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.