Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life


i hope the three (okay, i exaggerate—two) readers of this blog will forgive me for my ongoing obsession with shirley jackson that makes me post continuously only about her. both her life and her writing have been indescribably inspiring to me and i do not want to lose this surge of energy I’ve been experiencing as a result.

i finished the new biography, shirley jackson: a rather haunted life, by ruth franklin. for a while there i thought i wouldn’t be able to go through with it so soon after reading private demons. some of the same correspondence quotes were cited and some of the same significant life events highlighted, but the book was different enough to keep me reading, and i became engrossed very quickly.

it felt like this new biography brought to light a lot of new material. i liked that it focused a bit more on stanley hyman, shirley jackson’s literary critic husband, who had a big influence on her writing, and his own career upheavals felt very relevant. Otherwise, for a second there my feminist radar went up because we shouldn’t be focusing on any man, no matter how important a figure, in the biography of a brilliant woman writer. but i revised my opinion as i kept reading–it was necessary and illuminating.

i appreciated the more nuanced approach to shirley jackson’s private troubles, like the weight struggle and her relationship with her mother, and i felt like the whole book created a very human, very approachable jackson, without taking anything away from the uniqueness of her work. the book is scattered with quotes from publishing industry professionals who are in awe of her writing at the time, which is interesting. it almost seems like there are two camps of critics of shirley jackson: those who cannot think highly enough of her, and those who put her down as a minor writer who never aimed high enough (she wrote for women’s magazines! horror of horrors!).

now i really should be moving on to reading more of her novels and stories. the first will probably be the bird’s nest, a novel about multiple personalities.

p.s. i didn’t use capitalization in this blog post in shirley jackson’s honor—she used to write like this. it feels very wrong and a little freeing.


    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! I have been enjoying your blog too. Good that I discovered I could choose between the flip cards and a regular format, because the flip-card design is a bit hard to get used to. Old-fashioned blog reader here, I suppose 🙂

  1. Your Shirley Jackson obsession has been interesting to follow! 🙂

    I’ve felt the need to read some Poe after having binged on Penny Dreadful, but perhaps I should give Jackson a go instead. My husband was just telling me how he has wanted to read The Haunting of Hill House for a long, long time. I wonder if it might be suitable to be read out loud? (We do that sometimes, read out loud to each other, but some books are better suited for it than others…)

    • I was just reading an article about Ursula Le Guin in The New Yorker Magazine ( and it seems that she and her husband also read aloud to each other, so I guess you’re following in some great footsteps. I’ve never done that myself, but it seems like such a romantic thing to do. The reading of The Haunting might actually work better that way, because you wouldn’t be tempted to skip over paragraphs in any sort of speed reading that would make you miss some of the many nuances of the book. It is such a strange and very open-to-interpretation novel, I hope you love it. And by the way, the 90s movie based on the book is on Netflix. It’s called The Haunting, I believe.

      Wasn’t Penny Dreadful unbelievable? It’s made a big impression on me. The world it created was so dark and atmospheric and beautiful.

      • I really love Penny Dreadful – I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so inspired by a TV show. 🙂 The overall mood is wonderful, but the fashion has a hold on me, in particular. I wish I could find some tight-fitting, high-collared blouses! I haven’t seen the third season yet, for some reason it’s not available on Netflix yet…

        • I feel the same way! I just saw an episode of Project Runway (do you watch that?) and one of the designers was wearing a lace high-neck top that looked like it belonged in Penny Dreadful, although it was white. The costumes looked like a beautiful, somewhat modern interpretation of period clothing, right? Amazing.
          And we already have the third season here in the US. It’s probably coming your way very soon.

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