Shirley Jackson: Novels, Short Stories, and Other Works

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Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

The Lottery (1948)

The Lottery is a short story that Shirley Jackson wrote in 1948—it was written within the month of its first publication. It appeared within the June 26, 1948 issue of The New Yorker and describes a fictional account of a small town that participates in a lottery of sorts. This particular short story has often been described as “one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature.”

Conceptually, two creative stories come to mind immediately after reading this story–no doubt the authors of which were inspired greatly by the Jackson original. The cult classic film The Wicker Man (1973), then later the novelization and The Hunger Games franchise both echo the idea of a ritual where the town comes together and holds what they call a lottery.

This lottery is, unfortunately, not the type that anyone hopes to win, but mirrors the dystopian attitude where the losers rejoice in the winner’s predicament. Without spoiling the entire story for anyone, let’s just say it’s most definitely worth the read (or simply listen below). What is truly interesting with this story–one that leaves the reader with a feeling of utmost terror and despair–is that Jackson apparently wrote within the confines of a single morning. The agreed-upon account of its creation is that Jackson came up with the idea for the story while she was shopping for groceries in the morning, came home, set her two-year-old daughter in her playpen to play, and had it finished before her son came home from kindergarten for lunch.

Talk about a whirlwind turn-around for something so utterly and terribly fantastic. Along with other myths that surround the creation of The Lottery, there was a time when people actually believed that the story was a factual report–this is in part due to the fact that at the time The New Yorker didn’t distinguish between fact and fiction when it came to the stories within its publications. As a result of the misunderstanding, much to the chagrin of Jackson, subscribers sent her several hundred letters that in her words could be summed up to, “bewilderment, speculation, and plain old-fashioned abuse.” It was especially alarming to her that some of the letters were from people who wanted to know where such lotteries were being held and whether they would be allowed to watch.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

This gothic horror novel stands in the same class as those by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Bram Stoker—to the point of even being a finalist for the National Book Award in the category for best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century. While Shirley adhered more to the thrilling psychological aspects, which successfully elicited stronger emotions in her readers. It has since been adapted into two feature films, a play, radio theater, as well as a Netflix series which premiered in 2018, although considerable liberties were taken with Shirley’s original story.

Shirley’s initial idea for this particular novel came to her after she read about a real-life group of researchers from the nineteenth century who had spent time in a reportedly haunted house and then published their experiences while investigating the site. She spent quite a bit of time researching and studying floor plans of large, potentially haunted houses around the country, and also spent time reading several volumes on hauntings and ghost stories before she sketched out the grounds of Hill House, as well as the floor plan for the house itself. Suffice it to say, she took her time considering how the characters might move about the house and made sure she had a clear vision of how a haunting would play out in such a house.

Check out this trailer of the Netflix series of The Haunting of Hill House and see how this novel translated to a television series.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published in 1962—just a few years before the radical social movement of the 1960s and 1970s—and served as her reaction to the movement of traditionalism that followed the Second World War. The fifties was an exceptional decade when women were transitioning from having jobs that supported the war effort while the men were overseas, to being expected to stay at home in order to support their husbands by cooking, cleaning, and rearing children.

This novel takes place in a small New England town where the remaining members of the Blackwood family stay in their ancestral home—they seem to live a peaceful, if not removed life from the rest of the town and its oppressive atmosphere. The initial perception of the people in town is one of apprehension when the main character Mary Katherine admits the anxiety she feels when having to pass the general store when the men are sitting out front. The mood of the novel changes to reflect what many literary scholars believe might have been Jackson’s own response to the changing social climate of the fifties and how stifling it would have been to be a housewife with a job. It also bears mentioning that it brings attention to the ways women had been oppressed in the past, referencing witch hunts where women would be killed for even the slightest misstep.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle echoed a lot of the same themes that were found in her profoundly popular short story The Lottery, with special emphasis on the strange and hostile townspeople who take on the type of mob mentality that allows otherwise sensible people to commit horrible acts with little to no impact on their conscience. It is said that this particular novel served as inspiration to many writers—including authors like Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates—who, after reading Shirley’s work, felt liberated in taking leaps with horror, speculative fiction, and just enough realism to create creepy atmospheres within their own novels.

Take a look at the trailer for We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2019) and let us know what you think between the differences you’ve found between it and the original novel.

Looking back on a career like Shirley’s it’s widely believed that despite the fact that raising four children is an extremely difficult task, Shirley couldn’t have been such a literary success without them—after all, her first success, The Lottery came only a few months before Shirley was set to deliver her third child. A cringe-worthy moment came when the clerk asked Shirley her occupation, when she responded that she was a writer, the clerk responded that he was going to put down the occupation of housewife instead. While it was true that being a mother was one of her jobs, Shirley was more than just a mere housewife—in fact, she was the breadwinner of the family.

Shirley Jackson happened to be both a housewife and a “talented, determined, ambitious writer in an era when it was still unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession.” The appearance of a conventional American household generated material for this sassy mother of four—who thrived on the tensions that it created between both roles. The expectations of herself, her husband, family, publishers, and readers gave life to her writing since what was normal for her was unspeakably abnormal for the time. She made this clear during the early years of her career, when she drew, “a muscular woman, looking disgruntled, [dragging] her husband off by his hair as another couple [looked] on worriedly. ‘I understand she’s trying to have both a marriage and a career,’ one says to the other.” The truth of the matter was, that Shirley’s career only really took off after she became a mother, having gained an empathetic view of developing minds and the well of imagination that she drew therein. In this respect, Shirley was not only a sensational author, she was an admirable role model for any woman who may have wanted to follow in her footsteps.

