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Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson Shirley Jackson[1†]

Shirley Hardie Jackson (1916–1965) was an American author renowned for her horror and mystery works. During her two-decade career, she penned six novels, two memoirs, and 200+ short stories[1†][2†]. Jackson gained fame for "The Lottery," exploring dark themes in an idyllic setting. Her 1959 novel "The Haunting of Hill House" and 1962's "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" are classics. Jackson's legacy endures as a master of psychological terror[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Shirley Hardie Jackson was born on December 14, 1916, in San Francisco, California[3†][1†]. She was the daughter of Leslie Jackson and Geraldine Bugby[3†][1†]. Her family belonged to the middle class, and she had a comfortable childhood[3†]. Jackson was raised in Burlingame, California, an affluent suburb of San Francisco[3†][1†]. Her relationship with her mother was strained, as her parents had married young and Geraldine had been disappointed when she immediately became pregnant with Shirley[3†][1†].

As soon as she learned to write, she began to pen poems, eventually winning a poetry contest at age twelve[3†][4†]. When she was 17 years old, her family decided to relocate from California to New York[3†]. In New York, she studied at Brighton High School and graduated in 1934[3†][5†]. She first attended the University of Rochester but eventually moved to Syracuse University[3†][5†][6†]. It was during her time at Syracuse University that she really came into her own when the campus magazine published one of her short stories titled ‘Janice’[3†]. She graduated with a BA six years after graduating high school[3†].

Career Development and Achievements

After graduating from Syracuse University, Shirley Jackson moved to New York with her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, in 1940[7†]. They settled in Greenwich Village, where Jackson began her professional writing career[7†]. According to some reports, she wrote every day in addition to performing odd jobs to cover her expenses[7†].

Jackson’s writing career spanned over two decades, during which she composed six novels, two memoirs, and more than 200 short stories[7†][1†]. Her works are primarily known for their elements of horror and mystery[7†][1†][2†][8†]. Supernatural, sinister, and mysterious elements played significant roles in her works[7†][8†].

In 1948, Jackson published her debut novel, “The Road Through the Wall”, a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood in California[7†][1†]. The same year, she gained significant public attention for her short story “The Lottery”, which presents the sinister underside of a bucolic American village[7†][1†][2†]. This chilling tale, whose meaning has been much debated, provoked widespread public outrage when it was first published in The New Yorker[7†][2†].

Throughout the 1950s, Jackson continued to publish numerous short stories in literary journals and magazines[7†][1†]. Some of these stories were assembled and reissued in her 1953 memoir "Life Among the Savages"[7†][1†][2†].

In 1959, she published “The Haunting of Hill House”, a supernatural horror novel widely considered to be one of the best ghost stories ever written[7†][1†][2†]. Jackson’s final work, the 1962 novel “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”, is a Gothic mystery which has been described as Jackson’s masterpiece[7†][1†][2†].

By the 1960s, Jackson’s health began to deteriorate significantly, ultimately leading to her death due to a heart condition in 1965 at the age of 48[7†][1†].

First Publication of Her Main Works

Shirley Jackson’s literary career began with the publication of her first short story, "Janice". However, it was her debut novel, “The Road Through the Wall” (1948), a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood in California, that brought her significant public attention[1†][9†].

In the same year, The New Yorker published Jackson’s iconic story, “The Lottery”, which generated the largest volume of mail ever received by the magazine, almost all of it hateful[9†]. This story presents the sinister underside of a bucolic American village and has been much debated[1†][2†].

In 1954, she published her second novel, “The Bird’s Nest”, followed by "The Sundial"[10†]. She continued to publish numerous short stories in literary journals and magazines throughout the 1950s, some of which were assembled and reissued in her 1953 memoir "Life Among the Savages"[1†][2†].

In 1959, she published “The Haunting of Hill House”, a supernatural horror novel widely considered to be one of the best ghost stories ever written[1†][2†]. Jackson’s final work, the 1962 novel “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”, is a Gothic mystery which has been described as Jackson’s masterpiece[1†][2†].

