World News – GB – Shirley Jackson’s life was just as grim as her stories


Posted: 01:16 GMT, October 30, 2020 | Update: 01:45 GMT, October 30, 2020

Shirley Jackson loved to share how she came up with the idea for the story that shocked America while she was doing family shopping one morning

She worked out the plot on the way home, placed her baby girl in her playpen, put the groceries away and sat down to bang her on her typewriter It was finished at noon, when her eldest daughter finished kindergarten

When the short story, The Lottery, appeared in the rarefied pages of The New Yorker magazine in June 1948, it caused consternation – thousands of readers wrote indignantly, hundreds canceling their subscriptions

And it wasn’t just Americans who were dismayed; the story was in fact banned in South Africa, where the apartheid government saw it as an insidious attack on tradition

Shirley, a biographical drama about her life and her bizarre relationship with her husband, is set to open in the UK, with Elisabeth Moss (star of Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale) in the title role

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For the lottery in question, which has been held annually since time immemorial in a seemingly bucolic New England village, did not decide which resident won a fruit cake or a starring role in the panto

It was a question of choosing which of them would be stoned to death – even by members of his own family – during a ritual sacrifice to ensure a good harvest and general prosperity

Housewife Tessie Hutchinson, who draws the piece of paper with the black stain, is driven to death and even her grandson is given a few stones to throw at her

The straightforward style Jackson wrote it in made some readers believe it was actually real – and they wrote to him asking him to know where they could go to see a stoning for themselves.

Shirley Jackson loved to share how she came up with the idea for the story that shocked America while she was shopping with her family one morning

« I’ve read queer cults these days, » wrote one reader from Los Angeles, « but this one bothers me »

Others were simply appalled at such a macabre turn in history and rightly suspected that Jackson was more broadly explaining the darker undercurrents of outwardly civilized American society.

Many have written to him for an explanation. Was this an allegory on the Holocaust, they wondered, or a general reflection on the evil within all of us?

Jackson mischievously pretended to be surprised by the uproar « The number of people who expected Mrs Hutchinson to win a Bendix washing machine in the end would amaze you, » she said. p>

But readers might have been less surprised if they had been a little more familiar with the writer, who was then barely known: a harassed housewife and mother of four who was also an avowed witch who cast curses on the editors and wrote – we will say later – « not with a pen but with a broomstick »

For now, Jackson, who died at the age of 48 of a heart attack in 1965, does not need spells to hone her posthumous fame

After being dismissed for decades as a talented but eccentric writer who squandered her potential writing horror stories – one reviewer dubbed her « Virginia Werewoolf » – she is Hollywood’s sweetheart

A chilling Netflix adaptation of her novel The Haunting Of Hill House, often cited as one of the best ghost stories ever written, has received critical acclaim and Now Shirley, a biographical drama about her life and her strange relationship with her husband, is about to open in the UK, with Elisabeth Moss (star of Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale) in the title role

The film – in which a young couple comes to live with Jackson and her manipulative and courageous husband in their Vermont home shortly after the lottery made her a national celebrity – is based on a novel about her life and is only partially correct in questions of fact

Moss’s portrayal of a sour-tongue, alcoholic bohemian with possible lesbian inclinations will undoubtedly earn her an Oscar nomination, but that’s only half the story of Jackson

A complicated woman with something of a split personality that biographers have speculated may have been rooted in unspecified sexual abuse in childhood, she has achieved success by not only writing disturbing stories about the supernatural but also light and humorous stories about her hectic domestic life for magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Home Companion

A recent biography succinctly described her as « writer, housewife and witch », but Jackson was keenly aware that her fellow Americans expected busy mothers to set their priorities

« It’s a lot of fun but it doesn’t tie shoes, » she once said while writing

She seemed almost cursed by the unhappiness in her private life Born in San Francisco in 1919 to wealthy and conservative parents, Jackson has always been very tense and eccentric, challenging her family first by pursuing a career in writing ( not considered a suitable path for a respectable woman) and, second, by marrying Jewish literary critic Stanley Hyman, whom she met in college

Her mother, Geraldine, made no secret of her disappointment that her overweight daughter wasn’t prettier and more feminine, twisting the knife as she told Jackson she was the product of a failed abortion

