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The Haunting of Hill House
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Shirley Jackson Collection > Haunting of Hill House - No Spoilers

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message 1: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9559 comments Mod
This thread is for background information and general discussion of our October 2017 New School Group Read selection, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Please DO NOT post spoilers in this thread.


Sarah (sarath595) | 13 comments I just read this book for the first time a few months ago, so I'm looking forward to discussing it with people!


message 3: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob | 4960 comments Mod
Having just read this, I agree with Sarah, this should be a good discussion.


Sarah (sasstel) | 426 comments I just picked up a copy and am planning to start reading today. Looking forward to this one!


Kathleen | 3953 comments This is a favorite of mine going back to childhood, when I first encountered the story through the film with Julie Harris, which my brother and I thought was the scariest thing ever. We later bought the book and shared it back and forth over the years.

I only read it once or twice though, and that was decades ago, so I can't wait to re-read it with the group!


Loretta | 2668 comments Thoroughly enjoyed this one too! Members are in for a treat! 😊


message 7: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9559 comments Mod
This will be my first reading of the book. I am looking forward to it.


Wreade1872 | 852 comments I wish i had time to reread it now but so much else to read :) . I will definitely be rereading it at some point though.
Really loved it and looking forward to see others opinions.

A couple of things i had issues with though, i found some of the conversions hard to follow it often felt like there was more being said than i was getting. I imagine that will improve with a reread but Jacksons style can be a bit vague.

The other odd thing is that all the characters seem to act like teenagers, it makes sense for one of them but everyone seemed so immature, it was weird. I wonder if others will feel that too.


Aprilleigh (aprilleighlauer) | 561 comments I never saw the 1963 movie version of this, but the 1999 version with Lili Taylor as Nell was a favorite. It's what led me to eventually purchase the book.

I do agree that the characters all seemed remarkably immature for a group of adults. Their behavior seemed highly unlikely, even for the self-absorbed.


Connie G (connie_g) | 330 comments Eleanor should be an interesting character to discuss in the group. I didn't find the book to be scary, but it is a tragic psychological story.


George P. | 568 comments I saw the older film version rather long ago- 10 or 15 yrs, and can't really remember it at all, but I keep notes, which say I saw it and rated it average. I'm about 40% through the book already. I do like the writing style of Jackson; don't know about how I like the plot yet. The way a story is told is really more important than the story itself, I tend to think.


Kathleen | 3953 comments George wrote: "...The way a story is told is really more important than the story itself, I tend to think. "

I think that's certainly true of this story.


message 13: by Hilary (new) - added it

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 194 comments I'm really looking forward to this! My first full-length Shirley Jackson! 😊


Rachel (rayshellkay) | 3 comments I've read other works by Shirley Jackson and really enjoyed her style, so I was excited to read this book. I'm in the middle of it right now, and so far I'm absolutely loving it!


message 15: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob | 4960 comments Mod
A reminder this is the No Spoiler thread.


message 16: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9559 comments Mod
The spoiler thread is open, feel free to comment there on anything in the book (or movie as it relates to the book).


message 17: by Greg (last edited Oct 06, 2017 11:46AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Greg (gregreadsalot) | 73 comments Bob wrote: "A reminder this is the No Spoiler thread."
Thanks Bob. I have deleted my comments. I will say, though, I thought the book very good but found the 1960s movie even better, and it's one of my favorite "horror" movies ever, right up there with Kubrick's "Shining" (also better than the book mainly because of Jack Nicholson) and Rosemary's Baby (also better than the book, mainly because of Mia Farrow in a sensational performance, imo.) And, oh, I might just write a screenplay for Yanagihari's "A Little Life"-b/w Hitchcock-style but truly the book was epic psychological horror in the vein of (and here is where I get back on topic) "Haunting on Hill House".


message 18: by George P. (last edited Oct 11, 2017 07:12AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

George P. | 568 comments Jackson doesn't give us any backstory of any of the characters besides Eleanor, so she is the focal character. She is a still-youngish woman who is introverted and has had no significant social life , apparently spending nearly all her recent years caring for her ill, grouchy, and domineering mother. Her trip to Hill House is the greatest adventure of her life. Her euphoria is intermixed with fear. I haven't finished the story yet, and am very interested to see how it plays out. Will it end well or badly for her or somewhere between?


