“It is a street in Marylebone, London, running north from Cavendish Square to the Marylebone Road beside Regent’s Park; its current association with the medical profession, through the opening there of many eminent practitioners’ consulting rooms dates only from the late nineteenth century: at the time of the main narrative of the tale this street was merely one of the many fashionable residential streets in the area north of Mayfair. Later in the tale the street becomes, by metonymy, a reference to its occupant, the governess’s employer” (Adrian Dover).
Don’t let this editor put you off the scent : the dead only return when there is some terrible score to settle. Reason why they usually haunt their location of (violent) departure.
Moaning Myrtle from the second Harry Potter novel, for instance, finds her way back to the first floor girls’ toilets, because she hates the other girls for compelling her to seek refuge there. The precise circumstances of her death, by the way, make a striking parallel with the narrow escape by Hermione Granger in the first novel. And these two girls are very much of the same feather indeed.
And, beginning with a joke about dying of an excess of respectability, Henry James is absolutely consistent in his step by step unveiling why Miss Jessel returned to Bly instead. And her motive also suits Peter Quint ; her sad true lover, who brooded on impractical revenge, and who drowned his grief in liquor. Untill he joined her in the life here-after.
The place where they met, is, for us mortals, a little more difficult to find. Being derived from Northanger Abbey it should be somewhere near Cirencester, but Henry James preferred to locate Bly in Essex. A much wider area to search, which makes us to depend on the occasional clue about where to pin its exact location down on the survey map with a little marking flag :
It takes the coach from London “long hours of bumping” to reach the house’s nearest stopping-place in the late June evening. This places Bly at roughly the same distance from London as Catherine Morland’s home in Fullerton (Wilts), but in the opposite direction. A detail that invites to draw a straight line from one place to the other ; a line that has Harley Street halfway. This attempt locates the scene in the middle of nowhere. Which, of course, is the very place to locate a fictatious building. The nowhere in question, by the way, is Hamfort Water National Nature Reserve, and what would an English country-house be without such a copy of the Thames in its private grounds? At Bly this copy takes about twenty minutes to circumnavigate. Which seems impressive enough, but is in fact rather small for the location, and a wetland is no proper building site anyway. We therefore need to reconsider :
The Morlands live in Fullerton. Which in reality is a couple of houses and farms along Fullerton Road. And the nearest parish church is in Chilbolton (Hamps). No vicarage in Fullerton then. But by happy chance the Austen vicarage at nearby Steventon is just a little to the north of the line Fullerton – Hamfort Water. Correct for the distance to Harley Street, and we find ourselves at Great Bentley, correct for the deviation as well, and we arrive on Flag Hill, just to the west of Riddles Wood. Where else should Bly be?
A little to the northwest of Flag Hill we find Thorrington Hall. In itself a fine old place which dates back to the early Tudor age. But as an estate not quite in the same class as Northanger Abbey. Reason also to dismiss the other listed buildings in the area. In fact the only country-house to the northeast of London with grounds that match the Bly estate, lake included, is just south of Sheringham. As it happens, its position at the Norfolk coast places it roughly opposite Bly at the coast near St. Osyth. The house itself is not fully compatible, because far from ugly. And it would be seriously understaffed if it were to serve as James’s private orphanage, but, at its double scale, it matches Bly’s general impression. It is also famous enough to take for granted that Henry James knew the place. And he certainly would have known that the place is haunted. By two ghosts actually, and because chance stops at nothing to make the connection, the male appearance is a servant, the female a Lady. Both are dreadful to see, despite agreeable looks, while the Lady was in her time as infamous as Miss Jessel. And she definitely died of too much respectability.
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