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Shirley Hardie Jackson|
December 14, 1916
San Francisco, California, U.S.
August 8, 1965 (aged 48)|
North Bennington, Vermont, U.S.
|Alma mater||Syracuse University|
Stanley Edgar Hyman
(m. 1940; her death 1965)
Shirley Hardie Jackson (December 14, 1916 – August 8, 1965) was an American writer, known primarily for her works of horror and mystery. Over the duration of her career, which spanned over two decades, she composed six novels, two memoirs, and over 200 short stories.
A native of San Francisco, California, Jackson would later attend Syracuse University in New York, where she became involved with the university's literary magazine and met future-husband Stanley Edgar Hyman. The couple settled in North Bennington, Vermont in 1940, after which Hyman established a career as a literary critic, and Jackson began writing.
After publishing her debut novel The Road Through the Wall (1948), a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood in California, Jackson would garner significant public attention for her short story "The Lottery," which details a secret, sinister underside to a bucolic American village. She would continue to publish numerous short stories in literary journals and magazines throughout the 1950s, some of which were assembled and reissued in her 1953 memoir Life Among the Savages. In 1959, she published The Haunting of Hill House, a supernatural horror novel widely considered to be one of the best ghost stories ever written.[a]
A reclusive woman, Jackson remained in North Bennington for the last years of her life, and was reluctant to discuss her work with the public. By the 1960s, her health began to deteriorate significantly as a result of her increasing weight and cigarette smoking, ultimately leading to her death of heart failure in 1965 at the age of 48. Jackson has been cited as an influence on a diverse set of authors, including Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Sarah Waters, Nigel Kneale, Joanne Harris, and Richard Matheson.
Jackson was born December 14, 1916 in San Francisco, California to Leslie and Geraldine Jackson.[b] She was of English ancestry, and her mother Geraldine could trace her family heritage to the Revolutionary War hero General Nathanael Greene. Jackson's maternal grandfather, John Stephenson, had been a prominent lawyer in San Francisco—later a Superior Court Judge in Alaska— while her great-great grandfather was Samuel Bugbee, an architect who designed numerous homes for the San Francisco elite.
Jackson was raised in Burlingame, California, an affluent middle-class suburb of San Francisco, where her family resided in a two-story brick home located at 1609 Forest View Road. Her relationship with her mother was strained, as her parents had married young and Geraldine had been disappointed when she immediately became pregnant with Shirley, as she had been looking forward to "spending time with her dashing husband". Jackson was often unable to fit in with other children and spent much of her time writing, much to her mother's distress. When she was a teenager, her weight fluctuated, resulting in a lack of confidence that she would struggle with throughout her life.
She attended Burlingame High School, where she played violin in the school orchestra. During her senior year of high school, the Jackson family relocated to Rochester, New York, after which she attended Brighton High School, receiving her diploma in 1934. She then attended the nearby University of Rochester, where her parents felt they could maintain supervision over her studies. Jackson was unhappy in her classes there, and took a year-long hiatus from her studies before transferring to Syracuse University, where she flourished both creatively and socially. Here she received her bachelor's degree in journalism. While a student at Syracuse, Jackson became involved with the campus literary magazine, through which she met her future husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, who would become a noted literary critic. While attending Syracuse, the university's literary magazine published Jackson's first story, "Janice," about a teenager's suicide attempt.
After graduating, Jackson and Hyman married in 1940, and had brief sojourns in New York City and Westport, Connecticut, ultimately settling in North Bennington, Vermont, where Hyman had been hired as an instructor at Bennington College. Jackson began writing material as Hyman established himself as a literary critic. Jackson and Hyman were known for being colorful, generous hosts, who surrounded themselves with literary talents, including Ralph Ellison. They were both enthusiastic readers whose personal library was estimated at over 100,000 books. They had four children, Laurence (Laurie), Joanne (Jannie), Sarah (Sally), and Barry, who would come to their own brand of literary fame as fictionalized versions of themselves in their mother's short stories.
According to Jackson's biographers, her marriage was plagued by Hyman's infidelities, notably with his students, and she reluctantly agreed to his proposition of maintaining an open relationship. Hyman also controlled their finances (meting out portions of her earnings to her as he saw fit), despite the fact that after the success of "The Lottery" and later work she earned far more than he did.
