Title: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
Author: Ruth Franklin
Year Published: 2016
Source: I purchased this book.
Today would have been Shirley Jackson’s 100th birthday, so in honor of that, I will review Ruth Franklin’s biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. Jackson’s work has been getting critical re-appraisals in the past few years. Stephen King is a huge fan of her work.
Shirley Jackson was famous for writing about rather dark themes. She came to prominence after her short story “The Lottery” appeared in The New Yorker in 1948 and caused a literary sensation. You can read the story here. Jackson went on to publish such dark novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Despite her reputation as a writer with darker themes, Jackson did have a sense of humor and wrote light-hearted accounts of family books, including the very successful Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.
Franklin’s book also details her very complicated marriage to Stanley Hyman, an author, critic, and professor at Bennington College in Vermont. They first met as students at Syracuse University, and they went on to have four children together, but the marriage had troubles. They had a strong emotional attachment, but Hyman could be cruel by flaunting his infidelities. However, he also tremendously respected Jackson’s writing genius.
Later in life she struggled with agoraphobia and a dependency on prescription pills, in addition to being morbidly obese and a heavy smoker, all of which may have led to her premature death of heart failure at age 48.
The only issue I have a problem with is the lack of detail about the pill addiction, although the agoraphobia is given some detail. You do feel that you get to know her and why she wrote the books that she did.
It does help to be very familiar with her books when you read this biography, because each major work is discussed in detail. For the most part it is an excellent biography.
For more about Shirley Jackson: