Shirley Jackson

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For the physicist who is president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, see Shirley Ann Jackson.
Shirley Jackson
Born Shirley Hardie Jackson
(1916-12-14)December 14, 1916
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Died August 8, 1965(1965-08-08) (aged 48)
North Bennington, Vermont, U.S.
Occupation Author, novelist
Genre Mystery, horror
Spouse Stanley Edgar Hyman (m. 1940)

Shirley Hardie Jackson (December 14, 1916 – August 8, 1965) was an American author. She was a popular writer in her time, and her work has received increased attention from literary critics in recent years. She influenced Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Nigel Kneale, and Richard Matheson.[1]

She is best known for the short story "The Lottery" (1948), which reveals a secret, sinister underside to a bucolic America village, and for The Haunting of Hill House (1959), which is widely considered to be one of the best ghost stories ever written. In her critical biography of Jackson, Lenemaja Friedman notes that when "The Lottery" was published in the June 26, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, it received a response that "no New Yorker story had ever received". Hundreds of letters poured in that were characterized by, as Jackson put it, "bewilderment, speculation, and old-fashioned abuse". In the July 22, 1948, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jackson offered the following in response to persistent queries from her readers about her intentions:

Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.

Jackson's husband, the literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, wrote in his preface to a posthumous anthology of her work, "she consistently refused to be interviewed, to explain or promote her work in any fashion, or to take public stands and be the pundit of the Sunday supplements. She believed that her books would speak for her clearly enough over the years." Hyman insisted the darker aspects of Jackson's works were not, as some critics claimed, the product of "personal, even neurotic, fantasies", but that Jackson intended, as "a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb", to mirror humanity's Cold War-era fears. Jackson may even have taken pleasure in the subversive impact of her work, as revealed by Hyman's statement that she "was always proud that the Union of South Africa banned 'The Lottery', and she felt that they at least understood the story".[2]

Literary life[edit]

California and New York[edit]

Although Jackson claimed to have been born in 1919 to appear younger than her husband, birth records state that she was born in December 1916.[3] Born in San Francisco, California, to Leslie and Geraldine Jackson, Jackson and her family lived in the community of Burlingame, California, an affluent middle-class suburb that would feature in Shirley's first novel, The Road Through the Wall (1948). The family relocated to Rochester, New York, where Shirley attended Brighton High School and received her diploma in 1934. For college, she first attended the University of Rochester, before earning a BA degree from Syracuse University in 1940.[citation needed]

While a student at Syracuse, Jackson became involved with the campus literary magazine, through which she met her future husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, who would become a noted literary critic. For Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Harcraft's Twentieth Century Authors (1954)[citation needed], she wrote:

I very much dislike writing about myself or my work, and when pressed for autobiographical material can only give a bare chronological outline which contains, naturally, no pertinent facts. I was born in San Francisco in 1919 and spent most of my early life in California. I was married in 1940 to Stanley Edgar Hyman, critic and numismatist, and we live in Vermont, in a quiet rural community with fine scenery and comfortably far away from city life. Our major exports are books and children, both of which we produce in abundance. The children are Laurence, Joanne, Sarah, and Barry: my books include three novels, The Road Through the Wall, Hangsaman, The Bird's Nest and a collection of short stories, The Lottery. Life Among the Savages is a disrespectful memoir of my children.


After their marriage and brief sojourns in New York City and Westport, Connecticut, Jackson and Hyman settled in North Bennington, Vermont, where Hyman became a professor at Bennington College, as Jackson continued to publish novels and short stories. Her novel Hangsaman (1951) and her short story "The Missing Girl" (from Just an Ordinary Day, the 1995 collection of previously unpublished or uncollected short stories) both contain certain elements similar to the mysterious real-life December 1, 1946, disappearance of an 18-year-old Bennington College sophomore, Paula Jean Welden of Stamford, Connecticut. This event, which remains unsolved to this day, took place in the wooded wilderness of Glastenbury Mountain near Bennington in southern Vermont, where Jackson and her family were living at the time. The fictional college depicted in Hangsaman is based in part on Jackson's experiences at Bennington College, as indicated by Jackson's papers in the Library of Congress.[4][5]

Jackson and Hyman were known for being colorful, generous hosts, who surrounded themselves with literary talents, including Ralph Ellison.[citation needed] They were both enthusiastic readers whose personal library was estimated at over 100,000 books. They had four children, Laurence (Laurie), Joanne (Jannie), Sarah (Sally), and Barry, who would come to their own brand of literary fame as fictionalized versions of themselves in their mother's short stories.

