Since I brought up the subject of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House in my final Warwickshire entry, regarding Ettington Hall, I thought I would give you a few profound or memorable excerpts and, if you like, check into more of her published works. She was probably the most illustrious writer of her era who didn’t simply write. Shirley Jackson illuminated her world with surrealistic visions and the ordinary and extraordinary people who surrounded her. In this book she seemed to give more glimpses into her thoughts and personality than any other book or short story and the fact that she dedicated the book to one of her most beloved professors from her days at Syracuse University shows that she poured much of herself into this book. She should probably be considered the Queen of Horror fiction, however, she was so much more than that…
From Chapter 6 of “The Haunting of Hill House”:
I am learning the pathways of the heart, Eleanor thought quite seriously, and then wondered what she could have meant by thinking any such thing. It was afternoon, and she sat in the sunlight on the steps of the summerhouse beside Luke; these are the silent pathways of the heart, she thought. She knew that she was pale, and still shaken, with dark circles under her eyes but the sun was warm and the leaves moved gently overhead, and Luke beside her lay lazily against the step. “Luke,” she asked, going slowly for fear of ridicule, “why do people want to talk to each other? I mean, what are the things people always want to find out about other people?”
“What do you want to know about me, for instance?” He laughed. She thought, But why not ask what he wants to know about me; he is so extremely vain- and laughed in turn and said, “What can I ever know about you, beyond what I see?” See was the least of the words she might have chosen, but the safest. Tell me something that only I will ever know, was perhaps what she wanted to ask him, or, What will you give me to remember you by?- or, even, Nothing of the least importance has ever belonged to me; can you help? Then she wondered if she had been foolish, or bold, amazed at her own thoughts, but he only stared down at the leaf he held in his hands and frowned a little, as one who devotes himself completely to an absorbing problem.
He is trying to phrase everything to make as good an impression as possible, she thought, and I will know how he holds me by what he answers; how is he anxious to appear to me? Does he think that I will be content with small mysticism, or will he exert himself to seem unique? Is he going to be gallant? That would be humiliating, because then he would show that he knows that gallantry enchants me; will he be mysterious? Mad? And how am I to receive this, which I perceive already will be a confidence, even if it is not true? Grant that Luke take me at my worth, she thought, or at least let me not see the difference. Let him be wise, or let me be blind; don’t let me, she hoped concretely, don’t let me know too surely what he thinks of me.
The first (and last) paragraph of “The Haunting of Hill House”:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
From Chapter 3 of “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”:
A change was coming and nobody knew it but me. Constance suspected, perhaps; I noticed that she stood occasionally in her garden and looked not down at the plants she was tending, and not back at our house, but outward, toward the trees which hid the fence, and sometimes she looked long and curiously down the length of the driveway, as though wondering how it would feel to walk along it to the gates. I watched her. On Saturday morning, after Helen Clarke had come to tea, Constance looked at the driveway three times. Uncle Julian was not well on Saturday morning, after tiring himself at tea, and stayed in his bed in his warm room next to the kitchen looking out of the window beside his pillow, calling now and then to make Constance notice him. Even Jonas was fretful- he was running up a storm, our mother used to say- and could not sleep quietly; all during those days when the change was coming Jonas stayed restless. From a deep sleep he would start suddenly, lifting his head as though listening, and then, on his feet and moving in one quick ripple, he ran up the stairs and across the beds and around through the doors in and out and then down the stairs and across the hall and over the chair in the dining room and around the table and through the kitchen and out into the garden where he would slow, sauntering, and then pause to lick a paw and flick an ear and take a look at the day. At night we could hear him running, feel him cross our feet as we lay in bed, running up a storm.
and the end :
We learned, from listening, that all the strangers could see from outside, when they looked at all, was a great ruined structure overgrown with vines, barely recognizable as a house. It was the point halfway between the village and the highway, the middle spot on the path, and no one ever saw our eyes looking out through the vines.
“You can’t go on those steps,” the children warned each other; “if you do, the ladies will get you.”
Once a boy, dared by the others, stood at the foot of the steps facing the house, and shivered and almost cried and almost ran away, and then called out shakily, “Merricat, said Constance, would you like a cup of tea?” and then fled, followed by all the others. That night we found on the doorsill a basket of fresh eggs and a note reading, “He didn’t mean it, please.”
“Poor child,” Constance said, putting the eggs into a bowl to go into the cooler. “He’s probably hiding under the bed right now.”
“Perhaps he had a good whipping to teach him manners.”
“We will have an omelette for breakfast.”
“I wonder if I could eat a child if I had the chance.”
“I doubt if I could cook one,” said Constance.
“Poor strangers,” I said. “They have so much to be afraid of.”
“Well,” Constance said, “I am afraid of spiders.”
“Jonas and I will see to it that no spider ever comes near you. Oh, Constance,” I said, “we are so happy.”
An excerpt from the novella “The Visit” (dedicated to Dylan Thomas) :
The house itself was, even before anything had happened there, as lovely a thing as she had ever seen. Set among its lavish grounds, with a park and a river and a wooded hill surrounding it, and carefully planned and tended gardens close upon all sides, it lay upon the hills as though it were something too precious to be seen by everyone; Margaret’s very coming there had been a product of such elaborate arrangement, and such letters to and fro, and such meetings and hopings and wishings, that when she alighted with Carla Rhodes at the doorway of Carla’s home, she felt that she too had come home, to a place striven for and earned. Carla stopped before the door way and stood for a minute, looking first behind her, at the vast reaching gardens and the green lawn going down to the river and the soft hills beyond, and then at the perfect grace of the house, showing so clearly the long-boned structure within, the curving staircases and the arched doorways and the tall thin lines of steadying beams, all of it resting back against the hills, and up, past rows of windows and the flying lines of the roof, on, to the tower- Carla stopped, and looked and smiled and then turned and said, “Welcome, Margaret.”
Happy reading from
The Castle Lady