Blackmail at Bly
(A Conjecture of Events in The Turn of The Screw and The Innocents)

         In Jack Clayton’s 1961 The Innocents, based on Henry James’s 1898 The Turn of the Screw, The story opens with a mysterious and wealthy man (Michael Redgrave), who claims to have inherited two children from a military comrade with whom he served in India. He hires a governess, Miss Giddens in the movie, as played by Deborah Kerr, and gives her complete charge of his country estate on the condition that she never contact him again, he informs her that his “niece” and “nephew,” Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles (Martin Stephens), are to be raised completely at her discretion and that he shall never look in upon her or his wards.

         Soon after her arrival at the estate, she learns of her predecessor, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), and her employer’s former valet, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde), both dead under mysterious circumstances. She begins to have frequent visions of both the former valet and the former governess, who manifests in misery, weeping and writing love letters at a desk. Learning more of the household’s history as the story progresses, she is told that Quint assumed control of the estate and took liberties with everyone residing there, though both was highly inappropriate for one of his social standing, Quint also was suspected of having an illicit affair with Miss Jessel, whose death was a suicide, in the movie, although not specified in the book.

        Why would the wealthy employer devote so little interest to his young wards and country estate? Why would a rapscallion like Quint be appointed the head of the household? And having been fortunate enough to secure such a position, why would he risk it by being inappropriately “free” with the children and servants? Why did Miss Jessel kill herself and what really happened to Quint? Somebody is hiding something.

        The simplest explanation usually being the best, I submit that there never was a soldier in India, that the father of the children was none other than the wealthy employer. A confirmed bachelor and playboy socialite possessed of uncommon physical beauty, this man has probably gotten plenty of young girls “in trouble.” Flora and Miles are both likely products of his sexual escapades; their respective mothers, demanding money or worse, marriage were murdered quietly by faithful valet/trouble-shooter, Peter Quint, who then whisked the children away into seclusion—two dirty little secrets tucked safely away in the countryside. This would explain not only why the children’s “uncle” wanted nothing to do with and no news of them, but also how a man such as Quint came to be in charge of Bly, with no fear of repercussions for his unseemly behavior there.

        And what of the perpetually distraught Miss Jessel? Was she simply Quint’s spurned lover, as Mrs. Gross suggested? Unlikely, as she lived with him in the secluded countryside—Peter Quint was nothing if not opportunistic, and Miss Jessel the most eligible bachelorette for a hundred miles. Is it not more reasonable that Miss Jessel was yet another of her shadowy employers victims, hidden away from society under Quint’s watchful eye to await the birth of her illegitimate child? She was writing love letters as her replacement surmised, but to the employer whose child she carried, not Quint. It is probable that in a desperate bid for his hand in marriage, she threatened to expose him, which left Quint little choice but to do away with her (and her unborn baby) in the lake in the movie.

        Quint would have lived happily ever after as lord of the manner, but with two murders and three averted scandals under his belt, he began to get greedy, demanding hush-money from his employer. Getting rid of him was an exceedingly simple undertaking for the wealthy bachelor. Knowing that he’d spend the money on booze, he had only to give Quint exactly what he wanted and wait for an opportune moment to present itself. Shortly thereafter, an independent contractor in the employ of the bachelor found Quint drunkenly staggering on the ice, knocked him unconscious, and waited for him to freeze to death. Ghosts or no ghosts, this interpretation of events most easily accounts for the activities of all involved.

Joan Royalty