Some questions regarding "The Haunting of Hill House"

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.

Haven’t read it. Slept with my head under a pillow for years after seeing the first (ie: REAL) movie. That was enough for me.

Sounds like the kind of melodic, unusual name a fanfic writer would give a character. :smiley:

She was married to Stanley Edgar Hyman.
In the short forward to We Have Always Lived in the Castle, she writes: “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.”
If you can find a copy, read We Have Always Lived in the Castle. She also wrote a quirky book about her family called Life among the Savages.

Sorry, I have nothing about the inspiration for Hill House.

I have almost always envisioned something like the Laocoon as teh statue, the house as the Winchester house in combination with one of the larger late vic mansions like the Biltmore Estate with some seriously gnarly trees and unkempt gardens, and vines climbing the walls - very much like the remake with Liam Neeson looks.

I vaguely remember the issue with getting lost is that nothing is particularly logically arranged, and the angles are wrong so doors open and shut themselves, and if combined with lack of lots of lighting making dark areas, and not being familiar with the building…also, have you ever been inside one of those huge vic mansions, they are HUGE, with some hallways, more sets of rooms nested inside other rooms that you have to go through rooms to get into, sometimes a room might open into 2 or 3 other rooms … EEP!

And it is a scarey as hell book!

<wanders off to find her copy for a late night reread>

I also envisioned something like the Laocoon statue, only larger and with more characters/figures.
Sorry, can’t help you on sources. That book has to be the most terrifying one I’ve ever read. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is of special interest to mycologists.

Can’t help you, but yeah…IMO, one of the best books ever. My fifteen year old daughter feels the same. I think it was one of the first ghost books I ever read that didn’t cop out on me with a Nancy Drew or Scooby Doo type ending.

Another point the book made that impressed me was how the building was laid out with funky geometry so that you’d get all turned about, going in what you thought was a straight line, only to find yourself heading east when you thought you were going north.

Neat book. I really should read it again sometime soon. October’s not too far away. 'Tis the season and all that.

I wouldn’t call it the best book ever, as it didn’t scare me, but it was an entertaining read and yes, I did like the ending - just a sort of emptiness, knowing what happened. A nice feel to it and it moves along pretty well. Plus I liked that the main couple was childless. I find I like reading about voluntarily childless more and more as it seems so much of literature gets focused around parents…it’s nice to have something familiar, as it were.

I’ve never been inside one, but now that you mention it, I’m thinking the book must be the “inspiration” for one of my recurring nightmares, where I’m living in just such a house. Especially the nested rooms. I’m always finding rooms I didn’t know existed, with at least three doors leading to other rooms. My nightmare house also has very narrow passageways, and instead of stairways, it has twisty-turny flues. And when you enter a flue, you never know what’s at the other end – you just know you have to go there. And of course it gets narrower as you go. ::shudder::

Interesting questions in the OP. I love the book but I’ve never thought about Jackson’s inspiration. I haven’t thought that Hill House was based on a particular house but that the house is a metaphor for the unbalanced mind.

From “Experience and Fiction”, an essay by Shirley Jackson included in Come Along With Me (she is talking about her inspirations for Haunting):

She goes on to say that she later discovered the building was a burnt out shell, only visible from one particular angle from the train, and that

Later on she mentions the house her great-grandfather built, and how it reminded her of the burnt out building in New York, with “the same air of disease and decay”.

The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite books, although I have to plan my reading of it very carefully; I won’t read it unless I know my husband is going to be home for the next few nights. The original movie with Riff was pretty good, too, but I didn’t like the way they made the doctor’s wife into a victim of the house. Much better in the book, where the house apparently had so much comtempt for her and her ideas about Psychic Research that it completely ignored her.

Anyway, I highly recommend Come Along With Me, if for no other reason than that besides including “The Lottery”, it includes an essay she wrote about the sensation “The Lottery” caused when it was first published in The New Yorker in 1948. Quite funny stuff.

Stephen King quotes The Haunting of Hill House to good effect in the epigraph to 'Salem’s Lot. The Marsden House is its spiritual kin.

And if you want to read about another disorienting, bizarrely-designed house (albeit in a more humorous vein), check out Robert Heinlein’s 1941 short story “And He Built a Crooked House.”

Ever since I saw the second movie, I’ve pictured Hill House as Harlaxton Manor, mainly because I first watched the movie in that house. And yes, it is creepy. Cherubs everywhere. shudder

I dunno, I thought that kind of sprawling building where you find yourself unable to backtrack your way out of it pretty standard Unpleasant Dream material. I’m sure somebody who actually is familiar with psychology can explain it better, but there’s definitely something deeply unsettling about trying to find your way around an unfamiliar place, and since in a dream your brain doesn’t have to keep rigorous track of geography, you end up hopelessly lost.

Indeed. I’ve never read Haunting (though I intend to soon) or seen a film adaptation of it. Nevertheless, a labyrinthine Victorian manor (or similar variations thereon) has been the setting of a number of unsettling dreams for me. A warren of corridors that never seem to lead where they should, narrow staircases descending into dark places, and unrelated rooms nestled within rooms–it’s very like the descriptions of the house in this thread.

I suspect Marlitharn is close to the mark. Jackson did some research and had an uncanny grasp of the sort of thing that makes a building seem disturbing to most people. I’m even more interested in reading it now; I want to see just how close the parallels are.

The line quoted ("…and whatever walked there, walked alone") gives me chills and shudders every time I read it!

Stephen King also spent quite a bit of time discussing Jackson and Hill House in his non-fiction Danse Macabre. It’s good stuff- hell, that whole book is great.

Interesting! I didn’t fully understand your post until I realized that Harlaxton Manor was the site used as Hill House for the Jan de Bont remake. I’m pretty sure I saw that version when it was in the theaters, but I remember almost nothing about the experience except thinking how amazingly effective CGI technology is at making things unscary.

1963: sound effects + rubber door = one of cinema’s all-time creepiest moments

1999: 80 million dollars + the guy who directed Twister = less chilling than It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

The original HOHH was excellent-I think the most chilling scene was when the group was in the library-and something started pounding on the door! I wasn’t sure if the sounds were all in the people’s heads-but somebody wanted to open the door-but the leader forbade it.
The other good one-the scene when the woman is on the spiral staircase in the library-and the staircase is pulling away from the wall!
The remake was laughable-it wouldn’t scare a 2-year old!

It may not have been as scary, but the production company was nice enough to pay for the renovation of the house’s original gates. That was the deal they made for filming the exteriors at Harlaxton. (The ones in the movie were props, obviously. There’s no way in this world they’d have let anyone crash into the original 150+ year old gates.)

If you want to make the remake scary, just go to Harlaxton, watch any of the scenes where the cherubs come to life, walk around the house by yourself, make a wrong turn and wander into this room at night . Welcome to the Room of the 92 Cherubs. Don’t slip on the floor as you run screaming down the hall.

(Just for fun: Roasted nuts. SFW, it’s another fireplace cherub.)