The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

Theophania Elliott

Well-Known Member
Nov 7, 2016
Birmingham, UK
I'm listening - but we're now way beyond me, as I've only read Hill House once, and Turn of the Screw not at all. Though you're persuading me to try it, despite the fact that my mother-in-law likes it.

But, I do see Hill House as definitely feminist - at least, in the sense that it's pointing out the awful things that society does to women, when it limits them so much. After all, Jackson must have picked Eleanor to carry the story for a reason. She could have picked any of the others - or even split the narrative. Furthermore, from what I've read about her other work, a big theme is how horrible people are, in general, but particularly to those members of society who are perceived as 'lesser' or as outsiders, for some reason.

And I certainly agree with @Randy M. that Eleanor's loopiness is plausible. Remember, her backstory includes the fact that she was never allowed to play with the neighbourhood kids either, so she's been isolated for pretty much her whole life, and dominated by her mother and - by implication - her sister. How sane would most people be under those circumstances?

Plus, if one admits that there is something supernatural about Hill House, then one can add in any influence the house might have on such a fragile personality, just starting to grow out of the tiny box it's been squashed into all its life.

I wonder if - assuming that Hill House is supernatural - part of the 'haunting' is that it makes everybody slightly more what they were to begin with? Theodora gets more self-centred and bitchy; Luke gets more caddish; the Professor gets more ineffectually academic; his wife gets more silly and bumptious, as does her male hanger-on whose name I can't remember offhand - and Eleanor gets crazier.

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2008
It's not really Eleanor that breaks the book for me: in fact, I think she's it's strongest aspect - but as herself, not as a generalised representative of anything and not really as an explorer of a haunted house. Say Eleanor's car had broken down on the way to Hill House and she spent the rest of the novel wandering through a forest looking for help and arguing with herself. I think that could have been just as good a character study and probably just as good a book. I don't think that the house is unimportant, but as I've said, the book succeeds as a character study much more than it succeeds as a ghost story.

Nor do I think that Eleanor is implausible: it's just that I find it hard to see someone as weird as her (in her own specific way, not just as being generally repressed) as representative of a larger class of people, at least in a point-making way. As I say, feminism is such a loose term that it can range from "one female character gets to do something" to the precise, one wave versus another type of description in, say, the magazine-burning scene in The Handmaid's Tale.

I agree that the house has a caricaturing effect on the characters (stress probably does this in general, but the house in particular). I think Anne Rivers-Siddons' The House Next Door does this much better, though. At the end of the day, the subtlety and refinement that other people identify in The Haunting of Hill House seems to me like a refusal to go for the jugular and write a full-on haunted house story (not a tacky CGI one, but a proper one). That, ultimately, is my problem with it.

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