Everyone is talking about Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, based (loosely) on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel. With spooky season soon coming to a close, what better way to send off the seasonal ghouls than with a smattering of interesting facts about one of horror’s most gifted authors?
1. She is descended from a Revolutionary war general
Image via CBS News
Jackson can trace her maternal heritage back to Nathanael Greene, a general in the Revolutionary War whose statue was recently vandalized in the best way possible. Earlier this month, an unknown menace stuck googly eyes to General Greene’s bronze visage, which stands in Johnson Square in Savannah, Georgia.
2. She called herself a witch, and may or may not have been kidding.
Image via Rebloggy
Jackson was apparently very interested in matters of the occult and witchcraft. She owned a vast library of books on witchcraft, which she was rumored to be an amateur practitioner of, a rumor that she herself loved to fan the flames of. The rumor was so widespread that in an article on Jackson in the Associated Press, W. G. Rogers wrote, “With attractive features and a pair of quite un-evil eyes behind glasses, she does not resemble a witch.”
3. She published a one-act musical based on Hansel and Gretel
Image via Amazon
The musical was called The Bad Children and the very charming synopsis is as follows:
Shirley Jackson has written a modern fairy tale in which Hansel and Gretel are “problem children” (i.e. brats) and the witch is a charming old girl with a college degree in witchcraft. The play begins as the witch wakes up on a miserable rainy day in the forest and exclaims, “Such a day—makes you glad to be alive.” Then she gets into an argument with the second-class enchanter, which is interrupted by the arrival of the much-abused parents of Hansel and Gretel, followed closely by the little fiends themselves. They haven’t the slightest interest in anything that’s useful. Hansel and Gretel find the witch’s gingerbread house and start tearing it to pieces. The children are so eager to push the witch into the stove that it makes the old girl terribly nervous!
(Synopsis via Dramatic Publishing.)
4. She gave people the impression that she was very wholesome.
Image via Aleph-Bet Books
Shirley Jackson was married to Stanley Edgar Hyman, with whom she had four children. By all accounts, Jackson was an excellent mother, equal parts disciplinary and kind, who flourished in the role of homemaker. But just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you enjoy it. Of course, Jackson loved her children, but having the tremendous work of managing a household and the rearing of four whole children with no help from her partner was not ideal, and it wore on her. In reference to the many lifestyle articles she would publish for various magazines, she once wrote,
“I am tired of writing dainty little biographical things that pretend that I am a trim little housewife in a Mother Hubbard stirring up appetizing messes over a wood stove.”
Despite the tedium of scrawling out dozens upon dozens of domestic columns, Jackson recognized the advantageousness of putting on the housewifery charade, which allowed her to move through the mid-century without terrible scrutiny. In public, she often would downplay the quality of her writing to fly under the radar: “Fifty percent of my life is spent washing and dressing the children, cooking, washing dishes and clothes and mending. After I get it all to bed, I turn around to my typewriter and try to—well, to create concrete things again. It’s great fun, and I love it. But it doesn’t tie any shoes.” Basically, she hustled.
5. She unsuccessfully attempted to hex the Yankees into losing the World Series in 1949.
Image via Baseball Almanac
Shirley Jackson was a devotee of her homes state’s baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. She was such a fan that she apparently attempted to place a curse on the Yankees that would cause them to lose the 1949 World Series. Alas, she was unsuccessful, the Yankees took home the trophy that year.
6. She played the zither and owned six black cats.
A zither is a type of stringed instrument of Greek origin, a precursor to the modern guitar. A black cat is a cat that is black. According to a biographical note written by her husband, Stanley Hyman, (which she was actually supposed to write herself but didn’t because after several drafts she found that writing about herself was pure torture) Jackson was rather fond of both:
She plays the guitar and sings five hundred folk songs… as well as playing the piano and the zither…. She is passionately addicted to cats, and at the moment has six, all coal black….
7. Her short story “The Lottery” was banned in South Africa
Image via Working Title Bookshop
“The Lottery” is not just Jackson’s best-known short story, it is one of the most famous short stories of all time. While readers now may not be shocked by the gruesome plot twist that concludes the tale, Jackson’s first audience was keenly disturbed upon the story’s publication. Even her mother could not be proud of it, and wrote to her, “Why don’t you write something to cheer people up?” The story was so affecting that the Union of South Africa banned “The Lottery”, which only served to amuse Jackson, who felt that this meant that they at least understood the story.
8.Stephen King once called to opening of The Haunting of Hill House one of the finest opening paragraphs ever written.
Image via Cathy Hookey
Jackson’s work has inspired generations of horror writers, and for good reason. Among her fans is none other than Stephen King, who has said that The Haunting of Hill House stands as one of the most important horror novels ever written. He was especially fond of the opening paragraph, which reads:
“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.”
Featured Image via Wikipedia and To the Best of Our Knowledge.