In 1948, Jackson published her debut novel, The Road Through the Wall, which tells a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood growing up in Burlingame, California, in the 1920s. Jackson's most famous story, "The Lottery", first published in the New Yorker on June 26, 1948, established her reputation as a master of the horror tale. The story prompted over 300 letters from readers, many of them outraged at its conjuring of a dark aspect of human nature, characterized by, as Jackson put it, "bewilderment, speculation, and old-fashioned abuse". In the July 22, 1948, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jackson offered the following in response to persistent queries from her readers about her intentions: "Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives."
The critical reaction to the story was unequivocally positive; the story quickly became a standard in anthologies and was adapted for television in 1952. In 1949, "The Lottery" was published in a short story collection of Jackson's titled The Lottery and Other Stories.
Jackson's second novel, Hangsaman (1951), contained elements similar to the mysterious real-life December 1, 1946, disappearance of an 18-year-old Bennington College sophomore Paula Jean Welden. This event, which remains unsolved to this day, took place in the wooded wilderness of Glastenbury Mountain near Bennington in southern Vermont, where Jackson and her family were living at the time. The fictional college depicted in Hangsaman is based in part on Jackson's experiences at Bennington College, as indicated by Jackson's papers in the Library of Congress. The event also served as inspiration for her short story "The Missing Girl" (first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1957, and posthumously in Just an Ordinary Day (1995)).
The following year, she published Life Among the Savages, a semi-autobiographical collection of short stories based on her own life with her four children, many of which had been published prior in popular magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day and Collier's. Semi-fictionalized versions of her marriage and the experience of bringing up four children, these works are "true-to-life funny-housewife stories" of the type later popularized by such writers as Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck during the 1950s and 1960s.
Reluctant to discuss her work with the public, Jackson wrote in Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft's Twentieth Century Authors (1955):
I very much dislike writing about myself or my work, and when pressed for autobiographical material can only give a bare chronological outline which contains, naturally, no pertinent facts. I was born in San Francisco in 1919 and spent most of my early life in California. I was married in 1940 to Stanley Edgar Hyman, critic and numismatist, and we live in Vermont, in a quiet rural community with fine scenery and comfortably far away from city life. Our major exports are books and children, both of which we produce in abundance. The children are Laurence, Joanne, Sarah, and Barry: my books include three novels, The Road Through the Wall, Hangsaman, The Bird's Nest and a collection of short stories, The Lottery. Life Among the Savages is a disrespectful memoir of my children.
In 1954, Jackson published The Bird's Nest (1954), which detailed a woman with multiple personalities and her relationship with her psychiatrist. One of Jackson's publishers, Roger Strauss, deemed The Bird's Nest "a perfect novel," but the publishing house marketed it as a psychological horror story, which displeased her. Her following novel, The Sundial, was published four years later and concerned a family of wealthy eccentrics who believe they have been chosen to survive the end of the world. She would subsequently publish two memoirs
Jackson's fifth novel, The Haunting of Hill House (1959), follows a group of individuals participating in a paranormal study at a reportedly haunted mansion. The novel, which interpolated supernatural phenomena with psychology, went on to become a critically esteemed example of the haunted house story, and was described by Stephen King as one of the most important horror novels of the twentieth century. Also in 1959, Jackson published the one-act children's musical The Bad Children, based on Hansel and Gretel.
By the time The Haunting of Hill House had been published, Jackson suffered numerous health problems: She was overweight as well as a heavy smoker, which resulted in pain, exhaustion, and fainting spells, which were attributed to a heart problem. Near the end of her life, Jackson was also seeing a psychiatrist for severe anxiety, which had kept her housebound for extended periods of time. The doctor prescribed barbiturates to help ease her agoraphobia, at that time considered a safe, harmless drug.
For many years prior, she also had periodic prescriptions for amphetamines for weight loss, which may have inadvertently aggravated her anxiety, leading to a cycle of prescription drug abuse using the two medications to counteract each other's effects. Any of these factors, or a combination of all of them, may have contributed to her declining health. Jackson confided to friends that she felt patronized in her role as a "faculty wife," and ostracized by the townspeople of North Bennington. Her dislike of this situation led to her increasing abuse of alcohol in addition to tranquilizers and amphetamines.
Despite her ailing health, Jackson continued to write and publish several works in the 1960s, including her final novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), a Gothic mystery novel. The novel was named by Time magazine as one of the "Ten Best Novels" of 1962. The following year, she published Nine Magic Wishes, an illustrated children's novel about a child who encounters a magician who grants him numerous enchanting wishes.
