December 14th – Shirley Jackson

“All the time that I am making beds and doing dishes and driving to town for dancing shoes, I am telling myself stories.”

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson was born on December 14th, 1916, in San Francisco, California. Her family moved from California to Rochester, New York, during her senior year of high school. Jackson later received her bachelor’s from Syracuse University. While working at the literary magazine during college, she met her future husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, who would become a professor and book critic. They married in 1940 and had their first child Laurence in 1943, followed by Joanne in 1945, Sarah in 1948, and Barry in 1951. 

Jackson’s debut novel, The Road Through the Wallwas published in 1948 when she was thirty-two. She had two young children at the time and one on the way. Her short story, “The Lottery,” was published the same year, in the June 26th, 1948 edition of The New Yorker. 

Jackson wrote and raised the couple’s four children, ultimately becoming the family’s breadwinner, although her husband controlled the finances. Her marriage was troubled by Hyman’s infidelities, many with his students. At his urging, the couple practiced an open relationship – mostly open on his side. Hyman was also noted to be a bit lazy, not helping with anything around the house or with the children, which was standard husband expectation at the time. But it doesn’t seem as though Jackson let her circumstances stop her from doing what she wanted to do – which was to write. Instead, she not only crafted her gothic stories and horror-laced novels but also wrote many lighthearted essays for women’s magazines about motherhood. Her essays were eventually put into two memoirs, Life Among the Savages: Un Uneasy Chronicle (1953) and Raising Demons (1957).

Jackson was interested in the occult and witchcraft, penning a book for children in 1956 The Witchcraft of Salem Village.

She and her husband were voracious readers and book collectors, having an estimated 25,000 in their personal library. 

Her fifth novel, The Haunting of Hill House, was published in 1959 and nominated for a National Book Award. It cemented her as a master of horror.

Her last adult novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) was very successful, and she followed it with Nine Magic Wishes, an illustrated children’s novel. 

First edition of We Have Always Lived in the Castle for sale on Biblio.com by Burnside Rare Books

Despite her successes, Jackson suffered from anxiety, for which she was prescribed barbiturates. In addition, she took amphetamines for weight loss. That bad combination, heavy smoking, and a philandering husband led to many health problems. 

On August 8th, 1965, Jackson died in her sleep from a heart condition at the age of 48. During her lifetime, she had published six novels, two memoirs, and more than 200 short stories. After her death, more works would be published, and she remains a popular author today. Many authors, including Neil Gaiman, Donna Tartt, Sylvia Plath, and Joyce Carol Oates, have mentioned Jackson as an inspiration.

Lesson from Jackson:

Jackson seemed to remind herself constantly to stay focused on the good and her work. She knew no matter the circumstance, she could find wonder in words. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s