Who is Shirley Jackson and Why Should We Care About Her?
Shirley Jackson, who published from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, earned her living as a commercial writer of domestic comedy, sophisticated ghost tales, gothic horror and psychological drama. Sadly, she is one of the most neglected figures in 20th-century American literature. Her novels We Have Always Lived In This Castle and The Haunting of Hill House remain two of her most popular works, while her landmark short story, The Lottery, originally published in The New Yorker, continues to intrigue readers of all ages.
My lecture, A Fine High Gleefulness: The Art of Shirley Jackson, emphasizes the impact of Jackson’s personal life on her art. Rather than have her artistic impulse stifled by the social constraints of the 1950s, she remained prolific for most of her adult life. Her best work reflects her unique personality and her intense interest in the occult. Jackson was considered an oddity and an outsider by the community of Bennington,Vermont, where she lived for some years with her scholar husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, and their four children. Undaunted, she used her feelings of isolation as a foundation for some of her most intriguing works.
Throughout, Ann Robinson’s hold on here material and her delightful, entertaining gift for commentary have come together in the composition of one of the most engaging presentations I’ve heard. Robinson’s respect for Jackson’s work, her sorrow for Jackson’s life, her disdain for Jackson’s selfish husband, her sympathy for Jackson’s artistic impulse compromised by the constraints of the 1950’s American, and Robinson’s incisive response to Jackson’s biography, all find voice in her accomplished delivery. Many will go on to read Jackson for what might be the first time, or will return to her with renewed curiosity and appreciation for the woman and for her books.
Abby Frucht, Vermont College Faculty
As part of my presentation, I display my own library of Jackson’s work, and I distribute a suggested bibliography. I also reserve the option of showing a clip from The Haunting, a critically-acclaimed 1963 film based on Jackson’s riveting gothic novel, The Haunting of Hill House.
A Fine High Gleefulness: The Art of Shirley Jackson, was presented as part of the New Hampshire Humanities Council’s Traveling Scholars Program from 1998-2002. Prior to that, I delivered the lecture at Vermont College, where I received my master’s degree in writing.
LIBRARIES AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS who are interested in having me present this program may contact me at my e-mail link,