Nente | 780 comments I've been neglecting the group lately... Started reading this one and hope to get back into the discussions here!


message 20: by Gary (last edited Oct 08, 2017 08:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary I think it's necessary when discussing this book to note the amazing first paragraph. For the sake of reference, here's it is:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
In a genre that using "hooks" to start the piece off is practically a stereotype, that paragraph is in the running for the best opening paragraph in F/SF. That's not just me saying so; the strength of that beginning has not gone unnoticed. Here's an article with Random House copy chief Benjamin Dreyer's annotations that breaks it down neatly: https://medium.com/@penguinrandomus/s...

It's also been described as "a minor masterpiece of eerie economy" by reviewer John J. Miller in The Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1000142...

That article also notes that Stephen King said of it: "I think there are few if any descriptive passages in the English language that are any finer than this" in his Danse Macabre.


Kathleen | 3953 comments Shirley Jackson fans may enjoy this:
http://lithub.com/how-shirley-jackson...

Just reading it gave me a little chill ...


Melanti | 2384 comments I finally got around to cleaning yesterday and managed to find my copy of this.

I'm looking forward to rereading it.


message 23: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9559 comments Mod
Hope your home is coming together after the storm. I'm hoping to start this one soon also.


Melanti | 2384 comments Oh, it's a mess. And is likely to remain a mess for a very, very long time. Still waiting on the loan before I can commit to any repairs, and of course, now there's a lot of people in line ahead of me.

But at least all my books survived with only minor injuries -- a few creased pages and bent covers when the piles of books toppled over. Towards the end of the night I was in too much of a rush to be careful.


message 25: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9559 comments Mod
So sad that it will take forever for things to get fixed for you. Good job on saving the books though.


message 26: by George P. (last edited Oct 11, 2017 03:28PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

George P. | 568 comments I've almost finished so I will jump over to the "spoilers" thread in a few days. One of my GR friends read this previously and only rated it 3 (of 5) stars, but I have been enjoying it. Jackson had a very lucid writing style, easy to read, with great descriptive lines and excellent characters, I think. One character poorly developed here is "Luke" the heir to the house, but I forgive that because it's not a very long book so hard to develop them all. I liked the curt, rude Mrs Dudley "I clear at 10!", and the bossy Mrs.Montague. I suppose the intent of having the women Eleanor and Theodora act silly a lot is to convey that it's a defense mechanism for their anxiety.


message 27: by Kayla (new)

Kayla (kaylavano) I really want to join in on this one, but not having any luck finding a copy of the book. I've already exceeded my book budget for the month. I'm on the wait list for my library's single copy.


Michael | 16 comments Gary wrote: "I think it's necessary when discussing this book to note the amazing first paragraph. For the sake of reference, here's it is:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditi..."


Sorry I'm jumping in here late. I started posting on the spoiler side of things, then decided to check out this side. I'm so glad I did. What wonderful comments. Thanks so much, Gary, for the marvelous links. I'm a huge fan of this book, and it deserves such praise.


message 29: by Gary (last edited Oct 18, 2017 06:42AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Michael wrote: "I started posting on the spoiler side of things, then decided to check out this side. I'm so glad I did. What wonderful comments. Thanks so much, Gary, for the marvelous links."

Very welcome, Michael. I supposed that the first paragraph didn't really count as a spoiler, so I posted it here.

Probably another thing to note about this book that's not a spoiler is the life of the author. Shirley Jackson had a rather tough life in a lot of respects. She didn't spend her childhood down a mineshaft or anything like that, but what could have been a rather idyllic childhood in the San Francisco area was marred by her constantly belittling mother, who apparently heckled her all the days of her life. She wound up marrying Stanley Hyman straight out of college. Neither her nor Hyman’s parents attended the wedding. His parents were traditionally Jewish, and didn’t approve of him marrying outside the faith. Her parents were anti-Semitic, so Jackson didn’t even tell them about the marriage until months after the wedding.

