by Shirley Jackson
"It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed."
The entry below will openly analyse Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.
Oh, where to begin with Shirley Jackson! I suppose I should first air my minor grievances with this woman before I start gushing affection: You're far too smart for me. If, at the end of The Tropic of Cancer, my interpretation was a puzzle, mostly in order, but with a few pieces missing, then Jackson has left me with an unruly pile of pieces, none quite connected to another. It's becoming something of a trend with Jackson, and I can't say I like it. What is it about this woman's work that leave me so clueless?
I consulted the novel's introduction before writing this (which, I might add, spoils the ending. What do these scholars think they're writing?), and it seems I overlooked a great deal of thematic material. What I had perceived was that Jackson's work was heavily referencing childhood, but to what effect I had no idea. It seems absolutely obvious now, with a push in the proper direction -- as it did with We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
The ubiquitous presence of the notion of childhood is, of course, one of the keys to Jackson's novel. Hill House, it appears to be, is sort of an examination of unterminated childhood, when thrust against reality. To which Jackson uses the horrific manifestations of the novel to great effect. Ironically, for as lost as Jackson left me, her intent is written in plain english all over the book.
As impressively well constructed Jackson's novel is thematically (and it is), I feel uncomfortable talking about it for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that my comprehension of it is only half mine, and it seems silly to regurgitate the novel's introduction here.
I don't read much genre fiction (hardly any really), but I have a difficult time believing there's many who could surpass Jackson here. The premise she presents with Hill House feels as though it should be tired, it's been the basis for a great many things, and yet somehow the novel remains fresh, and captivating. The scares, as they are, feel as though they could be pulled from a truck of cliches, and yet their place in the novel isn't unwelcome. One, in fact, even had me a little unsettled as I laid down to bed the other night. Despite being the inspiration for countless writers, Jackson's work still holds up fabulously, and as I mentioned yesterday, it was a terrific bit of fun.
That Jackson-- a popular fiction writer of her time, a sharp literary mind, and major modern influence-- is largely out of print is nothing short of shameful. In June, Library of America will be releasing a 800-something page volume of her work edited by Joyce Carol Oates. If I haven't already hunted down her out-of-print work individually (which I'm just about mad enough to try), It's fairly certain I'll be buying it. Jackson is fast becoming one of my favorite authors; there's, quite simply, nothing about her to dislike.
Up Next: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess