Shirley Jackson was born on the 14th of December, in 1916, in San Francisco, California. She was a bright daughter of Leslie Jackson and Geraldine. Her parents were conservative country-club people, who raised their children in luxuries. Shirley’s childhood world was ruined by her vapid mother who was disappointed by her daughter as Shirley was accidentally conceived. Her mother went through a failed abortion. Thus, her life was ostensibly rebellious against her cruel and emotionless mother, who favored her brother more than her. Her criticism and hatred corroded her life to an extent that she expressed these fears in most of her writings.
Shirley Jackson started her educational journey at Burlingame High School, where she did well. She also played violin in the school orchestra. Later, during her senior years, her family moved to New York, where he attended Brighton High School and completed a diploma in 1934. Then, she attended a private research university, the University of Rochester, but she remained unhappy in her classes. This dissatisfaction led to her transfer to Syracuse University, where she flourished both socially and creatively. She completed her bachelor’s degree in journalism and became an active member of the literary magazine. Her first story, “Janice” was also published in her university’s magazine.
During her stay at Syracuse University, Shirley Jackson met Stanley Edgar Hyman, an American literary critic. Both developed a love for each other and tied a knot in 1940. The couple had four children. Since both were enthusiastic readers, therefore, they set up their own library consisting of approximately 25,000 books.
Shirley Jackson suffered numerous health problems including asthma, joint pain, severe anxiety, fainting spells, and exhaustion. Severe bouts of depression led her to proper psychiatric consultations. However, the situation became more critical when she was diagnosed with colitis, which added further to her miseries. Despite all these obstacles, she continued to publish her works including her final gothic mystery novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. She breathed her last in 1965.
Some Important Facts of Her Life
- Shirley Jackson died unexpectedly from heart failure in 1965 at the age of 48.
- After her death, her unfinished novel, Come Along With Me, was completed and published by her husband in 1968.
- Her short story, “The Lottery” proved to be a big hit; it was translated into dozens of languages and adapted for stage, television, and radio.
- Her gothic mystery work, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, was coined as one of the best novels in 1962 by Time magazine.
Although Shirley Jackson led a traumatic life, all those obstacles did not impede her writing abilities. Her dark childhood along with other life experiences enabled her to express her feelings and ideas on paper. Her literary career started with the publication of her first short story, ‘Janice.” Later, in 1954, she published her first novel, The Bird’s Nest, followed by two more successful publications, The Sundial and The Haunting of Hill House. During her lifetime, she produced many short stories, novels, memoirs, and children’s stories. Some of them include The Witchcraft of Salem Village, Famous Sally, Life among the Savages: Un Uneasy Chronicle, “Louisa, Please Come Home,” Come Along with Me, and The Road Through the Wall.
Shirley Jackson stands among the influential figures of world literature. With her unique style, she has beautifully portrayed her ideas in her literary pieces. Her distinctive literary style relies largely on a blend of foreshadowing, realistic fiction, irony, and presentation of malevolent, imprisoning power of her own fears. Her early works are often about the people being persecuted and oppressed by narrow-minded communities. However, in her later attempts, she focused primarily on the “demons of mind”; the evil that hunts its victim from within like she expressed in two of her major works, “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House. The persona that she focused in her works was witty, powerful, and imposing. Although she is widely known and praised for horror and suspense, yet she possessed a distinct ability to write comfortably in a variety of genres. Often, Shirley Jackson beautifully clubbed the horrific with the comic, comedy grounding the terror. The recurring themes in most of her literary pieces stand darker aspects of human nature, death, and evil.
Shirley Jackson’s Influence on Future Literature
Shirley Jackson left a profound impact on global literature and even after many years of her demise, she continues to be adored for her unique expression. Her witty ideas, along with distinct literary qualities, were applauded by the audience, critics, and other fellow writers. Many modern writers praise her work as Stephen King has called The Haunting of Hill House one of the two “great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years.” Other authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Ezra Pound, and Neil Gaiman also sing in her praise. Her masterpieces provided the principles of writing to the succeeding generations. She successfully documented her ideas about marriage, power, and love in her writings that even today writers try to copy her style to win early success.
Some Important Works of Shirley Jackson
- Best Novels: Some of her best works include The Road Through the Wall, Hangsaman, The Bird’s Nest, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
- Other Works: Besides writing novels, she tried her hands on shorter fiction as well. Some of her best short stories include “About Two Nice People”, “After You, My Dear Alphonse”, “All She Said Was Yes”, “A Cauliflower in Her Hair”, “The Lottery”, “It Isn’t the Money” and “An International Incident.”
- “Fear,” the doctor said, “is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.” (The Haunting of Hill House)
- “I was pretending that I did not speak their language; on the moon we spoke a soft, liquid tongue, and sang in the starlight, looking down on the dead dried world.” (We Have Always Lived in the Castle)
- “I remember that I stood on the library steps holding my books and looking for a minute at the soft hinted green in the branches against the sky and wishing, as I always did, that I could walk home across the sky instead of through the village.” (We Have Always Lived in the Castle)
- “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” (The Haunting of Hill House)