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Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

af Ruth Franklin

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4831850,249 (4.22)50
"Still known to millions only as the author of the "The Lottery," Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) remains curiously absent from the American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America better than anyone. Now, biographer Ruth Franklin reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the author behind such classics as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition of Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on "domestic horror" drawn from an era hostile to women. Based on a wealth of previously undiscovered correspondence and dozens of new interviews, Shirley Jackson, with its exploration of astonishing talent shaped by a damaged childhood and a troubled marriage to literary critic Stanley Hyman, becomes the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary giant."--… (mere)
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Viser 1-5 af 18 (næste | vis alle)
It’s been a long time (years) since I’ve read such an exceptional, polished biography. Ruth Franklin’s book is a finely edited, smooth-flowing, easy to follow story of the author of one of my all-time favorite novels, [b:We Have Always Lived in the Castle|89724|We Have Always Lived in the Castle|Shirley Jackson|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1415357189l/89724._SX50_.jpg|847007]
At just over 500 pages, it provides a quality view of Shirley Jackson’s life, paying especial attention to her development as a writer. Franklin seldom repeats herself, and offers critique and meaning on the writer’s work, interlaced with the views of Jackson’s contemporaries. The novels and short stories are illuminated, and that, to me, is what makes this biography so good.
The chronology of chapters are laid out perfectly, without the switching back and forth in time that seems to be the practice of a lot of modern biographers. We get an easy-to-read chronicle of Jackson’s life that is both thorough and concise. Each chapter is titled with a reference to its main theme, also noting the years encompassed. She goes in depth discussing the metamorphosis of each novel, and in particular Jackson’s famous short-story, [b:The Lottery|6219656|The Lottery|Shirley Jackson|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1348757577l/6219656._SY75_.jpg|15161007].
We also learn a great deal about the times in which Jackson lived--through McCarthy’s Red Scare, and into the Cold War. Literary criticism and the publishing industry of the era are given ample explanation as well.
Although Jackson’s husband, Stanley Hyman is discussed a bit much for my taste, he was so instrumental in Jackson’s life, for better or worse, it would be impossible to tell her story without going into that detail. If Jackson’s life was “haunted”, the goblins were Hyman and her mother, Geraldine. Those two certainly put a depressing, aggravating mojo on her. There was no pleasing her condescending mother. She belittled Jackson her entire life. Stanley had more faults than a human has a right to have, and he was also weird as hell. While Shirley was in college, Stanley carried around her pessary, and showed it to anyone who would look. ‘Nuff said.
The photos scattered throughout are a bonus, except I found a lot of them printed too small. I had to pull out a magnifying glass on a few of them to even read the captions.
If you’re a fan of Jackson’s work, you should definitely read this biography. I love her novels, and after reading this, I’m certain I would have liked Shirley herself. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she was a big fan of baseball. For no other reason, this could have made us friends.
( )
  MickeyMole | Oct 2, 2023 |
A fascinating and well-researched study of a complicated and compelling author. I haven't read Jackson's work in decades but this inspired me to dive deeper into it. Her fascination with the occult, tarot, witchcraft permeates her work. Her difficult relationship with her mother is heartbreaking. And her relationship with her unfaithful husband really colors her work. Definitely recommend the audio book and also a further exploration of her books and stories. ( )
  NanetteLS | Feb 11, 2022 |
66. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
reader: Bernadette Dunne
published: 2016
format: 19:25 audible audiobook (608 pages in hardcover)
acquired: November 24
listened: Nov 24 – Dec 30
rating: 3
locations: San Francisco, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont
about the author: An American literary critic, former editor at The New Republic and an Adjunct professor at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Shirley Jackson was fascinating and led a much too short but very crazy life, raising four kids and supporting the family with her income from publishing stories, parenting memoirs, and deeply complex novels. Her husband, Stanley Hyman, a professional critic, was as much a complication as a support. A free thinker, atheist, with Communist leanings, he was also a proponent of free love, spending college chasing other women, and telling Shirley about it. Then, when older, overweight, notably unattractive, and teaching at an all-women's college, he continued to search for other women (although apparently not on campus). He was also the first to discover Shirley, claiming, based off a Syracuse University newspaper short story, that he would marry that author. He was ultimately her best critic, and a decent posthumous promoter, for the few years he outlived her. Shirley Jackson, also overweight and with underdiagnosed health problems, died in 1965, age 48. Her youngest son was 13. Stanly died in 1970, he was 51.

One of the nice things that comes out of this biography is Jackson's development of her themes. All her work has underlying themes of fear and anxiety, and much of it touches on multiple personalities - things Jackson herself was dealing with in real life (albeit she was not schizophrenic). In a diary she wrote,

"I am writing about ambivalence but it is an ambivalence of the spirit, or the mind, not the sex...It is not a he or a she but the demon in the mind, and that demon finds guilts where it can and uses them and runs mad with laughing when it triumphs; it is the demon which is fear...We are afraid of being someone else and doing the things someone else wants us to do and of being taken and of being used by someone else, some other guilt-ridden conscience that lives on and on in our minds, something we build ourselves and never recognize, but this is fear, not a named sin. Then it is fear itself, fear of self that I am writing about...fear and guilt and their destruction of identity. Why am I so afraid?"