Her marriage was almost certainly what we'd call verbally abusive these days. He routinely had sex with other women, including her friends, told her about it, ridiculed her objections and carried on in the name of his belief in a "bohemian lifestyle" as a literary critic. That belief didn't extend to her, though, so he expected her to have and raise children, and keep the house while playing the good professor's wife at faculty events. Even after her income as a writer surpassed his, that was the case.

That was the era of "mother's little helper" being prescribed by doctors, so it's not much of a surprise that she turned to tranquilizers and alcohol. She also had prescriptions for amphetamines for weight loss. She died of a heart-attack at 48 after being a shut-in for the previous year.

So, it's probably inevitable to connect up her experiences with her work. Though she apparently never believed in ghosts herself, she found them an apt metaphor for her work, and that often manifested in dark stories of betrayal. It's not entirely fair to connect the artist and the artist up, especially when talking about SF/F writers, but it's not hard to see where she got her themes about isolation, alienation and the slow descent into madness.


Kathleen | 3953 comments Good to see you here, Michael, and excellent background on Jackson, Gary.

Yep, I'd say she understands. I believe we all, even if we haven't been through what she went through, have a part of us that understands those things. The thing is, she knows how to get to that part of us through her storytelling. For me anyway, I am genuinely scared while reading this--even though I know the story and am reading it during the day!


Christine | 1217 comments Gary wrote: "Michael wrote: "I started posting on the spoiler side of things, then decided to check out this side. I'm so glad I did. What wonderful comments. Thanks so much, Gary, for the marvelous links."

Ve..."


Gary, you've piqued my interest in reading more about Shirley Jackson. Has anyone read the biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life?


Michael | 16 comments Gary wrote: "Michael wrote: "I started posting on the spoiler side of things, then decided to check out this side. I'm so glad I did. What wonderful comments. Thanks so much, Gary, for the marvelous links."

Ve..."


Thanks, Gary, for that additional background on Shirley Jackson. I knew she'd had some trouble with her mother and her husband, but wow, that does sound awful. It does give additional insight into her work, though. It also makes me want to read her biography (I haven't read it yet, Christine, but I'd be curious whether others have and what they think).

I also think about how, in so much of her work, the main character is a mental shut-in, someone alienated from the rest of the world, and how the "regular small-town folk" are often depicted as leering and mean.

A lot of food for thought here.


message 33: by Pink (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pink | 6554 comments I remember the biography coming out recently and hearing good things, but I haven't read it myself.


Sarah (sarath595) | 13 comments I read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle for a class in college, and I remember my professor telling us that Jackson became an agoraphobia at the end of her life. Its interesting to see how she expressed her own experiences in her writing.


Michael | 16 comments Sarah wrote: "I read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle for a class in college, and I remember my professor telling us that Jackson became an agoraphobia at the end of her life. Its interesting..."

I agree, Sarah, it's interesting how that theme comes through in her work, especially in Castle and Haunting and The Sundial, all of which depict a small group of people cut-off from the outside world.


message 36: by Gary (last edited Oct 19, 2017 09:53AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Michael wrote: "I also think about how, in so much of her work, the main character is a mental shut-in, someone alienated from the rest of the world, and how the "regular small-town folk" are often depicted as leering and mean."

There's always a balancing act that careful readers need to perform when it comes to this kind of thing. Normally, I'm a little leery of making direct connections between the art and the artist, especially for something like sci-fi/fantasy/horror, which must by their nature be more fanciful than other types of fiction. I remember being struck by an anecdote Steven King tells in Danse Macabre about his childhood when a neighbor kid was killed by a train. Despite the dramatic nature of that kind of event, and the connection it might have to some of the themes of childhood and loss of innocence that appear in much of his work, King didn't think this really had an influence on his choice of career or the products of it.
...My mom never knew if I had been near him when it happened, if it had occurred before I even arrived, or if I had wandered away after it happened. Perhaps she had her own ideas on the subject. But as I've said, I have no memory of the incident at all; only of having been told about it some years after the fact.

I offered my train story mostly so the questioner wouldn’t be totally disappointed, finishing just as I have here, by saying that I could not actually remember the incident. To which the third panel member, Janet Jeppson (who is a psychiatrist as well as a novelist), said: ‘But you’ve been writing about it ever since.’