In addition to her adult literary novels, Jackson also wrote a children's novel, Nine Magic Wishes, available in an edition illustrated by her grandson, Miles Hyman, as well as a children's play based on Hansel and Gretel, entitled The Bad Children. In a series of short stories, later collected in the books Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, she presented a fictionalized version of her marriage and the experience of bringing up four children. These works are "true-to-life funny-housewife stories" of the type later popularized by such writers as Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck during the 1950s and 1960s.[citation needed]


In 1965, Jackson died of heart failure in her sleep, at her home in North Bennington, at the age of 48. At the time of her death, she was overweight and a heavy smoker who had suffered throughout her life from various neuroses and psychosomatic illnesses. These ailments, along with the various prescription drugs used to treat them, may have contributed to her declining health and early death. After her death, her husband released a posthumous volume of her work, Come Along With Me, containing several chapters of her unfinished last novel as well as several rare short stories (among them "Louisa, Please Come Home") and three speeches given by Jackson in her writing seminars.[citation needed]

In addition to the aforementioned Hangsaman, her other novels include The Bird's Nest (1954) and The Sundial (1958). The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is regarded by many, including Stephen King, as one of the important horror novels of the twentieth century.[citation needed] This contemporary updating of the classic ghost story has a vivid and powerful opening paragraph:

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.


In addition to radio, television, and theater adaptations, "The Lottery" has been filmed three times, most notably in 1969 as an acclaimed short film that director Larry Yust made for an Encyclopædia Britannica educational film series. The Academic Film Archive cited Yust's short "as one of the two bestselling educational films ever".[6]


In 1938, while Jackson was studying at Syracuse, her first published story, "Janice", appeared, and the stories that followed were published in Collier's, Good Housekeeping, Harper's, Mademoiselle, The New Republic, The New Yorker, Woman's Day, Woman's Home Companion, and other publications.[citation needed]

In 1996, a crate of unpublished stories was found in the barn behind Jackson's house. The best of those stories, along with previously uncollected stories from various magazines, were published in the 1996 collection Just an Ordinary Day. The title was taken from one of her stories for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts".[citation needed]

Jackson's papers are available in the Library of Congress. In its August 5, 2013, issue The New Yorker published "Paranoia", which the magazine said was discovered at the library.[8]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 1944 – Best American Short Stories 1944: "Come Dance with Me in Ireland"
  • 1949 – O. Henry Prize Stories 1949: "The Lottery"
  • 1951 – Best American Short Stories 1951: "The Summer People"
  • 1956 – Best American Short Stories 1956: "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts"
  • 1959 – New York Times Book Review's "Best Fiction of 1959" includes The Haunting of Hill House
  • 1960 – National Book Award nomination: The Haunting of Hill House
  • 1961 – Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Short Story: "Louisa, Please Come Home"
  • 1962 – Time magazine's "Ten Best Novels" of the year includes We Have Always Lived in the Castle
  • 1964 – Best American Short Stories 1964: "Birthday Party"
  • 1966 – Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Short Story: "The Possibility of Evil"
  • 1966 – New York Times Book Review's "Best Fiction of 1966" includes The Magic of Shirley Jackson
  • 1968 – New York Times Book Review's "Best Fiction of 1968" includes Come Along with Me
  • 2007 – The Shirley Jackson Award is established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic

Literary studies[edit]

Lenemaja Friedman's Shirley Jackson (Twayne Publishers, 1975) is the first published survey of Jackson's life and work. Judy Oppenheimer also covers Shirley Jackson's life and career in Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson (Putnam, 1988). S. T. Joshi's The Modern Weird Tale (2001) offers a critical essay on Jackson's work.[citation needed]

A comprehensive overview of Jackson's short fiction is Joan Wylie Hall's Shirley Jackson: A Study of the Short Fiction (Twayne Publishers, 1993). The only critical bibliography of Jackson's work is Paul N. Reinsch's A Critical Bibliography of Shirley Jackson, American Writer (1919–1965): Reviews, Criticism, Adaptations (Edwin Mellen Press, 2001). Darryl Hattenhauer also provides a comprehensive survey of all of Jackson's fiction in Shirley Jackson's American Gothic (State University of New York Press, 2003). Bernice Murphy's recent Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy (McFarland, 2005) is a collection of commentaries on Jackson's work. Colin Hains's Frightened by a Word: Shirley Jackson & Lesbian Gothic (2007) explores the lesbian themes in Jackson's major novels.[citation needed]

According to the post-feminist critic Elaine Showalter, Jackson's work is the single most important mid-twentieth-century body of literary output yet to have its value reevaluated by critics in the present day. In a March 4, 2009, podcast distributed by the renowned business publisher The Economist, Showalter also revealed that Joyce Carol Oates has edited a collection of Jackson's work called Shirley Jackson Novels and Stories that was published in the highly esteemed Library of America series.[citation needed]

