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.

Index of Sources

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Stoking the Fire of Stoker’s Legacy

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Horror Books Lifestyle

Abraham “Bram” Stoker may not be the father of Gothic Horror like his predecessor Edgar Allan Poe, but this Irish author is known to have mastered the art of writing Gothic Horror in his lifetime. Known mostly for being the personal assistant of Sir Henry Irving, Stoker is probably one of the most underrated, yet famous authors of horror culture; known mostly for his 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula, he was actually a very prolific author throughout his lifetime.

He is tall and heavily built, with a sandy beard and good-natured blue eyes. Speaking of his rather striking name, he said: “I was named Abraham Stoker, but since my very young childhood I have been called Bram–and Bram I have let it remain.”

The Constitution, Atlanta, GA, January 26, 1896

Life Before His Writing Career

Born on November 8, 1847, on the north side of Dublin, Ireland in Clontarf to Abraham and Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley, Bram Stoker was the third child of seven. His father was a civil servant and his mother was a charity worker and writer, who told him horror stories as a child and may have been the first to influence his writing later on in life. During the majority of his childhood, Bram Stoker was bedridden with a still unknown illness until he started school at seven. When he finally started school, he made a complete recovery from his childhood illness and by that time had matured into a thoughtful young boy. In Stoker’s own words he was, “naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.” Schooling during his youth was at a private school run by Reverend William Woods.

Despite his frailty as a child, after his recovery, he grew up without any other debilitating illness and even excelled in multiple sports later on during his university years. Bram attended Trinity College in Dublin from 1864 to 1870, when he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, then later pursued a Master of Arts in 1875; his school portfolio shows he was the auditor of the College Historical Society and the president of the University Philosophical Society, where he wrote a paper titled Sensationalism in Fiction and Society.

The Legacy of Stoker’s Name

When Bram attended college he began working as an Irish civil servant and also picked up freelancing work in journalism and critiquing theatre. Not having predestined himself to become a writer Stoker was, at an early point in his career, highly interested in theatre. During the time in which he worked for the Irish Civil Service, he actually became a critic for the Dublin Evening Mail, which was co-owned by Sheridan Le Fanu who at the time was an author of Gothic tales.

Even though theatre critics were, at the time, not incredibly popular people, Stoker attracted the attention of people with the quality of his reviews. One fateful December day in 1876, after praising the performance of Hamlet by Henry Irving at the Theatre Royal in Dublin, he was invited to dine with Irving at the Shelbourne Hotel. This dinner marked the beginning of a prolific friendship between Stoker and Irving. Not long after becoming friends with Henry Irving, Stoker met and subsequently fell in love with his future wife, an aspiring actress by the name of Florence Balcombe. Florence was a celebrated beauty who had, at one point, been courted by Oscar Wilde. Wilde and Stoker had been classmates during their days at Trinity College; despite being upset with Balcombe’s decision to marry Stoker, the two men eventually resumed polite exchange.

Not many know how Mr. Bram Stoker came to be associated with the fortunes of Sir Henry Irving. It was in this wise, says a contemporary: Sir Henry , when on a visit to Dublin, was invited to a supper party, and during the course of the evening was induced to recite his in his thrilling way “The Dream of Eugene Aram.” One of his auditors, a young man with a brilliant reputation at Trinity College, was so affected by the tragedian’s delivery that he burst into tears. Henry Irving asked the young man to call on him the next morning, and then and there made him an offer, which was accepted to the mutual advantage of both. The young man was Mr. Bram Stoker.

The Leeds Times, Leeds, UK, July 13, 1985

The Lyceum Theatre

During the year 1878, Bram began working in London as Henry Irving’s secretary at the Lyceum Theatre. In December of that same year, Stoker and Balcombe were married and their nuptials were reported the next day on December 5, 1878, by The Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser. Four days later, on December 9, Stoker and his new bride moved to England to join Henry Irving, a man which he greatly idolized. After their move to London, Stoker accepted the offer to become the acting manager for Irving, then ultimately became the business manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theatre in London, a job which he held for twenty-seven years.

A little over a year later on December 31, 1879, Stoker and his wife had a child, Irving Noel Thornley Stoker, then Bram published his first book. Through Stoker’s work with Irving, he began to have access to London’s high society and made some of his most important professional acquaintances, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to whom he was distantly related. During his employment under Irving, who was the most famous actor at the time, he managed the most successful theatre in London and was consequently a quite well known, albeit busy man.

Despite having traveled the world with Irving as his manager, Stoker never once visited Eastern Europe, the place in which his most famous novel was set. Instead, he visited and thoroughly enjoyed the United States and accompanied Irving to the White House twice, where he met William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. As evidence of his appreciation of the United States, Stoker actually set two of his novels in the United State. He happened to have the opportunity to meet Walt Whitman as well, who he held great admiration for as a writer.

The Legend Started with Slains Castle in Cruden Bay

The magic happened when Stoker traveled to Cruden Bay, where the Slains Castle sits, it is rumored that this castle was actual the visual inspiration for Bram Stoker during this phase of his writing career. He began the early chapters of Dracula in Cruden Bay, in 1985 while in residence at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel, where his signatures in the guestbook from 1894 and 1895 are still present. Stoker also penned two other novels that were based on Cruden Bay, The Watter’s of Mou (1985) as well as The Mystery of the Sea (1902).

Portrait of Bram Stoker in 1906
Portrait of Bram Stoker in 1906

History As an Author

The writing career of Stoker will be something that we delve into greater detail in the next installment of our Dead Author Dedication for the month, but it’s worth noting that despite Stoker’s productive career as a writer, he’s really only known for his classic Dracula (1897). Upon the finality of his famous novel, Dracula, he dedicated it to one of his closest friends, by the name of Hall Cain, whom he had met in London. During the period in which he had started to write his novels, he was also a part of the literary staff of The Daily Telegraph in London. Other than his novel publications, after Henry Irving’s death in 1906, he ended up managing productions at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

At the End of His Life

Stoker finally succumbed to multiple strokes and died of exhaustion on April 20, 1912, at Number 26 St. George’s Square–although some biographers believe it also had something to do with tertiary syphilis. His ashes were placed on display at Golders Green Crematorium in Northern London

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