Upon recently re-reading this most awesome of spooky stories, I am curious to find out more about Shirley Jackson’s inspirational sources for her haunted house. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be an annotated version of the book that I can consult for more information. (How is that even possible? It’s a classic, innit? What gives, American literary genre scholars?)
–The text advances a comparison to the famous Winchester House, and much is made of the fact that the house’s unorthodox design makes it easy to get lost. Shirley Jackson emphasizes this confusion by describing the characters’ difficulties in traveling from one part of the house to another. Are the author’s descriptions of the house’s layout and environs consistent or contradictory? Has anyone attempted to extrapolate a complete floorplan? Besides me, of course-- that is, someone with an attention span greater than that of a gnat?
–One distinctive feature of Hill House is an enigmatic marble sculpture in the drawing room. Jackson does a marvelous job of creating a visual impression obliquely while offering almost no tangible details. Each character interprets the work differently, underscoring its chaotic “what the hell am I looking at?” quality. Did Jackson have any particular sculpture in mind as an inspiration for this weird fixture, or is it representative of massively tacky allegorical vanity sculpture in general?
–In her biography of Shirley Jackson, Lenemaja Friedman relates an anecdote about a source of inspiration for the novel: supposedly Jackson ran across a magazine picture of a house in California that she found nightmarishly grotesque. She wrote her mother, who lived in California, hoping that she could ferret out some information about the place. Her mom promptly wrote back with the surprising revelation that she not only knew of the house, but that it had actually been built by Shirley Jackson’s own great-grandfather!
Honestly, as described, this story sounds a bit too good to be true; but just in case it isn’t, I’d be fascinated to see just what sort of house Shirley Jackson would consider hideous and evil-looking.
–What kind of a name is “Lenemaja Friedman?” Didn’t she eventually marry Parameshwar Swanson?
Anyhoo… I guess the odds of any additional information along these lines are slim. But I thought I’d toss out the questions anyway, just on the off chance.
I just really, really like The Haunting of Hill House.