Ruth Franklin on Shirley Jackson, Part One

Critics have tended to underestimate Jackson’s work: both because of its central interest in women’s lives and because some of it is written in genres regarded as either ‘faintly disreputable’ (in the words of one scholar) or simply uncategorizable. The Haunting of Hill House is often dismissed as an especially well-written ghost story, We Have Always Lived in the Castle as a whodunit. The headline of Jackson’s New York Times obituary identified her as ‘Author of Horror Classic’ – that is, ‘The Lottery.’

But such lazy pigeonholing does an injustice to the masterly ways in which Jackson used the classic tropes of suspense to plumb the depths of the human condition. No writer since Henry James has been so successful in exploring the psychological reach of terror, locating in what we fear the key to unlock the darkest corners of the psyche.

‘I have always loved … to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work,’ Jackson once wrote in a line that could be her manifesto.

In our fears and in our crimes, she believed, we discover our truest selves.

— Excerpt from Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life 
(New York: Liveright, 2016), pp. 6–7.

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