Shirley Jackson: The mother of domestic horror
Ask a random group of readers who they think of when they think of horror writers, and you'll probably get Stephen King, HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. But ask people who are experts in the genre, and certainly you'll hear the name of Shirley Jackson. Although she wrote more than just horror, it's her scary stories that most readers find most memorable.
"The world of Shirley Jackson is eerie and unforgettable," wrote A. M. Homes. "It is a place where things are not what they seem; even on a morning that is sunny and clear there is always the threat of darkness looming, of things taking a turn for thw worse." Jackson's characters -- mostly unloved daughters in search of a home, a career, a family of their own -- chase what appears to be a harmless dream until, without warning, it turns on its heel to seize them by the throat.
Still known to millions primarily as the author of "The Lottery," Jackson (1916-1965) has been curiously absent from the mainstreem of literary suspense and psychological horror. Jackson plumbed the psychclogical anxiety of post-war America more deeply than anyone. Almost two decades before "The Feminine Mystique" ignnited the women's movement, Jackson's stories and nonfiction chronicles were already exploring the exploitation and the desperate isolation of women, particularly married women, in American society.
Jackson lived a seeming bucolic life, yet, much like her stories, which channeled the occult while exploring the claustrophobia of marriage and motherhood, Jackson's creative ascent was haunted by a darker side. As her career progressed, her marriage became more tenuous, and she became addicted to amphetamines and tranquilizers. She died far too young.
But she left us with some gems of the genre: "The Haunting of Hill House," "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," "The Witch," "Pillar of Salt" and dozens of other memorables stories. If there's a writer deserving of a new genertion of readers, we'd submit Shirley Jackson as our prime nominee.
Sources: Shirley Jackson, Novels and Stories (Library of America), Shirley Jackson: A Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin.
Printed Page College of Biblio Knowledge returns November 19
Our class about books, book collecting and book care returns Saturday, November 19 from 9 to 10:30 am. Students sit in rapt attention as Dan and John discuss book terminology, first edition identification, bibliographies, the economics of book collecting, book care and more. And it's free! Sign up by sending us an email to email@example.com.