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Creator / Shirley Jackson

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"I delight in what I fear."

Shirley Hardie Jackson (1916–1965) was an American author known for her dark stories of mystery and horror.

Jackson's best-known work is the short story "The Lottery", about the dark underside of American small-town life, which has been adapted to film three times. Her novel The Haunting of Hill House has been adapted for film twice, and several of her other works have been adapted for the stage or screen. She only wrote about half-a-dozen novels, but was a prolific short-story author.

In 2007, the Shirley Jackson Award for outstanding achievement in psychological suspense and dark fantasy was created in her honor.

The film Shirley about the writing of Hangsaman (starring Elisabeth Moss as Jackson) was released in 2020.


Works with a page on this wiki:

Other works include:

  • Hangsaman (1951)
  • The Bird's Nest (1954)
  • The Road Through the Wall (her first novel, 1948)
  • The Sundial (1958)

Tropes in her other works:

  • All Psychology Is Freudian: A number of short stories and at least one novel (The Bird's Nest) deal with a character spilling her troubles to an analyst. May be Truth in Television, since at the time Jackson wrote (1940s through the 1960s) Freudian analysis was very much the prevailing school, though in Jackson's case she also had a husband well-versed in Freudian thought and who had written critically on Freud's writing.
  • Big Fancy House: Almost all of Jackson's major works and several short stories contain a central image of a Big Fancy House (sometimes doubling as an Old, Dark House) that dominates the work. Notable examples are the unnamed house in "The Visit," Blackwood House in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Halloran House in The Sundial, and the titular Hill House in The Haunting of Hill House. The Road Through the Wall is centralized around two strange houses: the mansion at the end of the street which dominates the neighborhood and a single mysterious house-for-rent that seems unable to retain a family even though it is outwardly identical to every other house on the street.
    • Jackson was fond of these in real life, too. Both her collections of family stories begin with the family required to move into a new, larger home that invariably becomes its own character: the house with the pillars in Life Among the Savages is reputed to be haunted, while the house with gateposts in Raising Demons has a confusing layout of rooms that seem to move around and choose their own functions.
  • Creepy Child: Fancy in The Sundial who, among other things, shows pride in her dollhouse but says that she'll take a hammer and smash it to pieces once the adults die and she inherits the estate.
  • Deal with the Devil:
    • In "The Smoking Room", the Devil appears to a wily college girl and her roommate. After discovering that the Devil Never Learned to Read, the girls quickly draw up a contract they insist is more legally binding, convince the Devil to give them several million dollars and passing grades in calculus, then have him sign it. Only then they reveal that, amid the legalese, the contract actually states that the Devil has agreed to grant their wishes and give them his soul—for a dollar.
    • "Devil of a Tale" sets the same theme in medieval times, with a much darker outcome.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Shirley Jackson and Stanley Edgar Hyman's marriage devolved into this. He started cheating on her, and she maintained a Stiff Upper Lip about it while raising their four children. Eventuallly, however, she suffered from the trauma of it and was prescribed tranquilizers.
  • Horny Devil: A recurrent figure in Jackson's short story is a mysterious man in blue calling himself James Harris, who may or may not be a supernatural creature. Though he rarely appears directly, women seduced by him abandoned their lives and families to pursue him...only to find themselves stranded and alone when he vanishes. (The original edition of her short story collection The Lottery was even subtitled "The Adventures of James Harris" and the collection ends with the ballad of the Daemon Lover.)
  • Lovecraft Country: Jackson lived most of her adult life in Vermont, and many of her stories have the requisite flinty creepiness.
  • Magical Nanny: In a series of unconnected, light-hearted short stories, Jackson introduces us to the mysterious Mallie, a magical maid who always turns up just when a troubled family needs her (whether they're actually looking for a maid at the time is another matter) and solves the household's problems. Though she's always called a housemaid, she usually ends up getting involved with the family's children in a nannying capacity.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Happens a lot in Jackson's work, to the point that it's practically a theme. Most notably in The Haunting of Hill House, which famously hinged on whether or not Hill House is really haunted, the idea is used for both horror (as in the James Harris stories) and humor (as in "The Wishing Dime," in which two little girls find a "magic" dime and use it for wishes that all come true in unexpected ways).
  • Mistaken for an Imposter:
    • The short story "Louisa, Please Come Home" concerns a nineteen-year-old girl who runs away from home and returns three years later only to find that she Can't Go Home Again. Because her family thinks she's an imposter after the reward money. Dramatic Irony ensues.
    • In "The Beautiful Stranger," a woman becomes convinced that her inattentive husband has been replaced by an affectionate identical stranger. It's never clear if this has really happened or if the woman has lost touch with reality (although the latter's implied). Subverted in that she doesn't want her original husband back.
  • Rape as Drama: Critics have noted that Jackson tends to use sex in "dark, disturbing touches," and the few direct references to sexual assault are often all the more horrific for being so rare and ambiguous, often amounting to a throwaway line.
    • Natalie Waite in Hangsaman flirts with a man at her father's cocktail party and goes off alone with him to a dark corner of the house—where the scene ends abruptly. The following morning she stares at herself in a mirror while repeating "nothing happened, nothing happened, nothing that I remember happened."
    • In The Bird's Nest, Bess (one of the heroine's four personalities) accidentally lets slip an ambiguous hint that she may have been sexually assaulted by her late mother's boyfriend. Bess's immediate denial that she said anything at all makes it more obvious that something terrible did happen.
  • Spooky Séance: Angela in the never-finished Come Along With Me holds a seance. She's a real medium; spirits constantly come to her, but it's very random, so she's not even always sure if she's talking to the loved ones of her sitters. The messages she does get don't fit their preconceived notions, and they leave unsatisfied.
  • Verbal Tic: In The Road Through the Wall, Beverly, a young girl with an unspecified mental disability, tends to repeat entire sentences.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Shirley's husband Stanley Edgar Hyman was emotionally abusive and cheated on her with one of her closest friends.


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