The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror.

It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friend, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House.

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The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is justly revered as an exemplar of the horror genre, not only because its plot provides the template for all those haunted house tales to come, but also because its superb prose and subtle psychology transcend genre, transforming what might otherwise have been merely a sensational tale into a artful novel, worthy of a discerning reader. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. And I would have been wrong.) In addition to its prose, the book's subtle psychologysimilar to James' Turn of the Screw--interests and entrances the reader with its ambiguity. The book would have my highest praise except for the fact that the infuriating Mrs. Montague and her pompous friend Arthur Parker, brought in three-quarters of the way through to ease tension and give comic relief, are not only unnecessary but dissipate tension rather than relieve it.

Then we follow Eleanor, the main character, as she takes the car she shares with her sister and drives to Hill House. I'd forgotten just what a genius description of the Hill House we're treated to when Eleanor first sees it. I find it fascinating that Jackson describes the house for nearly two pages without ever physically describing it, other than to say it's "enormous and dark" and has steps leading up to a veranda. They're playing a game, inventing whimsical characters for themselves, but all is not pure fun--there's the flash of Eleanor's jealousy when Theodora gives Luke a "quick, understanding glance"--the same kind of glance "she had earlier given Eleanor." Beneath the fun and games lies something deadly serious. **** The relationship between Theodora and Eleanor makes me think of a major theme in this book--sisterhood. You have Eleanor and her sister, of course, at the beginning of the book, and then the tale of the orphaned sisters who lived in Hill House, and then Eleanor and Theodora themselves, who quickly become like sisters. There's also a wonderful moment at the beginning of Chapter 4, where Eleanor and Theodora wake up after the first (uneventful) night at Hill House. **** I've been thinking of the line that Eleanor keeps quoting: "Journeys end in lovers meeting." I didn't know this before, but it's actually from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night--it's a line sung by the "fool" in that play. It's an interesting line in and of itself--so revealing of Eleanor's romantic desires, the way she seems so attracted to Theodora and to Hill House itself. **** But then things start to turn--the relationship between Eleanor and Theodora starts to fray. Suspicion immediately falls on Eleanor, and you can see her struggle with what to say, her thoughts veering back to the red of her toenails and focusing on the fact that Theodora will now have to stay in her room and wear her clothes, and you can't help wonder if all this is Eleanor's elaborate revenge. "I would like to hit her with a stick, Eleanor thought, looking down on Theodora's head beside her chair; I would like to batter her with rocks." We see the fraying not only of the relationship, but of Eleanor's mind. And then that amazing ending, recapitulating the opening, and that final word--"alone"--capturing a sense of the house as a sentient being much like Eleanor herself.

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. I am already conjuring up malevolent thoughts about what kind of creature could be haunting the hallways of Hill House in the dead of night. Dr. John Montague wants to conduct a thorough, scientific investigation of Hill House. Luke is the heir of Hill House and the host of this inquiry. Mrs. Dudley, caretaker from a nearby town, is only in the house during very regimented times to serve meals. I know, Eleanor said. In the night, Mrs. Dudley said, and smiled outright. In the dark, she said, and closed the door behind her. Eleanor almost giggled, thinking of herself calling, Oh, Mrs. Dudley, I need your help in the dark, and then she shivered. When the summons from Montague comes, she is determined to attend the investigation at Hill House. The house reacts to Eleanor the most, with sprawled messages evoking her name. If people wont accept her, maybe a haunted house will. and Theodora nodded No one is as affected as Eleanor, and soon the Doctor realizes that he has to get her out of the house, but Eleanor feels like she has finally come home.

I dunno, it's like a bunch of hipstery academic fucks try to have an adventure, and instead spend most of the time discussing the adventure they're currently having, instead of actually having it.

I cannot think of any time when material was in any way hampered by the presence of books." 186 There is an aura of authentic literary splicing here: the psychological novel (think Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper") and the horror of microsocieties doing their malignant will-type stories (think "The Lottery", as exceptional a short story as this is a superb haunted house prototype, an ingenious fountainhead for all future horror maestros to drink from). The haunted house is in actuality a person who is on the precipice, the verge of disaster; here is the quintessential tome about the inner demons becoming unleashed and wreaking havoc in horrific ways.

Very gothic in feel and actually reminded me of Wuthering Heights as far as the sense of emotional bleakness and dread that pervaded the narrative. It was also an utter mind-trip and I blew my whole thought-wad trying to keep up with her conflicting back and forth sense of "is it real or unreal "is it genuine horror or psychological terror. I dont want to give away the plot so I will just say that almost immediately upon arriving at Hill House, the guests begin to experience oddness in the form of lost emotional control, muddled thinking, unusual feelings and unexplained sensations and occurrences...sort of like alcohol but no where near as pleasant. One thing is very clear thoughHill House and people do not a good combination make and there is a growing sense of dread over the whole narrative from the very beginning.

I loved the movies better than the book. But I did enjoy the crazy, through the rabbit hole ness of the book.

- although I will say this, they don't seem to be teaching kids what an "unreliable narrator" is in school nowadays, as this book is all about Eleanor's weak and self-centered take on her surroundings and how that slowly gets worked over by Hill House - so an unreliable narration subsumed by an even less reliable narration) Needless to say, if you like subtle, amazing writing (an ending that, if you have any kind of human feelings, should tear your heart out); if you like well-drawn characters who are of their times and psychologically complicated (yes, educated people did actually talk wittily to each other in days of yore - it was called the art of conversation - now go tweet someone about that awful egg McMuffintm: you just ate) and astonishing well-controlled pacing and suspense (what was chasing them on the black, black path with the white, white trees? Hill House seems to be an entity unto itself and maybe it is irritated and pained by these weak, sensitive, emotional creatures infesting it and wants them out of the picture so it can continue to walk alone.

And unlike other ghost stories that struggle with an ending, Jackson's haunted house tale brilliantly ends with the same mystery and psychological tension as the narrative held throughout, she leaves the reader without a falsely satisfying conclusion.

Jackson may even have taken pleasure in the subversive impact of her work, as revealed by Hyman's statement that she "was always proud that the Union of South Africa banned The Lottery', and she felt that they at least understood the story".

  • English

  • Horror

  • Rating: 3.86
  • Pages: 208
  • Publish Date: November 28th 2006 by Penguin Classics
  • Isbn10: 0143039989
  • Isbn13: 9780143039983