Thursday, March 6, 2014
Obit of Shirley Jackson
Here is something I found by accident: August 10, 1965 OBITUARY Shirley Jackson, Author of Horror Classic, Dies Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES NORTH BENNINGTON, Vt., Aug. 9--Shirley Jackson, the short-story writer and novelist, died at her home here yesterday afternoon after an apparent heart attack. She was 45 years old. Miss Jackson was widely known as the author of "The Lottery," a short story published in 1948 that became a classic horror tale. In addition to stories dealing in abnormal psychology and witchcraft, she wrote novels of family life. Her most recent book, "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," published in 1962 by Viking Press, is being adapted for the Broadway stage. Miss Jackson was the wife of Stanley Edgar Hyman, the literary critic, who is on the faculty of Bennington College. She is also survived by four children, Laurence, of New York, Joanne, Sarah and Barry, of North Bennington; and two grandchildren. In accordance with a request Miss Jackson made some time ago, no funeral or memorial service will be held. Domesticity and the Macabre Shirley Jackson wrote in two styles. She could describe the delights and turmoils of ordinary domestic life with detached hilarity; and she could, with cryptic symbolism, write a tenebrous horror story in the Gothic mold in which abnormal behavior seemed perilously ordinary. In either genre, she wrote with remarkable tautness and economy of style, and her choice of words and phrases was unerring in building a story's mood. Of all Miss Jackson's eerie and gruesome fantasies, "The Lottery," published in The New Yorker magazine, was the best known and most baffling to readers. The dark and sinister story, opening on a quiet note, describes with mounting suspense, an annual village lottery to select a ritual victim to be put to death by stoning. The excitement is all in the selection of the woman's name from slips of paper in a black box. The stoning itself is dispassionately cold-blooded. The magazine received hundreds of letters, virtually all of them demanding to know what the tale meant. Housework Came First Was the stoning a parable of institutionalized fury? Was it an exposition of the cruelty of conformity? Was it a statement of the fundamental baseness of man? Or was it just a good chiller? No one could say for certain. But other stories and novels of a similar kind gave the impression that Miss Jackson was at bottom a moralist who was saying that cruel and lustful conduct is not far below the surface in those who count themselves normal and respectable, and that society can act with inquisitorial torture against individuals it finds odd. The harmless eccentric, Miss Jackson appeared to say, could be damned and killed with the ferocity usually reserved for overt social enemies. Because Miss Jackson wrote so frequently about ghosts and witches and magic, it was said that she used a broomstick for a pen. But the fact was that she used a typewriter--and then only after she had completed her household chores. Although many writers profess a distaste for their craft, Miss Jackson was unusual in that she liked to write. "I can't persuade myself," she once said, "that writing is honest work. It's great fun and I love it. For one thing, it's the only way I can get to sit down." And there is pleasure, she went on, "in seeing a story grow." "It's so deeply satisfying--like having a winning streak at poker." Miss Jackson believed in magic--both white and black--but looked deceptively tranquil and maternal. If one were looking for the witch in her, there was, of course, the broomstick that she wielded about the house and an assortment of black cats that sometimes numbered six. "Fifty per cent of my life," she said, "is spent washing and dressing the children, cooking, washing dishes and clothes, and mending." For all the disorganization and anticness with which Miss Jackson liked to invest her household and herself, she was in true life a neat and cozy woman whose blue eyes looked at the world through light horn-rimmed spectacles. She was 5 feet 6 inches tall and inclined to pudginess. But the most notable thing about her was a voice full of laughter. This sense of merriment came through in two books that dealt with her family life in North Bennington, where she had lived in an old and noisy house with her husband and four rambunctious children. These books were "Life Among the Savages" (1953) and "Raising Demons" (1957). Deftly and artfully, Miss Jackson told of the perpetual pandemonium and the constant crises that accompany growing up. The mother, it seemed, was always the heroine. Orville Prescott, The New York Times critic, said that he had read "Life Among the Savages" "until I laughed so much the tears came to my eyes and I had to stop." Miss Jackson's sketches of domesticity were officially classified as nonfiction, but it is evident from a reading that their author could not resist embellishing a good story. The fiction, on the other hand, was an unburnished exercise in the sinister, which stemmed from her study of social anthropology and magic and her conviction that a witches' brew could be a powerful libation. In that connection, Brendan Gill, the critic, who was a friend of Miss Jackson, said yesterday that she had considered herself responsible for an accident to an enemy by having fashioned a wax figure of him that had a broken leg. Miss Jackson's Gothic romances--"Hangsaman" (1951), "The Bird's Nest" (1954), "The Sundial" (1958), "The Haunting of Hill House" (1959) and "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" (1962)--could be read as splendidly executed chill stories or as macabre commentary on human sanity. From either approach, Eliot Fremont-Smith, a daily book critic for The Times, said yesterday, Miss Jackson "was an important literary influence." "She was a master of complexity of mood, an ironic explorer of the dark, conflicting inner tyrannies of the mind and soul," he declared adding that "she left the flourishes--or rather, directed them--to the reader's imagination. Set the Tone Early Miss Jackson was adept at setting a mood, as in this opening paragraph from "We have Always Lived in the Castle:" "My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am 18 years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead." In other novels, Miss Jackson wrote about a girl afflicted with a severe case of multiple personality; about the nature of fright and the haunting of a house; about a girl's lunatic fantasy; and about the end of the natural world. In that novel ("The Sundial") there is a hint of Miss Jackson's own view of humanity when one of the characters remarks: "You all want the whole world to be changed so you will be different. But I don't suppose people get changed any by just a new world. And anyway that world isn't any more real than this one." Wrote of Early Life Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco Dec. 14, 1919, the daughter of Leslie Hardie and Geraldine (Bugbee) Jackson. She passed her childhood on the coast and made it the subject of her first book, "The Road Through the Wall" (1948). She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Syracuse University in 1940, was married to Mr. Hyman the same year and moved to Vermont. Miss Jackson made her first appearance in The New Yorker in 1943 with a casual sketch, "After You, My Dear Alphonse," and for the next 10 years was a regular contributor of short stories. According to her friends at the magazine, Miss Jackson's stories gestated for some time in her mind and subconscious before she put them down almost flawlessly in a first draft. Aside from The New Yorker, Miss Jackson's stories appeared chiefly in McCalls, Redbook, The Saturday Evening Post, Harper's Bazaar and The Ladies' Home Journal.