Unfortunately, Jackson’s husband didn’t treat her any better Hyman not only cheated on her relentlessly, but even expected her to listen to him while he told his business – not something likely to improve their already fragile state of mind

The couple married in 1940 and, after the birth of their first child, moved to a friendly village in North Bennington, Vermont, where Hyman joined the staff at a nearby university and she is resigned to second class citizen status as ‘faculty wife’

Hyman, an outrageous chauvinist even by the standards of the time, didn’t expect to lift a finger in their backpacking house, even after having four children to deal with He was yelling at Jackson to fill in the ink of his pen as he made literary copes that were not as well received as his handwriting

Jealous of Jackson’s success, he assured his friends that she wrote almost unconsciously, counting on him to explain

He had many affairs with his students, forcing Jackson to agree to an open marriage Maybe because his mother made him feel so insecure about his appearance, maybe she thought that was it. what she could expect

He firmly held the strings of the purse, giving it a portion of his winnings when he saw fit

Her jealousy for her lovers could erupt into fury on their famous drunken evenings, driving her further away from friends and neighbors who were already bewildered by her unsociability – she suffered from agoraphobia – and her obvious fascination with witchcraft

Visitors to his home saw amulets and charms littered all over the place, as well as a vast library of books on magic, a subject that had obsessed him since he was 16 and began experimenting with dolls. voodoo and incantations

Guests who were offered a tarot reading found them strangely accurate and some people thought she was really clairvoyant

“She wasn’t just thinking, she ‘knew’ that there were supernatural forces like demons and ghosts,” one of her two sons said

Jackson kept half a dozen cats she said were familiar to her witch, jumping on her shoulder during meals and whispering poems in her ear

Most of her « spells » were benign and even domestic. A favorite trick, friends said, was to slam a cluttered kitchen drawer and say the name of a utensil she wanted When she opened the drawer again, the utensil was always on top

Every now and then she sought to use witchcraft for darker purposes, such as when she threatened to curse New York publisher Alfred Knopf – who had had a financial row with her husband over of a book contract – if he set foot in Vermont

The film – in which a young couple comes to live with Jackson and her manipulative and courageous husband in their Vermont home shortly after the lottery made her a national celebrity – is based on a novel about her life and is only partially correct in questions of fact

That winter he went skiing there and after Jackson stuck a pin in a voodoo doll she made of him he broke his leg

Biographers argued over the extent to which she actually practiced witchcraft, with one insisting that it was largely a marketing gimmick

However, in a biographical note she wrote for her editors, Jackson said she was tired of pretending to be a «  stylish little housewife,  » adding: «  I live in an old damp place with a ghost stomping in the attic room we never entered (think it’s walled up) and the first thing I did when we moved in was make black pencil charms on all the door sills and window sills to keep demons out, and it was successful « 

She continued, « On a full moon, I can be seen in the yard digging up mandrake trees, of which we have a small piece, with rhubarb and blackberries. I usually don’t like these herbal or bat wing recipes because you can never be sure how they will turn out. I rely almost entirely on the magic of pictures and numbers « 

Jackson was unpopular with his neighbors in North Bennington even before The Lottery was published (a local rumor had it that she came up with the idea after local kids threw stones at her as they passed, pushing a pram) , but resentment grew when they realized that she had clearly based the monstrous villagers of the story on them

No witch’s drink could save her from declining health because, in addition to the barbiturates (then considered safe medicine) that doctors had prescribed for her, she was taking amphetamines to control her weight and tranquilizers to counteract her their effects She smoked a lot and turned to drink to deal with her husband’s infidelity

When Stanley finally fell seriously in love with another woman, she couldn’t cope and – after six novels and 200 short stories – completely stopped writing One day, she took her usual nap after the lunch and never woke up

Shirley Jackson, who claimed to have « always loved using fear – to take it and make it work » – would no doubt be delighted to know that The Lottery remains a fixed text in many countriesS schools, continuing to chill Americans with their terrifying view of their capacity for barbarism

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Shirley Jackson, The Lottery

World News – UK – Shirley Jackson’s life was just as grim as her stories



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