THE DEEP ONES: "The Daemon Lover" by Shirley Jackson
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"The Daemon Lover" by Shirley Jackson
Discussion begins on November 14, 2018.
First published in The Lottery, or, The Adventures of James Harris (1949)
SELECTED PRINT VERSIONS
American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now
Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow
The Lottery and Other Stories
The Black Magic Omnibus
Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories
Will be reading from my LOA omnibus for this one, Novels and Stories.
Via the Wayback Machine, a Tor.com article (since deleted?) on Jackson's story and its connections to the Scottish ballads of James Harris.
And here is a cache of the various ballads themselves, one of which is published as Epilogue to the story collection originally including "The Daemon Lover".
In the U.S., apparently the legend is commonly known as The House-Carpenter, carrying on the folk tradition in song.
Jackson may have been alluding to other stories of the same name, including Elizabeth Bowen's.
Finally, an abstract from a thesis (full PDF downloadable from the page) on the place of the story in the full James Harris "story cycle".
Sticking with American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now.
>5 KentonSem: Yes it is, isn't it!
Interesting quotation found at the beginning of The Lottery, or, The Adventures of James Harris which isn't included with the above story link:
She saith, That after their Meetings, they all make very low Obeysances to the Devil, who appears in black Cloaths, and a little Band. He bids them Welcome at their coming, and brings Wine or Beer, Cakes, Meat, or the like. He sits at the higher end…. They Eat, Drink, Dance and have Musick. At their parting they use to say, Merry meet, merry part.
Joseph Glanvil: Sadducismus Trimphatus.
My first impression upon reading "The Daemon Lover" was that it was quite affecting, and a good story, but it wasn't Weird.
Reading a bit on how the story fits in the collection, and the meaning of small references in the story itself, I began to wonder if there was a Weird thread running through, after all.
That epigraph actually identifies the story collection as a "story cycle", with "The Daemon Lover" as one of two stories helping to name the book itself. The other story, of course, is "The Lottery". I was quite surprised to find that the stories were "linked" in this fashion, never having heard that point in all the ink spilled in discussing "The Lottery". All but a small minority of stories in the book have some overt or covert reference to James Harris, the Daemon Lover himself.
The other important quotation, of course, is the Epilogue containing excerpts from the Scottish ballads from which Jackson takes the name of the story, "The Daemon Lover" as well as the character, James Harris.
According to notes in the LOA edition, Jackson deliberately compiled the stories with the theme in mind, revising slightly several of them so as to reference James Harris in various ways. She borrowed the idea of using Glanvil quotations from a novel she was working on but abandoned. That novel was provisionally entitled "Elizabeth" and became one of the stories in the collection. Jackson described it as the tale of a woman "figuratively" in league with the devil and her "figurative" demise.
Like other Jackson stories I've read, the element of the supernatural is clear and recurring but it's usually possible to account for events naturally, whether psychologically or literarily. The extent to which supernatural phenomena are involved at all is an open question.
I suppose the strongest position to take with respect to supernatural forces at work in "The Daemon Lover" is that James Harris is an incubus. The weakest, that he is a gigolo. It's always possible, of course, that he is both.
As we get to know our bride-to-be, it seems that she's neurotic and possibly even completely delusional. Is Jamie all in her mind? The reader might become pretty confident of that as things progress, but there's still that pesky story title that Jackson chose, always hovering. Add to that the book's introductory quotation to Part One (noted above). It throws a more than a bit of uncertainty into the matter, especially if you are at all familiar with the author. Even so, it's not until the final 4 paragraphs that we can be certain that something else IS dancing around the edges here with only the cruelest of intentions. I think this is pure genius on Jackson's part.
I suppose the strongest position to take with respect to "The Daemon Lover" is that James Harris is an incubus. The weakest, that he is a gigolo. It's always possible, of course, that he is both.
>9 KentonSem: Is Jamie all in her mind?
In another story (IIRC, the next in the collection: "Like Mother Used To Make"), Jamie meets and interacts with two other characters, establishing he is not wholly fictional --at least, not in that story. He appears to interact with one character there in a similar fashion as was hinted at in "The Daemon Lover".
In "The Daemon Lover" itself, other characters claim to have seen the good-looking young gentleman in the blue suit, and to some extent they cross-corroborate (e.g. he was carrying flowers), evidence it's not simply a case of different blue-suited men seen by various people.
