Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

by Ruth Franklin


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Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography

Winner of the Edgar Award in Critical/Biographical

Winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction

A New York Times Notable Book of 2016

A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Pick of 2016

An Entertainment Weekly Best Book of 2016

A Time Magazine Top Nonfiction of 2016

A Seattle Times Best Book of 2016

A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2016

An NPR 2016's Great Read

A Boston Globe Best Book of 2016

A Nylon Best Book of 2016

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2016

A Booklist 2016 Editors' Choice

This "historically engaging and pressingly relevant" biography establishes Shirley Jackson as a towering figure in American literature and revives the life and work of a neglected master.

Still known to millions primarily as the author of the "The Lottery," Shirley Jackson (1916–1965) has been curiously absent from the mainstream American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense and psychological horror, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America more deeply than anyone. Now, biographer Ruth Franklin reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the author of such classics as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition that stretches back to Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on "domestic horror." Almost two decades before The Feminine Mystique ignited the women’s movement, Jackson’ stories and nonfiction chronicles were already exploring the exploitation and the desperate isolation of women, particularly married women, in American society. Franklin’s portrait of Jackson gives us “a way of reading Jackson and her work that threads her into the weave of the world of words, as a writer and as a woman, rather than excludes her as an anomaly” (Neil Gaiman).

The increasingly prescient Jackson emerges as a ferociously talented, determined, and prodigiously creative writer in a time when it was unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession. A mother of four and the wife of the prominent New Yorker critic and academic Stanley Edgar Hyman, Jackson lived a seemingly bucolic life in the New England town of North Bennington, Vermont. 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, her anxiety mounted, and she became addicted to amphetamines and tranquilizers. In sobering detail, Franklin insightfully examines the effects of Jackson’s California upbringing, in the shadow of a hypercritical mother, on her relationship with her husband, juxtaposing Hyman’s infidelities, domineering behavior, and professional jealousy with his unerring admiration for Jackson’s fiction, which he was convinced was among the most brilliant he had ever encountered.

Based on a wealth of previously undiscovered correspondence and dozens of new interviews, Shirley Jackson—an exploration of astonishing talent shaped by a damaging childhood and turbulent marriage—becomes the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary giant.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780871403131
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 09/27/2016
Pages: 624
Sales rank: 745,562
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Ruth Franklin is a book critic and frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Harper’s, and many other publications. A recipient of a New York Public Library Cullman Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship, she lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Table of Contents

Note On Quotations xv

Introduction: A Secret History 1

1 Foundations: California, 1916-1933 11

2 The Demon in the Mind: Rochester, 1933-1937 43

3 Intentions Charged With Power: Brooklyn, 7919-1937 70

4 S & S: Syracuse, 1937-1940 90

5 The Mad Bohemians: New York, New Hampshire, Syracuse, 1940-1942 128

6 Garlic in Fiction: New York, 1942-1945 158

7 Sidestreet, U.S.A.: Bennington, The Road Through the Wall, 1945-1948 190

8 A Classic in Some Category: "The Lottery," 1948 221

9 Notes From a Modern Book of Witchcraft: The Lottery: or, The Adventures of James Harris, .1948-1949 248

10 The Lovely House: Westport, Hangsaman, 1950-1951 271

11 Cabbages and Savages: Bennington, Life Among the Savages, 1951-1953 304

12 Dr. Write: The Bird's Nest, 1953-1954 337

13 Domestic Disturbances: Raising Demons, 1954-1957 355

14 What Is this World? The Sundial, 1957-1958 382

15 The Heart of the House: The Haunting of Hill House, 1958-1959 407

16 Steady Against the World: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, 1960-1962 428

17 Writing Is The Way Out: 1962-1964 457

18 Last Words: Come Along with Me, 1964-1965 485

Select Bibliography: Shirley Jackson's Published Works 501

Notes 503

Acknowledgments 581

Permissions 585

Index 589

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