The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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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.

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

  1. Ooh this does sound good. I had avoided it because ghost stories generally leave me could but your review shows there is a far more human dimension. Onto the wishlist it goes.

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  2. This sounds like the quintessential Halloween read, deliciously dark and unsettling in all the right ways. I have another couple of her books on the TBR, so your review is a timely reminder to bump them up the pile. Thanks, Bellezza.

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    1. One’s list can grow so long! My only objective now is to read what most appeals, and at least I can put other enticing books on my radar. It’s a richness that never ends, isn’t it?

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  3. I have only read Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, The Lottery, and that was decades ago (1976, perhaps?). The Haunting of Hill House sounds like one I might enjoy. The last scary book I read about a creepy house was Ann Rivers Siddons’ The House Next Door. I’m not reading scary books anymore, but I’m curious to read more about Eleanor. You’ve piqued my interest with your excellent review and quotes. Thank you!

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    1. I forgot she wrote The Lottery! I read it in High School and remember it as decidedly creepy. Scary. Threatening. It makes me wonder about a person who can write of such ill will; do they have a negative spirit themselves? I won’t be able to judge that, don’t even want to, but Shirley Jackson beats Stephen King any day for me.

      I remember reading Siddons’ The House Next Door in 2006…that was scary, too! So unlike her other books, although they do have an edge of psychological drama somewhere.

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  4. I’m not usually a fan of horror or ghost stories, but enjoyed reading this with the RIP readalong group a few years ago. Your post makes me want to pick it up for a quick reread this weekend!

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    1. The ending is a shocker! When my husband and I discussed it, he’d seen the film, I was glad that the two ended the same way. It just shows the power of the house…or her emotional imbalance, whichever way you want to look at it. Probably a combination of the two, in my opinion.

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  5. I really enjoyed Jackson’s compendium of short stories and We Have Always Lived in Castle. There’s really no excuse why I haven’t gotten my hands on The Haunting of Hill House, especially since horror is my favorite genre fiction.

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    1. Ah, you’re a brave girl if horror is your favorite genre! There are too many novels of horror I could I could never get through, even the dog sleeping on my bed wasn’t very helpful. When the author gets into Satan, there’s no way I can cope. I think you would really like this, because it’s a good blend of scary and psychological at the same time.

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  6. A classic and begs to be read this time of year BUT I think I am the only person on the planet who doesn’t love it. I do enjoy it though. If that makes any kind of sense at all.

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    1. Yeah, it’s a hard to love a horror novel if it isn’t your favorite genre. I can’t say I love it, either, but I do enjoy rereading it around Halloween. I do think, as far as a scary author goes, Jackson is a masterful writer. Nothing is contrived, or arbitrary. Every piece seems to fit perfectly together.

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    1. I love The Little Stranger, too, which seems less ambiguous than this one. In Hill House, there are ghosts to be sure, but there is also an emotionally unsteady woman. It would be interesting to compare the two of them more in depth, but at any rate, I’m sure you’ll like this classic.

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