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Women in Shirley Jackson’s Work

The story The Haunting Of Hill House, opens with a description of the characters, and what traits led to them to be selected by the doctor. Here we see the influence of the time, as free-spirited Theodora lives in an apartment with her ‘friend’ (of unnamed gender) and the quarrel that forced Theo to accept the invitation to Hill House could only be described as a lover’s spat, where both parties destroyed things meaningful to their relationship.

That Theodora’s ‘friend’ remains unidentified throughout the story, and Theo’s description of how they shaped their apartment together (Theo mentions ‘we’ and Eleanor asks ‘Are you married?’ at which Theo shakes her head and blushes) is indicative of same-sex relationship, especially in an era of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. For me, this subtlety speaks volumes of Shirley Jackson’s understanding of, and place in the world.

Shirley Jackson has brought a world where women quietly lived with other women, and had romantic relationships with women to a firm place in literature related to domestic life – one of the few writers of her century to do so.

Although her work frequently features unloved daughters, seeking a family, a career, or home, her characters have a strong sense of self, and are content with their own self, it is only their position in life they seek to change. In short, the quest for ‘every woman’s dream’ of family, home, or love, becomes a plot device, and is not as important to the story as one may believe, other than serving as an initiating action for the characters as they seek something else.

In her short story, Men with Their Big Shoes the two women of the story (both Mrs) discuss husbands who are wholly absent from the close confines of the kitchen where the story unfolds, and are characters in name only – the dishtowels on the line or the mop cupboard have more presence that either of the misters to whom they refer.

And for me, creating an entire story about men, while in the absence of men all together, is part of the magic of Shirley Jackson. She brings life to women in dark fantasy, both through her stories, and as a prolific writer herself.

Check here for our discussion of The Haunting of Hill House and for more on Shirley Jackson, please see http://shirleyjackson.org/

A quick Google search will turn up many of Shirley Jackson’s stories available to read online, you might want to start over here at Bustle

Personal favorites include Charles, The Summer People, The Witch, The Possibility of Evil, the Twilight Zone-esque One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts, and the classic, The Lottery, and… oh, just buy an anthology of her work over at Amazon. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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