There was an approving murmur from the audience. Here was a pigeonhole where I could be filed… here was a by-God motive. I wrote ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and destroyed the world by plague in The Stand because I saw this kid run over by a slow freight in the days of my impressionable youth. I believe this is a totally specious idea – such shoot-from-the-hip psychological judgments are little more than jumped-up astrology.
That does seem like a pretty pointed event that could very much have influenced King's core psychology, but who can really say? Like many arts, writing is a conscious AND subconscious endeavor, and ultimately many aspects are ambiguous. King's terminology and characterization there could easily be read as a case of The Horror Novelist Doth Protest Too Much... or he could be right. He told a story about something he was told happened in his childhood in response to a specific query about such things, and his listeners glommed onto it as a rationalization for their preconceptions. Everything he had written up until that point, and everything he would write in the future, they could simply categorize as a byproduct of one childhood experience that he can't actively remember and about which the details are quite sketchy.

Like many things, it's probably not binary. That is, even if King didn't see a friend killed as a 4-year-old, didn't even hear about it that day, and the whole thing was made up as part of the fanciful or mistaken thinking of his mother, he really was told a pretty gruesome account of such an event by his mother years later. The story stuck with him enough that he'd offer it up in response to such a query. It influenced him that much at least, and if one reads Different Seasons/The Body it's hard not to hear echoes of that childhood experience (even if it was just the experience of being told it was a possible experience by his mother...) in that story. Bearing that in mind, though, it's something of a leap to go from that to the rest of his oeuvre. Had he a conscious memory of seeing the kid get run down by a circus train full of pyromaniac teenage girls, maniacal clowns and possession spirits on the way to a Satanic ritual celebrating the End of Days at a hotel closed for the winter, there'd be a lot more to go on. As is, a memory of being told that you maybe could have witnessed something as a child is a pretty sketchy basis upon which to ascribe the millions of words King has written over the years.

That's not to say we shouldn't be thinking of the artist behind the art at all. Other authors make a much more pointed connection between their experiences and their work, particularly when it comes to the broad strokes. It's hard to picture H.P. Lovecraft's work turning out as it did were he not such a xenophobe. Mary Shelley might not have come up with Frankenstein had she not been brought up as she was, married as she did, and hung out with Lord Byron on one stormy night.

Some of them seem semi-autobiographical even. I remember reading a journalistic piece written by Hemingway in which he describes accidentally shooting himself in the leg. While fishing he hooked a marlin (or some such large game fish) and after he brought it on board he grabbed a .22 to kill the flopping beast quickly. The bullet went through the fish, ricocheted off the hull of the boat and struck him in the calf. It's a true story, supposedly, but one has to take that with a grain of salt. It's a true story told after the fact and with the skills of a very accomplished writer at the height of his powers. So, it's told in Hemingway's macho, gruff voice in which everything just has a kind of glint and vibrancy to it, so at the end you kind of think, "Damn, maybe I could shoot myself in the leg someday too... wouldn't that be cool?"

Fuckin' Hemingway, man....

Even though she's a horror author, Shirley Jackson appears to be much more of the Hemingway stripe than King. She didn't believe in ghosts herself, but she uses them as a metaphor for her own psychological issues. I can't help but think Mrs. Montague's appearance in The Haunting of Hill House has some sort of connection to Jackson's mother, for example. At the very least, Jackson had a handle on that kind of carping, passive-aggressive shrew based on her personal experience. I think she casts herself very much as Eleanor Vance, but imagines herself to be Theodora. Themes of home and community feature a LOT in her work, and that connects up neatly with her own feelings of alienation and isolation from the communities in which she lived. Home was for her both a haven and a trap. And when it comes to her later work that connection seems to grow all the closer. Everyone's life can be told as a cautionary tale after they've passed away and can no longer participate in the characterization, but Jackson appears in many ways to have presented her own cautionary tale in advance.


Kathleen | 3953 comments That's really interesting, Gary. I know from having people read my own fiction writing, it is wild the things people think are based on my real life (and the things that are that they miss). But on the other hand, I also agree that authors don't really know themselves. Fiction is even weirder than life that way.

