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Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (edition 2016)

by Ruth Franklin (Author)

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1196101,247 (4.29)17
Member:JamesLibrary
Title:Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
Authors:Ruth Franklin (Author)
Info:Liveright (2016), Edition: 1, 624 pages
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Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

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Showing 5 of 5
Altho I was considering abandoning this book, I did go back and finish it tho I can't say I changed my mind about it's quality.

I found Franklin's writing was pedestrian and text-booky, but the worst part of it, for me, was that Franklin didn't seem all that well acquainted with Jackson's stories -- at least, no better acquainted than you could get by second- or third-hand information.

This resulted in a double irony: in one place she sneered at biographers who get details wrong, and in another she sneered at Stanley Hyman's (Jackson's husband) habit of reading everything written by someone he was going to write about, implying such intensive research was unnecessary.

However, if Franklin had bothered to read everything Jackson wrote, she wouldn't have gotten the plots of two short stories completely backwards (one of them a Mallie story, which really chaffed my chaps -- those are my favorites) or failed to know which character said "The heart of the house" in The Haunting of Hill House (it was Dr. Montague). That sort of sloppiness was hard to bear, since my main interest was in reading about Jackson's work.

However, I will give it to Franklin that a couple of times she made some interesting points. Particularly this one, about witchcraft and women's lives: "Witchcraft, in this context [protective, domestic], is again best understood as a metaphor for female power and men's fear of it. It is a last resort for women who feel that they are powerless, the only way in which they can assert control over their surroundings. Even imaginary control is preferable to no control at all."

That last sentence is the most significant and explains a great deal about why the most powerless are often the most susceptible to superstitions and occult beliefs.

I can't recommend this book, unless your main interest is in all the grimy little details of Jackson's life -- the writing is still tedious, but it does deliver on those. ( )
  BooksCatsEtc | Jun 5, 2017 |
I've loved Shirley Jackson since I read "The Lottery" in high school - and I particularly enjoyed her two memoirs about raising her four kids. This book is a very comprehensive biography making use of archival material that has not been available before. I think it's time I dusted off all of my Shirley Jackson books and read them again - it's been 40 years at least, and with the new insight I've gotten from this biography I will enjoy them even more this time around! ( )
  flourgirl49 | Feb 5, 2017 |
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” While that sounds like a perfect description of 2016, it is in fact the opening line of The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson’s 1959 National Book Award Finalist. For over half a century, Jackson not only delighted us, and terrified us, (mostly because she delighted in what she feared), but she also made us empathize with intelligent women trapped in domesticity. Through her autobiographical essays and fiction, Jackson tilted the perspective of suburban domestic life into the light and into the darkness. Ruth Franklin, with access to previously undiscovered correspondence, writes a compassionate look into the life and work of an American icon who could strike to the heart of loneliness. ( )
  Jan.Coco.Day | Dec 31, 2016 |
I love a good literary biography, and this one is fantastic. I haven't read a ton of Jackson's work -- "The Lottery," of course, and a handful of other short stories, and her memoirs about parenting. (She and I have the same attitude toward housekeeping with children about: "They're just going to mess it up again anyway.") (Frankly, Jackson and I have such similar personalities and attitudes that I became somewhat alarmed when she died at 49. I'm almost 45! I'd better get my figurative house in order!) But Ruth Franklin did a great job of providing context for her more important works, and she also did well in bringing Shirley Jackson to life and making her feel like a real person. Highly recommended, even if you've only read "The Lottery." (And if you haven't read "The Lottery," where on Earth did you go to high school, and what is wrong with you? Here it is: https://sites.middlebury.edu/individualandthesociety/files/2010/09/jackson_lottery.pdf. You'll thank me, I promise.) ( )
1 vote gayla.bassham | Nov 12, 2016 |
Review copy

Admittedly, I don't read a lot of biographies. Not my thing. Nothing against them, I just prefer to spend my time reading fiction. That being said, when I saw there was going to be a Shirley Jackson bio, I decided to get out of my comfort zone just a bit.

Shirley Jackson is perhaps most remembered for her short story, THE LOTTERY, and her novel, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, but there is so much more to her short life.

The bio covers her childhood, college years (she wasn't a very good student), early published works, novels, family life, her troubles with anxiety and a period of agoraphobia, and ends with her untimely death.

Shirley Jackson was the mother of four. Two boys and two girls. Laurence (Laurie), Joanne (Jannie), Sarah (Sally), & Barry. Each unique in their own way and often fodder for lighter, more humorous stories she wrote, in sharp contrast to her more serious pieces. She also had a sense of humor about the children's misdeeds. One day Laurence, twelve or thirteen years old, balked when she told him to take a bath. Shirley went into the kitchen, came back with an egg, and smashed it on his head. "Now you need a bath," she told him.

Her husband, Stanley Hyman, was a firm believer in polyamorous relationships, much to Jackson's dismay, but despite numerous thoughts of divorce throughout the years, the couple remained married until her death in 1965.

Of the many quotes from Jackson's work included in her biography, there was one which seemed just as relevant today, as it was when written 60+ years ago. From THE WITCHCRAFT OF SALEM VILLAGE.

"We are not more tolerant or more valiant than the people of Salem, and we are just as willing to do battle with an imaginary enemy...The people of Salem hanged and tortured their neighbors from a deep conviction that they were right to do so. Some of our own deepest convictions may be false. We might say that we have far more to be afraid of today than the people of Salem ever dreamed of, but that would not really be true. We have exactly the same thing to be afraid of--the demon in men's minds which prompts hatred and anger and fear, an irrational demon which shows a different face to every generation, but never gives up its fight to win over the world."

The biography is certainly complete, right own to the seemingly most minor of details. As much a treatise on the times and the publishing industry in general as it was on the life of Jackson. Plus, there are a number of wonderful pictures interspersed throughout the book.

Recommended for all readers who are the least bit curious about Shirley Jackson.

Published by Liveright, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life is available in hardcover, e-book, and audio formats.

From the author's bio. Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. She has written for many publications, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and Salmagundi. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. Her first book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press, 2011), was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. ( )
  FrankErrington | Oct 1, 2016 |
Showing 5 of 5
Franklin astutely explores Jackson's artistry, particularly in her deceptively subtle stories. She also sees a bigger, more original picture of Jackson as the author of “the secret history of American women of her era”—postwar, pre-feminist women who, like her, were faced with limited choices and trapped in bigoted, cliquish neighborhoods.... A consistently interesting biography that deftly captures the many selves and multiple struggles of a true American original.
added by Lemeritus | editKirkus Review (May 25, 2016)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0871403137, Hardcover)

This long-awaited biography establishes Shirley Jackson as a towering figure in American literature and revives the life and work of a neglected master.

Still known to millions only as the author of the “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson (1916–1965) remains curiously absent from the American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America better than anyone. Now, biographer Ruth Franklin reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the author behind such classics as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition of Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on “domestic horror” drawn from an era hostile to women. Based on a wealth of previously undiscovered correspondence and dozens of new interviews, Shirley Jackson, with its exploration of astonishing talent shaped by a damaged childhood and a troubled marriage to literary critic Stanley Hyman, becomes the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary giant. 60 illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 18 May 2016 22:44:49 -0400)

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