The gates are locked. Hill House has a reputation for insistent hospitality; it seemingly dislikes letting its guests get away.
Shirley Jackson sets the mood straight away, bringing us closer and closer to Hill House as one of the four guests, Eleanor, drives there in the car she has taken against her sister’s wishes. Eleanor seems unable to stop herself from going, and early on we suspect one of the reasons lies in the line she keeps repeating in her mind:
Journeys end in lovers meeting.
A sweet sentiment, this, with which she can easily deceive herself. Three fourths of the way through the book she finds herself on the steps of the summerhouse beside Luke, the heir to Hill House, and she tries to draw him into a romantic conversation, into revealing his affection for her. But at the end of their discussion, which is quite matter of fact, she thinks to herself, “All I want is to be cherished.”
Maybe, more than a house of ill porportions in which walls seem to shift and doors close of their own accord, what is scariest about Hill House is the loneliness of Eleanor.
Her desperation is so acute that I suspect she imagines they form some sort of family: Dr. Montague, Luke, Theodora and Eleanor herself, all living in Hill House to discover what sort of paranormal activity might be taking place there. There’s even a cook, Mrs. Dudley, who reminds me strongly of Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers, presiding over Manderley.
When Dr. Montague’s wife comes, she sits with planchette (like a Ouja board), and discovers that someone named Eleanor Nellie Nell Nell (it tends to repeat a word over and over to make sure it comes out all right) wants a home, and with this summation I concur. Eleanor doesn’t want messages from beyond, or ghostly encounters; she wants a friend. A home. Peace.
Peace, Eleanor thought concretely; what I want in all this world is peace, a quiet spot to lie and think, a quiet spot among the flowers where I can dream and tell myself sweet stories.
Eleanor does find peace, in a shocking way. A respite from her loneliness, or a respite from the evil in Hill House which has gradually overpowered her, whichever side you chose to see. For far more than a simple ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House speaks to the shadows and darkness ready to grasp at any of us.