I like that King used the word "specious." Like, yeah, it sounds good, but sorry--no. I think I'm willing to take the author's word for it. Unless it's Hemmingway's word, of course, in which case we all know he embellished it. :-)


message 38: by Michael (last edited Oct 19, 2017 08:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Michael | 16 comments I agree with Kathleen, Gary--fantastic post. It really is a vexing issue to read a book thinking you're reading something autobiographical. I mean sure, something has sparked the author to write this work, but I prefer not to connect the dots too closely. Because Kathleen is right--nobody really knows themselves. The work is what the author chose to share with the world, and I'll take it on its own terms.

With that said, there are times when you can't help seeing certain patterns in an author's work (yes, Charles Dickens, I'm looking at you and thinking of difficult childhoods). With Shirley Jackson, as you say, there are loads of mother-daughter issues. In Haunting, Eleanor keeps thinking back to her mother's death, gradually wondering whether she was responsible for it, and we get the sense that Eleanor was such a shut-in in part because she was caring for her dying mother. I'm also thinking of We Have Always Lived in the Castle (the family's death) and The Sundial (the mother killing her son by pushing him down the stairs--not a spoiler because this appears on the first page). Your recognition of Mrs. Montague as a shrewish mother figure is also, I think, quite brilliant. Like you, I'm struck by how SJ continually paints a picture of alienation from a surrounding community. It's not a tremendous leap to see the parallels with her own life.

I also agree with you that these issues aren't binary--it's not like a writer is either writing about his or her life or not. Every writer takes what he or she knows and transforms this into art. Sometimes the connection to the writer's life is obvious, sometimes not. In the end, I tend to judge a work based on the art alone, lest I make the kind of laughable errors Kathleen mentions, and I think of the life only to the extent it helps me understand and deepen the art.

I'm struck by your wonderfully perspicacious final sentence. Jackson does seem to be writing her own cautionary tales here. The writing itself, with its gothic overtones, at times has an almost allegorical quality to it, or more precisely a quality like a rural legend. It's like she's concocting dark folktales and embedding into them her own kind of buried yet urgent warning.


Michael | 16 comments Kathleen wrote: "That's really interesting, Gary. I know from having people read my own fiction writing, it is wild the things people think are based on my real life (and the things that are that they miss). But on..."

I had to laugh, Kathleen, when I read the end of your post. I love Hemingway, but man, he could really make stuff up, about himself most of all. There was Hemingway, and there was "Hemingway."


message 40: by Katy, New School Classics (last edited Apr 01, 2019 08:15AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9559 comments Mod
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is our Revisit the Shelf Reread for May 2019. The group previously read this book in 2017.

This is the No Spoiler Thread
The Spoiler Thread will open May 1st

This early posting of the No Spoiler thread is to discuss any non-plot issues pertaining to the book.

Appropriate Posts can contain:
1. Information about the author.
2. Compare editions/translations.
3. Any historical or background information
4. Are you familiar with this author’s work? Do you have any expectations going into the book?
5. What made you decide to read this book?
6. Any fan fiction that you have read or would like to read? Just link the books.
7. If you loved the book and want others to share in that experience, use this thread to motivate others, again save plot specifics for the Spoiler thread
8. If you hated the book, it would be best to keep that for the spoiler page

The most important thing to remember is no plot discussion. Any post that contains plot information or spoilers will be deleted.


Aprilleigh (aprilleighlauer) | 561 comments Penguin has a lovely hardcover edition of this book, The Haunting of Hill House The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson . Available on Amazon for $15-20 usually.


message 42: by Kirsten (new)

Kirsten (aucoinkirsten) Gary wrote: "I think it's necessary when discussing this book to note the amazing first paragraph. For the sake of reference, here's it is:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditi..."


That is an absolutely brilliant first paragraph.


Patty | 80 comments I love, Love, LOVE this book💕 I read this with my human-contact book club, and we all had different interpretations of this book. It is a great book for discussion.


Milena (milenas) | 500 comments I started the book last night. I agree that the first paragraph was amazing.


Jamie Zaccaria Another one of my all-time favorites right here. Best intro ever.


message 46: by Lynn, Revisit the Shelf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynn (lynnsreads) | 3291 comments Mod
I read this a weekend early, because I was excited. Great book. There is a nice audiobook on youtube with spooky background music!! Sometimes I like to sit with the book in my lap and read along with an audiobook.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G21Ud...


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