Divorced from the context of the story's original publication, which I didn't know about, I didn't find anything overtly weird or supernatural here. Out of that context, what came across to me was the horror of modern urban isolation. The woman meets contempt and amusement and mockery for asking about what is probably a very common urban sight -- a tall man in a blue suit. Jamie may be at the center of her life, but he's just background detail to nearly everyone else except the Royters and shoe-shine guy.
There is also a strong air of loneliness and desperation about the protagonist. She immediately agrees to marry a man whose residence she has never actually visited. (Originally, I thought this story was going to be a tale of parasitism with Jamie preying economically on the woman.)
>3 elenchus: Being fond of Scottish ballads, I'll have to read this in the original anthology.
I also read this without having the background information about “James Harris”; and the story’s place as part of a lager structure in The Lottery. My experience of the story was pretty much identical with >12 RandyStafford:. For the most part it reads as a noirish nightmare of quickly escalating fear, suspicion ,and betrayal - but crucially, neither the protagonist nor the reader learns the truth of the matter. We are left with the situation unresolved and no explanation forthcoming.
I was tempted to use the word “nihilistic” to describe the attitude of the story, the world it presents. That’s probably the wrong word to use, however; especially if placing the story in its wider context means that world isn’t simply a coldly impersonal, Godless one, but rather one that contains malevolent supernatural entities.
But, given the contextless way I read the story, the supernatural angle was accordingly less obvious. I referenced noir just now, and indeed on reading, the general air of the story did remind me of writers given that label, and whose works were adapted into classics of film noir, people such as Cornel Woolrich and David Goodis (writers I find almost too bleak to read).
Even that way of reading it I left space for a supernatural reading of the ending. I thought maybe a ghostly, rather than a demon, lover was implied. What if the protagonist entered the locked room and it was as empty as the room across the hall? The text doesn’t state the door is locked; it says she doesn’t (doesn’t dare) go in?
On the protagonist’s state of mind, my feeing is that the reader’s expected to be understanding of her situation. Whilst registering her nerves and moments of self-doubt as we are introduced to her, I found them entirely understandable (after all, it’s her wedding day!)
We might harbour doubts about Jamie - is he too good to be true? Or could that be just the protagonist’s self-doubt? And, I don’t think this is my naivety so much as distance in time and culture from America, 1949, but would his leaving at 1:30 a.m. the night before mean that they had already slept together? it makes a difference to how one reads her slowly increasing anxiety and doubt in the early part of the story, I think. Unless, the very title of the story is enough to affirm that yes, they have slept together.
Indeed, knowing how to read the story in its cultural context could be the key to understanding whether the protagonist is understandably nervy, but “normal”, or is neurotic to the degree that she might have suffered delusions of having a lover. What I found myself wondering, was there a lack of marriageable men around because of the war, even if the story is imagined to be set as late as the year of publication? In any event, 34 would not have been considered young (the narrative references signs of ageing in her face, and she’s lied about her age). and if she wanted children, her biological clock would, back then, be supposed to have almost run down (does it run down? does it run out? does an alarm sound? I realise I don’t precisely know how this metaphor is supposed to work!)
One last nugget of information which may or may not be relevant, and if it is it probably applies more to The Lottery as a whole.
By chance I was listening to an old talk given by Ronald Hutton for BBC Radio Three, and he mentioned Joseph Glanvil.
Glanvil (1636-1680) was a figure of the early Enlightenment, a defender of the scientific method and the emerging scientific approaches of the “natural philosophers” of the Royal Society, even while urging that phenomena such as ghosts and witchcraft should be believed in (and witches should be put to death). He collected evidence for such phenomena, to such a degree that he has been called the founder of psychic research. For all that he promoted the scientific method, though, most of his evidence came to when second or third hand and he seems - according to Hutton - to have been quite credulous. However, he had his motive.s for wanting to believe. He was keen to believe in such evidence at least partly through a fear that without tangible proofs of the supernatural, the populace would turn atheist (Hutton also makes the point that in seeking proof of psychic powers Glanvil also sought the deaths of those who used them).
>13 housefulofpaper: in seeking proof of psychic powers Glanvil also sought the deaths of those who used them
I'd read broadly about Glanvil's empirico-rational approach to supernatural phenomena, but never noted that point. I'd bet Jackson was well aware of it, however.
I wanted it to be the rat. =( I don't know what a rat-fink looks like. Razor sharp writing, Ms. Jackson. It went from bad to worse and by the end I was squirming for her. Such an uncomfortable read.
I was similarly impressed by Jackson's short story collection, which is much more thematically linked than is usually noted. Just completed my review here. The full set of stories are well worth reading, but none is more outwardly Weird than "The Daemon Lover".
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