The writing process, at least with novels where she would continually rework them, would actually drive her to limits of sanity...but not judgment. As she developed, she ignored Stanley's criticism more and more, so he complained she listened to her daughter's criticism more than him, a professional critic (while she was writing [We Always Lived in the Castle]). Another cool thing was to see what kind of parent she was. Left to do all the parenting on her own, she was overwhelmed and yet a sincerely warm loving parent. (no Pearl Tull).

This biography is thorough, maybe too thorough. It's all here and covers about everything we know about her. It's not a perfect biography, but I'm really grateful to have listened to it.

2021
https://www.librarything.com/topic/333774#7697317 ( )
  dchaikin | Dec 31, 2021 |
Finally finished this, after a couple of library holds expired while I was in the middle. It was good but not gripping—she was an interesting character, and I'm always game for reading about that mid-century literary milieu, because I think of it as my parents' (at least in terms of cultural influences), even though they were 10 years younger than Jackson and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman. Jackson and Hyman also wrote for The New Leader, where I worked for a few years in its last days in the early 2000s. Hyman's intellectual mansplaininess was grating, and I'm not sure I ever got the chemistry between them, but I don't doubt it existed. I sympathized with Jackson's balancing act between the expectations of being a 1950s/'60s mother and housewife and a novelist, but I didn't quite feel it... then again Ruth Franklin's documenting Jackson's story from her correspondence and journals—to which Jackson added her own spin—and other people's accounts, so that takes away a bit of the immediacy. So: interesting but not a must-read, unless you're a Jackson fanatic (I'm not). ( )
1 stem lisapeet | Dec 20, 2021 |
If you're interested at all in Shirley Jackson (and I certainly am) this is definitely worth a read. Comprehensive without dragging, Franklin's writing covers the entirety of Jackson's life in detail, giving multiple sides to ambiguous stories and presenting everything even-handedly. The ongoing discussion of Jackson the writer vs Jackson the witch vs Jackson the homemaker was fascinating.

This bio is especially interesting to read if you've read Jackson's semi-autobiographical humorous fiction about her children-- you can see more clearly the ways in which she changed or preserved the facts of her life and family. ( )
  misslevel | Sep 22, 2021 |
Viser 1-5 af 18 (næste | vis alle)
Franklin astutely explores Jackson's artistry, particularly in her deceptively subtle stories. She also sees a bigger, more original picture of Jackson as the author of “the secret history of American women of her era”—postwar, pre-feminist women who, like her, were faced with limited choices and trapped in bigoted, cliquish neighborhoods.... A consistently interesting biography that deftly captures the many selves and multiple struggles of a true American original.
tilføjet af Lemeritus | RedigerKirkus Review (May 25, 2016)
 

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It shall be yours to penetrate, the deep mystery of sin, the fountains of all wicked arts, and which inexhaustibly supplies more evil impulses than human power...can make manifest in deeds. -Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown"
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Shirley Jackson often said that the idea for "The Lottery," the short story that shocked much of America when it appeared in The New Yorker on June 26, 1948, came to her while she was out doing errands one sunny June morning.
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In "The Third Baby's the Easiest," a magazine piece that was incorporated into her memoir Life Among the Savages, a clerk asks Jackson, as she arrives at the hospital to give birth to her third child, to state her occupation. "Writer," she says. "I'll just put down housewife." the clerk replies. Jackson set down these lines without rancor in a laugh-out-loud account of labor and delivery. But they vividly illustrate how great was the pressure on women of that era to assume without protest the "happy homemaker" role. --Introduction, A Secret History
Writing to a boyfriend in 1956, college student Sylvia Plath imagine a life with "babies and bed and brilliant friends and a magnificent stimulating home where geniuses drink gin in the kitchen after a delectable dinner and read their own novels." Anne Sexton opened her poem "Housewife (1962) with the line "Some women marry houses." --Introduction, A Secret History
[Describing Jackson's mother] "I don't think Geraldine was malevolent," recalls Barry Hyman, Jackson's youngest child. " She was just a deeply conventional woman who was horrified by the idea that her daughter was not going to be deeply convention." --Chapter 1, Foundations
Jackson once said that "the first book is the book you have to write to get back at your parents. Once you get that out of your way, you can start writing books." --Chapter 1, Foundations
"Natalie saw now that if she had kept the wishing stone until the right time came, she could have used it to wish for a bicycle on that Christmas Eve when a bicycle was so obviously awaiting her under the Christmas tree. Then, magic would have been sustained, and cause and effect not violated for that first, irrecoverable time. . . . Mustn’t violate the sacred rules of magic. . . . Never wish for anything until it’s ready for you.”
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"Still known to millions only as the author of the "The Lottery," Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) remains curiously absent from the American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America better than anyone. Now, biographer Ruth Franklin reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the author behind such classics as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition of Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on "domestic horror" drawn from an era hostile to women. Based on a wealth of previously undiscovered correspondence and dozens of new interviews, Shirley Jackson, with its exploration of astonishing talent shaped by a damaged childhood and a troubled marriage to literary critic Stanley Hyman, becomes the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary giant."--

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