In 1968, Jackson's husband released a posthumous volume of her work, Come Along with Me, containing her unfinished last novel, as well as 14 previously uncollected short stories (among them "Louisa, Please Come Home") and three lectures she gave at colleges or writers' conferences in her last years.
In 1996, a crate of unpublished stories was found in a barn behind Jackson's house. A selection of those stories, along with previously uncollected stories from various magazines, were published in the 1996 collection Just an Ordinary Day. The title was taken from one of her stories for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts".
Jackson's papers are available in the Library of Congress. In its August 5, 2013, issue The New Yorker published "Paranoia", which the magazine said was discovered at the library. Let Me Tell You, a collection of stories and essays by Jackson (mostly unpublished) was released in 2015.
In addition to radio, television, and theater adaptations, "The Lottery" has been filmed three times, most notably in 1969 as an acclaimed short film that director Larry Yust made for an Encyclopædia Britannica educational film series. The Academic Film Archive cited Yust's short "as one of the two bestselling educational films ever".
In 2007, the Shirley Jackson Awards were established with permission of Jackson's estate. They are in recognition of her legacy in writing, and are awarded for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. The awards are presented at Readercon.
Since at least 2015, Jackson's adopted home of North Bennington has honored her legacy by celebrating Shirley Jackson Day on June 27, the day the fictional story "The Lottery" took place.
Lenemaja Friedman's Shirley Jackson (Twayne Publishers, 1975) is the first published survey of Jackson's life and work. Judy Oppenheimer also covers Shirley Jackson's life and career in Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson (Putnam, 1988). S. T. Joshi's The Modern Weird Tale (2001) offers a critical essay on Jackson's work.
A comprehensive overview of Jackson's short fiction is Joan Wylie Hall's Shirley Jackson: A Study of the Short Fiction (Twayne Publishers, 1993). The only critical bibliography of Jackson's work is Paul N. Reinsch's A Critical Bibliography of Shirley Jackson, American Writer (1919–1965): Reviews, Criticism, Adaptations (Edwin Mellen Press, 2001). Darryl Hattenhauer also provides a comprehensive survey of all of Jackson's fiction in Shirley Jackson's American Gothic (State University of New York Press, 2003). Bernice Murphy's recent Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy (McFarland, 2005) is a collection of commentaries on Jackson's work. Colin Hains's Frightened by a Word: Shirley Jackson & Lesbian Gothic (2007) explores the lesbian themes in Jackson's major novels.
According to the post-feminist critic Elaine Showalter, Jackson's work is the single most important mid-twentieth-century body of literary output yet to have its value reevaluated by critics in the present day. In a March 4, 2009, podcast distributed by the renowned business publisher The Economist, Showalter also revealed that Joyce Carol Oates has edited a collection of Jackson's work called Shirley Jackson Novels and Stories that was published in the critically esteemed  Library of America series.
Jackson's husband, literary critic Stanley Hyman, wrote in his preface to a posthumous anthology of her work that "she consistently refused to be interviewed, to explain or promote her work in any fashion, or to take public stands and be the pundit of the Sunday supplements. She believed that her books would speak for her clearly enough over the years". Hyman insisted that the dark visions found in Jackson's work were not, as some critics claimed, the product of "personal, even neurotic, fantasies," but, rather, comprised "a sensitive and faithful anatomy" of the Cold War era in which she lived, "fitting symbols for [a] distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb." Jackson may even have taken pleasure in the subversive impact of her work, as revealed by Hyman's statement that she "was always proud that the Union of South Africa banned 'The Lottery', and she felt that they at least understood the story".
The 1980s witnessed considerable scholarly interest in Jackson's work. Peter Kosenko, a Marxist critic, advanced an economic interpretation of "The Lottery" that focused on "the inequitable stratification of the social order". Sue Veregge Lape argued in her Ph.D. thesis that feminist critics who did not consider Jackson to be a feminist played a significant role in her lack of earlier critical attention. In contrast, Jacob Appel has written that Jackson was an "anti-regionalist writer" whose criticism of New England proved unpalatable to the American literary establishment.
In 2009, critic Harold Bloom published an extensive study of Jackson's work, challenging the notion that it was worthy of inclusion in the Western canon; Bloom wrote of "The Lottery," specifically: "Her art of narration [stays] on the surface, and could not depict individual identities. Even "The Lottery" wounds you once, and once only."
|Paranoia||2013||"Paranoia". The New Yorker. 89 (23): 62–66. August 5, 2013.|
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