The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

And so the old house has just been sitting here.” Luke put out a tentative finger and touched the marble cupid gingerly. “Nothing in it touched, nothing used, nothing here wanted by anyone any more, just sitting here thinking.”

“And waiting,” Eleanor said.

“And waiting,” the doctor confirmed. “Essentially, he went on slowly, “the evil is the house itself, I think. It has enchained and destroyed its people and their lives, it is a place of contained ill will. Well. Tomorrow you will see it all. The Sandersons put in electricity and plumbing and a telephone when they first thought to live here, but otherwise nothing has been changed.:

“Well,” Luke said after a little silence, “I’m sure we will all be very comfortable here.

Right. Very comfortable in a house where Dr. Montague has brought three assistants (Eleanor, Luke and Theodora) to help him analyze the ‘supernatural manifestations’ which might take place in this infamous house? Through Jackson’s talented writing, the reader knows darn well that no one is going to be comfortable, quite possibly even when the tale concludes.

The house takes on almost human characteristics. It breathes. It deceives. It wraps its inhabitants with a chilling cold. But, there is no denying that some force is there, too, relentlessly knocking on the doors with a steady, unending thumping. Shutting doors so that the guests are lost or confused in the passageways going from room to room. Leaving blood all over Theodora’s bedroom and clothes so that she has to move in with Eleanor. Seeming to call vulnerable girls up the dangerous turret staircase to see if they will fall to their deaths.

But scariest to me is the loneliness of Eleanor. When I read of her not being wanted, not having a place to call her own, being emotionally abused by her mother until she became a weak and timid thing, I knew that she was the scariest part of being at Hill House. She was the most vulnerable to its evil ways. And, indeed, she succumbs in the end.

Before I go, can I just say that Shirley Jackson’s picture creeps me out? There’s something about her that just doesn’t seem right. Something lurking behind that expression, behind those pale glasses covering half closed eyes…within the lines of the half turned up smile. It gives me shivers.

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43 thoughts on “The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson”

  1. I've been thinking that I can't manage to find scary/horror literature scary, the way a scary movie can…Maybe this would be different? (And I've never seen a picture of Shirley J. before, but I think I agree with you.)

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  2. This book is written so well – the character of the house, the understated, unexplained presence. And I agree that poor Laura is a spooky character, although wonderfully realized – by her (I also agree) creepy looking author!

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  3. There's no question that houses do live. They have personalities, and their own intentions. I suspect that's part of the reason we find empty spaces – hospitals at 3 a.m., grade schools during summer vacation – both compelling and vaguely disturbing. We can hear echos of the conversations going on. The walls do speak – we just fail to listen, most of the time.

    When I saw the author's picture, I was instantaneously transported back to 11th grade, and Sarah Gracie Brown, my biology teacher. She had this way of looking at you as though you were a specimen on her table, and she had the chloroform open.

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  4. Oh, this sounds scary! Would love to read it for RIP, especially after enjoying We Have Always Lived in the Castle last year. And yes, that is one creepy picture of Jackson…

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  5. Every time I hear about Susan Hill's books my skin crawl. You are right to talk about her creepy look. I'm not sure and if I have the courage to ever read her books!

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  6. Great review. I haven't read this yet but I do own it. What I love most about Jackson is her ability to write some really great sentences. I hope you're having a great weekend.

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  7. I read this book last year, and while I really liked We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I could hardly finish this book. Way. Too. Disturbing. That is a vague comment, but it bothered me on such a deep level that I can't even verbalize it.

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  8. Audrey, I am easily scared by both literature and film…with the later all the more so! There's no way I can watch scary movies. I've never even sat through Psycho one whole time.

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  9. Sarah, I think the build up was even scarier than the conclusion. Like Hitchcock once said, (something like) “Waiting for the bang is worse than the shot.” I think Eleanor was so tragically realized, bringing me to the same point I wrote in “Don't Look Now” that the scariest things in life aren't ghosts, but loss, loneliness, misunderstandings, etc. It makes me wonder if Shirley felt that way in her personal life.

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  10. Interesting, Shoreacres, about houses listening…I do think that we can feel the presence of those who came before us in some ways.

    As to Shirley Jackson, I think she looks like everyone's worst teacher. If you went to school in the sixties as I did. 😉

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  11. Suzie, Natalie, JoAnn and JoV, I've had it on my list to read for years, too, ever since I began seeing it (and We Have Always Lived in The Castle) reviewed for the RIP Challenge(s). It did not disappoint in the scary disappoint. In fact, I think it's deterred me from reading We Have Always Lived In The Castle at least for right now.

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  12. Bina, not sure if I can pick up We Have Always Lived in The Castle right now. I think I'll have to wait until next year, as a little of Shirley Jackson goes a long way. I'm back to du Maurier now, with The House on The Strand.

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  13. Terri, I know what you mean about so disturbing you can't even write about it. Perhaps it's because she touches a core of truth, or a better word might be a core of evil. Like she's experienced it firsthand or something.

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  14. Parrish, I'm not quite sure what the cover is depicting (the ghost? the girl, Eleanor?) but it is indicative of the horrors lurking within the house. And, probably without.

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  15. I just read Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle and loved it so much I'm planning to read this one too. There's something so deliciously creepy about her writing. I think I may have to read her books at night just to get the full effect!

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  16. Chasing Bawa, I don't think I'd choose to read them at night deliberately, but you have made me rethink about picking up We Have Always Lived In The Castle. I hope I'll have time for that before it's due back at the library.

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  17. Col, the only work of hers I'd read before was The Lottery; typical high school fare. Isn't it funny how works we know well aren't necessarily connected in our minds to the authors? (I'm thinking of how I never realized du Maurier wrote The Birds.)

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  18. Andi, Halloween failure…is there such a thing? I don't normally read so much for the RIP, or within the horror genre, but for some reason this year I'm on a terrific roll. I just can't seem to put them down as you can see from my last few posts.

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  19. I always feel so weird when I hear the love for the book because I was really not creeped out much. I wonder if my brain is missing something, lol! But thanks for the picture of Jackson. That did scare me a bit.

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  20. Bellezza, not to be mean but that picture of the author might be the creepiest thing of all! Anyway, enjoyed your post and am looking forward to reading something by Jackson sometime soon (I think I last read her in high school and only in short story format at that).

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  21. I love Shirley Jackson. I've yet to read this one but I do remember seeing a movie based on this story a looong time ago and it was just weird. I agree – her author picture does looks strange. Adds to the mystery of her though! 🙂 I recently read 'The Tooth' and it was so creepy.

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  22. Kailana, it's surprisingly hard to find! I hope that your library has it; I had to get mine from the library (as it wasn't available for my Nook) and it was within a collection of du Maurier short stories. Just a hint, in case you too have trouble locating it.

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  23. Shelley, somehow the beginning and middle parts were more scary than the ending…I kept expecting a gruesome appearance of the 'spirit'. In a way, I'm glad that didn't happen!

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  24. Richard, I've only read Jackson's short story The Lottery in high school before picking up this.

    As to her photograph, let's just say I won't be replacing my header image with hers anytime soon! 🙂

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  25. Mae, my husband recalls the movie, too, and apparently it was chnaged from the book quite drastically. Practically no one died in the story as compared to the film. I guess they had to really amp it up for horror movie fans. I've not heard of The Tooth…bizarre title, though. That sounds creepy enough to begin with!

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