The 1980s witnessed considerable scholarly interest in Jackson's work. Peter Kosenko, a Marxist critic, advanced an economic interpretation of "The Lottery" that focussed on "the inequitable stratification of the social order".[9] Sue Veregge Lape argued in her Ph.D. thesis that feminist critics who did not consider Jackson to be a feminist played a significant role in her lack of earlier critical attention.[10] In contrast, Jacob Appel has written that Jackson was an "anti-regionalist writer" whose criticism of New England proved unpalatable to the American literary establishment.[11]

Shirley Jackson Awards[edit]

Further information: Shirley Jackson Award

In 2007, the Shirley Jackson Awards were established with permission of Jackson's estate. They are in recognition of her legacy in writing, and are awarded for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. The awards are presented at Readercon.[12][13][14]




Story collections

Children's works

  • The Witchcraft of Salem Village (1956)
  • The Bad Children (1959)
  • Nine Magic Wishes (1963)
  • Famous Sally (1966)

Short stories

  • "About Two Nice People", Ladies' Home Journal, July 1951
  • "Account Closed", Good Housekeeping, April 1950
  • "After You, My Dear Alphonse", The New Yorker, Jan. 1943
  • "Afternoon in Linen", The New Yorker, Sept. 4, 1943
  • "All the Girls Were Dancing", Collier's, Nov. 11, 1950
  • "All She Said Was Yes", Vogue, Nov. 1, 1962
  • "Alone in a Den of Cubs", Woman's Day, Dec. 1953
  • "Aunt Gertrude", Harper's, April 1954
  • "The Bakery", Peacock Alley, Nov. 1944
  • "Birthday Party", Vogue, Jan. 1, 1963
  • "The Box", Woman's Home Companion, Nov. 1952
  • "Bulletin", The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, March 1954
  • "Call Me Ishmael", Spectre, Fall 1939
  • "A Cauliflower in Her Hair", Mademoiselle, Dec. 1944
  • "Charles", Mademoiselle, July 1948
  • "The Clothespin Dolls", Woman's Day, March 1953
  • "Colloquy", The New Yorker, Aug. 5, 1944
  • "Come Dance with Me in Ireland", The New Yorker, May 15, 1943
  • "Concerning … Tomorrow", Syracusan, March 1939
  • "The Daemon Lover ['The Phantom Lover']", Woman's Home Companion, Feb. 1949
  • "Daughter, Come Home", Charm, May 1944
  • "Day of Glory", Woman's Day, Feb. 1953
  • "Don’t Tell Daddy", Woman's Home Companion, Feb. 1954
  • "Every Boy Should Learn to Play the Trumpet", Woman's Home Companion, Oct. 1956
  • "Family Magician", Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1949
  • "A Fine Old Firm", The New Yorker, March 4, 1944
  • "The First Car Is the Hardest", Harper's, Feb. 1952
  • "The Friends", Charm, Nov. 1953
  • "The Gift", Charm, Dec. 1944
  • "A Great Voice Stilled", Playboy, March 1960
  • "Had We But World Enough", Spectre, Spring 1940
  • "Happy Birthday to Baby", Charm, Nov. 1952
  • "Home", Ladies' Home Journal, Aug. 1965
  • "The Homecoming", Charm, April 1945
  • "The House", Woman's Day, May 1952
  • "I Don't Kiss Strangers", Just an Ordinary Day (Bantam, 1995)
  • "An International Incident", The New Yorker, Sept. 12, 1943
  • "I.O.U"., Just an Ordinary Day (Bantam, 1995)
  • "The Island", New Mexico Quarterly Review, 1950, vol. 3
  • "It Isn’t the Money", The New Yorker, Aug. 25, 1945
  • "It's Only a Game", Harper's, May 1956
  • "Journey with a Lady", Harper's, July 1952
  • "Liaison a la Cockroach", Syracusan, April 1939
  • "Little Dog Lost", Charm, Oct. 1943
  • "A Little Magic", Woman's Home Companion, Jan. 1956
  • "Little Old Lady", Mademoiselle, Sept. 1944
  • "The Lottery", The New Yorker, June 26, 1948
  • "Louisa, Please Come Home", Ladies' Home Journal, May 1960
  • "The Lovely Night", Collier's, April 8, 1950
  • "Lucky to Get Away", Woman's Day, Aug. 1953
  • "The Man in the Woods", The New Yorker, April 28, 2014
  • "Men with Their Big Shoes", Yale Review, March 1947
  • "The Missing Girl", The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Dec. 1957
  • "Monday Morning", Woman's Home Companion, Nov. 1951
  • "The Most Wonderful Thing", Good Housekeeping, June 1952
  • "Mother Is a Fortune Hunter", Woman's Home Companion, May 1954
  • "Mrs. Melville Makes a Purchase", Charm, Oct. 1951
  • "My Friend", Syracusan, Dec. 1938
  • "My Life in Cats", Spectre, Summer 1940
  • "My Life with R.H. Macy", The New Republic, Dec. 22, 1941
  • "My Son and the Bully", Good Housekeeping, Oct. 1949
  • "Nice Day for a Baby", Woman's Home Companion, July 1952
  • "Night We All Had Grippe", Harper's, Jan. 1952
  • "Nothing to Worry About", Charm, July 1953
  • "The Omen", The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1958
  • "On the House", The New Yorker, Oct. 30, 1943
  • "One Last Chance to Call", McCall's, April 1956
  • "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts", The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Jan. 1955
  • "The Order of Charlotte's Going", Charm, July 1954
  • "Pillar of Salt", Mademoiselle, Oct. 1948
  • "Paranoia", The New Yorker, August 5, 2013
  • "The Possibility of Evil", The Saturday Evening Post, Dec. 18, 1965
  • "Queen of the May", McCall's, April 1955
  • "The Renegade", Harper's, Nov. 1949
  • "Root of Evil", Fantastic, March–April 1953
  • "The Second Mrs. Ellenoy", Reader's Digest, July 1953
  • "Seven Types of Ambiguity", Story, 1943
  • "Shopping Trip", Woman's Home Companion, June 1953
  • "The Smoking Room", Just an Ordinary Day (Bantam, 1995)
  • "The Sneaker Crisis", Woman's Day, Oct. 1956
  • "So Late on Sunday Morning", Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1953
  • "The Strangers", Collier's, May 10, 1952
  • "Strangers in Town", The Saturday Evening Post, May 30, 1959
  • "Summer Afternoon", Just an Ordinary Day (Bantam, 1995)
  • "The Summer People", Charm, 1950
  • "The Third Baby's the Easiest", Harper's, May 1949
  • "The Tooth", The Hudson Review, 1949, vol. 1, no. 4
  • "Trial by Combat", The New Yorker, Dec. 16, 1944
  • "The Very Strange House Next Door", Just an Ordinary Day (Bantam, 1995)
  • "The Villager", The American Mercury, Aug. 1944
  • "Visions of Sugarplums", Woman's Home Companion, Dec. 1952
  • "When Things Get Dark", The New Yorker, Dec. 30, 1944
  • "Whistler's Grandmother", The New Yorker, May 5, 1945
  • "The Wishing Dime", Good Housekeeping, Sept. 1949
  • "Worldly Goods", Woman's Day, May 1953
  • "Y and I", Syracusan, Oct. 1938
  • "Y and I and the Ouija Board", Syracusan, Nov. 1938
  • "The Witch", 1949



