Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
2016 National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Biography
2017 Edgar Award Winner for Best Critical/Biographical Work
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 prominentNew Yorkercritic 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 Jacksonan exploration of astonishing talent shaped by a damaging childhood and turbulent marriagebecomes the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary giant.
Ruth Franklinis 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
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life 3.5 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
I found Franklin's writing pedestrian and text-booky but the worst of it, for me, was that Franklin didn't seem all that well acquainted with Jackson's stories -- at least, no better acquainted than you could get by second- or third-hand information.
This resulted in a double irony: in one place she sneered at biographers who get details wrong, and in another she sneered at Stanley Hyman's (Jackson's husband) habit of reading everything written by someone he was going to write about, implying such intensive research was unnecessary.
However, if Franklin had bothered to read everything Jackson wrote, she wouldn't have gotten the plots of two short stories completely backwards (one of them a Mallie story, which really chaffed my chaps -- those are my favorites) or failed to know which character called the cold spot in front of the nursery "The heart of the house" in The Haunting of Hill House (it was Dr. Montague). That sort of sloppiness was hard to bear, since my main interest was in reading about Jackson's work.
I can't recommend this book, unless your main interest is in all the grimy little details of Jackson's life -- the writing is still tedious, but it does deliver on those.
More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written biography about Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman. Franklin gives just enough background on the families so that the reader has a full history of the families and what how that affects Jackson and Hyman. Unlike some biographies that give too much background information about the families Franklin gives just enough.
As I read Franklin's examination of The Lottery collection of stories I wanted to pull my copy off the shelf and reread it. Until I read that section I didn't realize that the stories were interconnected.
If you're interested in 20th Century American writers this is a book you should put at the top of of your TBR pile. If you've read anything written by Shirley Jackson this is a book you should read to get a better understanding of her and her work.
Simply a brilliant book.
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