The Haunting of Hill House
by Shirley Jackson
(reprinted in 2003)
Four people arrange to spend time in Hill House to investigate the occurrence of reputed supernatural manifestations: Dr. Montague, a professor who hopes to scientifically prove the house contains paranormal abnormalities; Luke Sanderson, a young man who will one day inherit the mansion; Theodora, a flamboyant free-spirit; Eleanor Vance, a repressed and self-absorbed young woman whose world is filled with fantasies and day-dreams.
The fifth, and dominant, character is gloomy, atmospheric Hill House itself. It lives and breathes, it broods, it whispers, it’s a bad house, a malevolent house that seems to want something from the four visitors, specifically from Eleanor.
The story focus is on Eleanor as she struggles with her fears and doubts and imaginings. Upon arriving at the house and meeting the others she is initially happy, happier than she’s ever been, for finally she belongs. Then strange things happen to blot her happiness. And the others suspect she’s behind the strange occurrences.
Eleanor alternates between happy and depressed; she loves the others, she hates them. She feels they’re talking about her, then is disappointed they are not. Her paranoia increases. She’s losing her grip on reality even as she feels that the house is possessing her mind.
This classic chiller, said to be Jackson’s best novel, has many genuinely frightening moments. Made into a movie twice: the 1963 version follows the novel with only minor changes, while the 1999 version is significantly different and far less memorable.
~ Spoiler Warning: The 2003 print version includes a 27 page introduction by Stephen King, a thorough analysis that includes most of the salient plot points, including the ending.
~ Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco in 1919 and died in Bennington VT in 1965.
~ "...I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there...I delight in what I fear." -- from an unsent letter to poet Howard Nemerov by Shirley Jackson
~ 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 so 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. -- the oft-acclaimed first paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House
~ Other Novels
The Road Through the Wall - 1948
Hangsaman - 1950
The Bird’s Nest - 1954
The Sundial - 1958
We Have Always Lived in the Castle - 1962