  1. ^ Murphy, Bernice (2004-08-31). "Shirley Jackson (1916-1965)". The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2006-05-09. 
  2. ^ Hyman, Stanley Edgar (1966). "Preface". The Magic of Shirley Jackson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 
  3. ^ Joshi, S. T. (2001). The Modern Weird Tale. McFarland. ISBN 9780786409860. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  4. ^ "Shirley Jackson Papers". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  5. ^ Powers, Tim (December 1, 1976). "Remember Paula Welden? 30 Years Ago". Bennington Banner. 
  6. ^ "Shirley Jackson's The Lottery". Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  7. ^ Kates, Joan Giangrasse (2012-01-02). "James A. Miller 1936-2011: Independent gaffer lit movies for major players". Chicago Tribune. 
  8. ^ Cressida Leyshon (July 26, 2013). "This Week in Fiction: Shirley Jackson". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  9. ^ "A Marxist/Feminist Reading of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery". New Orleans Review 12 (1): 27–32. Spring 1985. 
  10. ^ Lape, Sue Veregge (1992). "The Lottery's" hostage: The life and feminist fiction of Shirley Jackson (Ph.D.). Ohio State University. 
  11. ^ Appel, Jacob. "Shirley Jackson's Anti-Regionalism". Florida English 10: 3. 
  12. ^ Gardner, Jan (27 June 2010). "Shelf Life". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 16 October 2010. 
  13. ^ Miller, Laura. "Is Shirley Jackson a great American writer?". Retrieved 16 October 2010. 
  14. ^ "The Shirley Jackson Awards". Retrieved 2013-09-28. 


  • King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. Everest House, 1981.
  • Kittredge, Mary. "The Other Side of Magic: A Few Remarks About Shirley Jackson", in Darrell Schweitzer ed., Discovering Modern Horror Fiction. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, July 1985, pp. 3–12.
  • Kosenko, Peter. "A Reading of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. New Orleans Review, vol. 12, no. 1 (Spring 1985), pp. 27–32.
  • Murphy, Bernice. Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy.
  • Oppenheimer, Judy. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson. New York: Putnam, 1988.
  • Shapiro, Laura. Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America.
  • Shirley Jackson Papers. Library of Congress, Washington DC.

External links[edit]

Audio files