Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin (672 pages, forthcoming September, 2016 from W. H. Norton)

Shirley Jackson's Best Know Works are the novels The House on Haunted Hill, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and her famous short story, "The Lottery".

She was born in San Francisco in 1916 and died in North Bennington, Vermont in 1965

She was married to Stanley Edgar Hyman, a well know literary critic and cultural historian, from 1940 to 1965.  They had four children.

The first two decades of the 21th century have been great years for lovers of literary biographies.  With the internet making vast sources of information available much more can readily be learned about writers. Shirley Jsckson A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin is a very good addition to the genre.

Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life is a very well researched and beautifully developed life of an iconic American writer.  Most, including me before I read this book, think of Jackson mostly as the author of the classic short story, "The Lottery" and some well known and still in print ghost/horror style novels.  In fact as Franklin perfectly explains, she wrote a number of "family fun" type stories and novels centering on her life with her husband and four children.  Shirley for many years lived from her writings and had to acquise to the wants of publisher and editors.

         Shirley Jackson and her  Children. Jsckson and her husband had
         Over 25,000 books in their home library.

Franklin's book is far more than just an accounting of the facts of Jsckson's life.  She grew up during a very bad period in the United States, the Great Depression.  Her family lived in a very affluent community unimpacted, her grandfather was an architect and became wealthy through the great building booms in California.  One of the biggest influences on the life of Jsckson was her hyper-critical mother, Gertrude.  Gertrude rarely let up on her criticism of her daughter, when she first appeared on The New York Times Best Seller List, her mom finally had a kind word to say about her writing career.  Franklin goes into rich detail on the dynamics of the Jackson family.  It is easy to see the genesis of Jsckson's life long weight problems, her fondness for bourbon and her acceptance of a life time of infidelity from her spouse Stanley Hyman even though for the last years of their marriage she out earned him by at least ten to one.  

The family relocated to Vermont just as Shirley began college.  Unlike most women of her time, as strongly pushed by the culture, she was not just in college to find a husband but to really learn.  She had a brough range of interests and starting writing in college.  Through her writing she met Stanley Hyman who was to become by far the biggest influence in her life.  I really admired Franklin for devoting an entire chapter to the powerful and brilliant Hyman.  I thought it was really a brilliant idea to introduce us to Hymsn right after Jsckson met him.  Jsckson and Hyman both attended The University of Syracuse.  Hyman was the editor of the school literary journal and they met through her submissions to the journal.  Hyman at once saw her as potentially a great writer, they quickly fell in love.

     Stanley Edgar Hyman, his most famous book was The Armed Vision.
     He wrote and taught about critical methods.  He was also a long time
      New Yorker contributor and for many years a professor at the very 
     Progressive elite all women college in Vermont, Bennington.

Franklin's book is very much the history of a marriage.  I felt sad for Jsckson when I read of her husband's many affairs, several with his female students.  We learn a lot about Benington College. 

Franklin takes us along as Jsckson struggled to get published.  Just like now the greatest place to publish a short story was in The New Yorker.  We learn about Jsckson's relationship with agents, differing publishers and magszines.  We see her as a mother and faculty wife.  Through it all Hyman encouraged her to write.  Through some periods her income was sparse but in time she began to do very well especially once she sold the rights to The House on the Haunted Hill to Hollywood.

Her most famous work is her story "The Lottery", published June 24, 1948 in The New Yorker.  Everybody wanted to know what the story meant.  

Her children were occasionally difficult but whose are not?  Hyman and Jsckson both grew heavy.  Jsckson loved to cook and have parties serving all the best deli fare from New York City.  The dynamics of the marriage are very well depicted by Franklin.  She spends a lot of time talking about the plots of different works of fiction, relating them to events in Jsckson's life and to her vast reading. We learn a lot about the money aspects of her writing career.  

Jackson was very interested in witchcraft.  She was very widely read. She liked bourbon, cats, books, food.  She loved her husband and seemed a decent mother.  

Franklin tells us lots of fascinating things about the writer and her mileau.  It is very much a period social history of an America.  Once on a passport application Jackson entered her occupation as "writer", the customs official looked puzzled then said we should just change it to "housewife". 

Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin is a first rate literary biography, as a bonus we get the life and career of s famous literary critic, Stsnley Hyman, thrown in!  Shirley's story is a very American one and this book may resonate most with Americans. 

I received an advance review copy of this book. 

 It is a very good literary biography.  Franklin is deeply immersed in the writings of Jackson and deeply in empathy with her.

I look forward to seeing how this book is received upon publication in September.

Mel u

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