Here are some of her main works:

Analysis and Evaluation

Shirley Jackson’s works are renowned for their exploration of the darker side of the human psyche, often in a manner disturbing to the reader[11†]. Her stories do not fit easily into any single category, blending elements of horror, gothic, and even humor[11†][12†][13†].

Jackson’s characters are often considered psychologically disturbed, demonstrating mental imbalance or even insanity[11†]. This is particularly evident in her most famous story, “The Lottery”, which presents the sinister underside of a bucolic American village[11†][14†]. The story generated the largest volume of mail ever received by The New Yorker, almost all of it hateful[11†].

In addition to using ordinary settings for extraordinary occurrences, Jackson often injects an element of the supernatural[11†]. This is seen, for example, in the story “The Visit” and in the novel "The Haunting of Hill House"[11†]. Her use of the supernatural as a metaphor is a strong argument for her modernity[11†].

Jackson’s works also reflect her personal life, including her substance abuse, marital strife, and political leanings[11†]. Despite the horrific elements in her stories, she possessed a distinct ability to write comfortably in a variety of genres, often beautifully clubbing the horrific with the comic[11†][13†].

Her work has had a significant impact on the genre of horror and suspense, and she continues to be a subject of critical analysis and study[11†][12†][13†].

Personal Life

Shirley Jackson met Stanley Edgar Hyman, an American literary critic, during her time at Syracuse University[1†][10†]. They fell in love and got married in 1940[1†][10†]. The couple had four children[1†][4†][10†]. Both Jackson and Hyman were avid readers and set up their own library, which consisted of approximately 25,000 books[1†][10†].

Jackson attended the University of Rochester but didn’t graduate[1†][4†]. She struggled with depression and grappled with mental health issues, including psychosomatic illnesses, throughout her life[1†][4†]. Despite these challenges, she managed to create a significant body of work that has left a lasting impact on the literary world[1†].

The couple settled in North Bennington, Vermont, in 1945, after the birth of their first child[1†][2†]. Hyman joined the faculty of Bennington College, and they made their home there[1†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Shirley Jackson’s legacy is a testament to her unique ability to blend psychological horror with acute social commentary[12†]. Her work has influenced a generation of writers, including Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Joyce Carol Oates[12†]. Despite her choice of supernatural subject matter, which placed her outside the literary mainstream, she managed to leave a lasting impact on the literary world[12†].

Jackson was sensitive to society’s power, the forces that can uplift individuals through community belonging but can also destroy people who do not follow the norm[12†]. She called herself a witch, and the media dubbed her the "queen of the macabre"[12†]. Her interpretation of Gothic literature became a tool with which she could present the social and cultural changes of her time[12†][15†].

Despite her untimely death due to a heart condition in 1965 at the age of 48[12†][1†], Jackson’s work continues to be celebrated for its depth, complexity, and profound insight into the human condition[12†][15†][12†]. Her enduring legacy is a testament to her talent and the timeless relevance of her themes[12†][15†][12†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Shirley Jackson [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Shirley Jackson: American author [website] - link
  3. The Famous People - Shirley Jackson Biography [website] - link
  4. eNotes - Shirley Jackson Biography [website] - link
  5. Simple Wikipedia (English) - Shirley Jackson [website] - link
  6. Biography - Shirley Jackson [website] - link
  7. MetaUnfolded.com - Shirley Jackson Bio, Early Life, Career, Net Worth and Salary [website] - link
  8. Famous Authors - Shirley Jackson [website] - link
  9. ShirleyJackson.org - Shirley Jackson's Bio [website] - link
  10. Literary Devices - Shirley Jackson [website] - link
  11. eNotes - Shirley Jackson Analysis [website] - link
  12. eNotes - Shirley Jackson Critical Essays [website] - link
  13. EduBirdie - Analysis of Biography and Literary Works of Shirley Jackson [website] - link
  14. ThoughtCo - Analysis of 'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson [website] - link
  15. Academia - Shirley Jackson's legacy : a critical commentary on the literary reception [website] - link
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