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Stoker: More than Just the Author of Dracula

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Featured Horror Books

For fans of Bram Stoker, it’s no surprise that he wrote more than his infamous novel Dracula (1987); credited for being the major influence on popular vampire culture, Stoker was a master of Gothic horror. While not critically acclaimed in his day–even H.P. Lovecraft had critical words for some of his literature–Stoker was a successful author and did great work within the genre.

Leaving a Mark With Short Fiction

Authors like Bram Stoker had much more potential for short fiction works than they did in novel-length literature, at least in the opinion of this writer. While it’s true that Stoker is considered a master of the Gothic horror genre, his short stories were captivating and less drawn out. Below is a selection of just a couple of his short stories that are available on YouTube for public consumption.

Dracula’s Guest

This short story is an offshoot of Stoker’s famous novel, Dracula and proves to be an interesting side-plot of the story of our favorite evil blood-sucking fiend. Have a listen to this short story as it is narrated in a proper spooky fashion!

The Judge’s House

This classic ghost story as told by Bram Stoker is definitely one that people need to hear read aloud–listen here and enjoy!

Horror Novels by Bram Stoker

The Snake's Pass by Bram Stoker

The Snake’s Pass (1890)

Bram Stoker’s first full-length novel, The Snake’s Pass, is a story about Englishman Arthur Severn who inherits wealth and a title from an aunt who chose him as her heir, much to the chagrin of closer relations. What he inherits, is essentially the ability to become an adventurer and he seizes this opportunity as a man of leisure to tour western Ireland. A storm forces him to stop for the night in a mysterious village where Arthur hears the legend of “The Snake’s Pass,” which alludes to a hidden treasure hidden in the boggy hills near the village. This deadly bog, hidden treasure, and a sinister man from the village proved to give Arthur the adventure he sought after.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Snake Pass GoodReads Listing

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula (1897)

By far the most famous of Stoker’s literary works, Dracula became the foremost authority on vampires within fiction. Where introduced to Jonathan Harker a solicitor from England who is sent to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula with who has a need for legal assistance regarding real estate. Dracula’s ultimate plan, of course, is to spread the curse of vampirism as much as possible while supplying himself with a fresh source of blood. Through the course of the book, we see the malignant plans of Dracula come to fruition and are introduced to Abraham Van Helsing, a character that would become part of modern folklore of vampires.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

Dracula GoodReads Listing

The Mystery of the Sea by Bram Stoker

The Mystery of the Sea (1902)

The Mystery of the Sea tells the story of an Englishman living in Aberdeenshire, Scotland–he falls in love with an American heiress who has a special interest in the Spanish-American war. Over the course of the novel, we see elements of the supernatural with instances of second sight, and other thrilling aspects such as kidnapping, and cryptic codes. More of a political thriller than any of his other novels, the story explored themes important during his own time, such as the changing concepts of womanhood, and the uprising of feminism.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Mystery of the Sea GoodReads Listing

The Jewel of the Seven Stars

The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903)

Written in a first-person narrative, we follow a young man by the name of Malcom Ross, a barrister. Summoned by Margaret, the daughter of a famous Egyptologist with whom he is enamored, to find that he had been called due to the strange sounds that were heard from her father’s room. When Margaret went to check on her father, she found he was bloodied and unconscious–as if in some type of trance–along with cryptic instructions to watch him, in case of his incapacitation, until he awoke.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Jewel of Seven Stars GoodReads Listing

The Man by Bram Stoker

The Man (1905)

Strangely, for a book entitled The Man, this story is initially about a tomboy named Stephen (at the behest of her mother who died shortly after childbirth). Stephen grows to be an assertive, free-thinking child and becomes friends with Harold, the son of a friend of her father. After her father’s friend passes away, Harold becomes a ward of Stephen’s father. She and Harold pass the time visiting her family’s graveyard. After reaching adulthood romantic storylines enter into play, causing characters to suddenly disperse and then later and unexpectedly come together unwittingly. This tale is wrought with death and romance, key components to gothic horror, and Bram wrote it fantastically.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Man GoodReads Listing

The Lady of the Shroud by Bram Stoker

The Lady of the Shroud (1909)

An epistolary novel, narrated primarily by the central character Rupert Saint Leger, the black sheep of his family. Rupert finds out that he is his uncle’s choice to inherit a large million-pound estate, under the condition that he lives in the castle of the Blue Mountains for a year before he can claim his fortune. Needless to say, this is his uncle’s way of testing him, to find if he can truly be worthy of such a grand fortune–little does Rupert know what awaits him in the castle of the Blue Mountains and how completely his life will change.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Lady of the Shroud GoodReads Listing

The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker

The Lair of the White Worm (1911)

Based loosely upon the tale of The Lambton Worm, Stoker gave us a horror story based upon a giant white worm who has the ability to transform into a woman. The story revolves around the Australian-born Adam Salton, who receives word from an estranged uncle who wishes to make Adam his heir.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

Bram Stoker’s twelfth and final novel before his death, The Lair of the White Worm (2011) is also sometimes titled as The Garden of Evil. Along with Dracula and The Jewel of Seven Stars, The Lair of the White Worm was actually one of Stoker’s most successful novels, which is interesting because the reception by the literary community was not entirely favorable. In 1988 it was adapted into a horror film, which starred Hugh Grant and Amanda Donohoe.

The Lair of the White Worm GoodReads Listing

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