths and die more or less alone.”


Lastly, and perhaps most heartbreaking is that Hannah is forgotten. I think back to Possessor, and the pain I felt watching a woman’s history be written over and promptly forgotten. In the end, it is seen as a good thing that the two children have forgotten their time at Bly Manor, but more importantly, forgotten Hannah entirely! They know someone cared for them, but never who she was. Her, a woman who found this family and fought it to be her own, who sacrificed her life to save everyone is forgotten and it’s supposed to be a good thing? 


In the end, we’re left with a lackluster show that pushes terrible tropes to the forefront - ie Kill Your Gays and the Black Woman Servant (it's giving Get Out tbh). As much as I loved the exploration of grief in Hill House, I’m terribly disappointed by this show and its lack of consideration. I couldn’t even love the brief moments between Dani and Jamie when they rested in the shadows and on the shoulders of Hannah and Rebecca’s pain. If love is a ghost story, this one needed to be exorcized.

 


Haunting of Bly Manor: Why Humans Want to be Remembered and How

by Kat Kushin


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


A big thing that stood out to me in the Haunting of Bly Manor was the exploration of people living on in people’s memories, in stories and the things that they owned. That after death we are tucked away into the memories of those we loved and only retain who we are for as long as we are remembered. That time takes us with it, and all that is left is the whisper down the lane stories of who we were. So in my section I'll be unpacking why humans want to be remembered, how many approach being remembered, and the ways legacy can be misunderstood with time. 


Why do we want to be remembered: 

In an article titled The desire to be remembered: A review and analysis of legacy motivations and behaviors | Science Direct and another titled 5 reasons we want to be remembered | Psychology Today they outline five reasons as humans we may want to be remembered. 

1. The need to be loved and to belong

This one is important both in life and in death, as people generally seek out community and social connections. In life these connections are very important to us, and the want to maintain that connection extends past the existence of us. “The scientists point out that for some people, the wish to be remembered positively after death may simply be a psychological artifact of a strong wish to be liked by others while still alive.” That our desire for connection and the energy and emotion that went into that transcend our lives. 

2. Making life better for children and grandchildren

The idea here is that to be remembered positively or negatively has consequences after our passing. Someone who lived a life that was notoriously harmful, or even misunderstood can negatively impact the relatives that continue living after a death in the family. That to the community impacted by this person, or by the rumor of impact, can affect how the community as a whole views the surviving family members. So to leave a positive legacy, or at least a perceived positive legacy can positively impact the surviving family members. The same applies to generational wealth or generational poverty. 

3. Fighting death anxiety

Securing a legacy and preparing for one's inevitable death can alleviate death anxiety. Some people do this through religious or spiritual belief, and others do this through monetary / symbolic methods. Leaving a legacy, similarly, could help fight off death anxiety by granting a sense of what the scientists call “symbolic immortality.” By leaving behind something of great value, people create a memory that outlives themselves and gives them the feeling that their existence has mattered. It all stems from the desire to have a life mean something, and that is more of an individual decision, in that some people hold value in different things. Books like the 5 people you meet in heaven, speak to this, and the human desire to know the meaning or purpose of their life, and the need for their to be one. 

4. Telling a story

Another reason for the wish to be remembered after death identified by scientists is the wish to tell one’s personal story to future generations. People often see themselves as the hero or central protagonist of their life story, similar to the leading actor or actress in a movie. This life story develops over the years and helps people in understanding significant life events and challenges. Importantly, such a life story cannot only be meaningful for the person themselves but also for their children and other people. 

In psychoanalysis, there is the concept of “generativity,” e.g., the wish to guide future generations. The scientists point out that generativity may also be a major reason why people want to be remembered. For example, by writing a biography, one could give moral or other advice to future generations and have a lasting positive impact, and this is a particularly positive end to one’s life story.

5. Making it easier to imagine the future

In general, it is very difficult for people to imagine a future in which they do not exist anymore. Death results in a permanent absence of consciousness, but no one ever consciously experiences the absence of consciousness because this is impossible. By leaving a legacy behind and ensuring that other people remember them consciously, it may be easier for people to imagine the future. They can simply think about what other people still alive will think about them.


In a rather depressing article titled You will likely be forgotten soon after you die | Medium, they discuss the length of time a person is on average remembered, when they haven’t been granted the power and privilege that many well known people are. On average it is said that it takes two to three generations for someone to fade entirely from familial or public memory unless they are recorded in some kind of history book, or taught about in some way. The article describes this passing of time, and the exit from memory as a second death. We see this a bit in Bly Manor, in that even if the spirits continue on at Bly, their faces, their motivations, and who they really were fade from memory, all that remains is the energy they left behind. They continue on to say “It’s worth noting that some people may be remembered for their contributions or impact on the world, such as historical figures, leaders, or people who have made significant contributions to their field, but for the vast majority of people, they will be remembered by only a small circle of family and close friends for a finite period of time before they too will pass on and be forgotten.” While that is depressing, it can be recognized that when people either exist socially, continue to art, writing, science, or some other kind of creative field they are likely to be remembered in the subsections of those communities longer than just within a family structure. Things that can be left behind and found by later generations lead to legacy being maintained, although sometimes misunderstood with the passage of time. From a historiography standpoint, keeping writings from a lost loved one can be a way to preserve their consciousness without them here. Seeing their handwriting, reading their words, seeing the way they saw the world. All of these things later could be memorialized as historical evidence. Even the mundane could be studied by future historians to get a better understanding of what the world was like while we were alive. 


In another article called How To Stay Famous After You Die. AI Scientists Have An Answer | Forbes. They discusses a study titled "Post-mortem memory of public figures in news and social media" conducted by Robert West, Jure Leskovec, and Christopher Potts. The study analyzes how people are remembered in news and social media before and after their death, focusing on trends and factors influencing post-mortem memory. The researchers found that an unnatural death of a young public figure results in the longest-lasting memory, with a significant spike in media attention immediately after death. Artists tend to have a more enduring legacy compared to leaders and athletes, whose significance decreases once they cannot replicate their actions. The study also notes that Twitter users pay less attention to the deaths of older public figures or leaders. Finally, it suggests that avoiding premature death and living longer could increase the chances of becoming famous later in life, and thus the likelihood of being remembered. 


In an article that I was only able to read part of because of paywalls but that posed an interesting question was The desire for legacy is a mental glitch but we can use it for good | New Scientist. In the article they propose two scenarios, In the first, you have a life filled with love and meaning and enough money to get by comfortably. However, after you die, something terrible is revealed about you – which may not even be true – and people come to despise you. In the second, you have a life of relative hardship and obscurity, but after you die, it is revealed that you were an incredibly talented artist and your reputation is assured forever. Which option would you choose?


If you picked the second, you aren’t alone, as Brett Waggoner at the University of Otago, New Zealand, discovered when he carried out this thought experiment. It may seem like a counterintuitive choice, but it reveals our deep concern for legacy. Across time and cultures, people seem to have acted with a desire to etch their names into the history books, from the pharaoh Khufu’s Great Pyramid of Giza to acts of scientific discovery, works of art, sporting achievements and public philanthropy. Nevertheless, such behaviour is something of a paradox. Why devote so much time and energy to being warmly recalled when you won’t be around to see the benefits?


Researchers trying to answer this question have come up with some surprising answers. Some suggest it gives individuals an evolutionary advantage. Others see it as a sort of glitch in the way we think – a mistake based on various cognitive biases. Meanwhile, it is becoming clear that our desire to be positively remembered is far more than just self-aggrandisement. Nurtured in the correct way, it could be leveraged to tackle long-term, global issues, including climate change, biodiversity…

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