The Haunting of Hill House


Shirley Jackson

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The Haunting of Hill House Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson was born in 1916 in San Francisco, California and raised in Burlingame, a middle-class Bay Area suburb. She had a difficult childhood marked by loneliness and a difficult relationship with her parents. After her family moved across the country to Rochester, New York, Jackson attended University of Rochester and Syracuse University. At Syracuse University, she became involved with the campus literary magazine and there met her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, who would go on to become a noted literary critic. Jackson and Hyman lived in New York and then Vermont, where Hyman taught at Bennington College; in the town of North Bennington, Jackson felt out-of-place and secluded, and struggled to gain respect and recognition from her husband as her own literary career flourished. Jackson was subject to her husband’s controlling behavior for years, during which she developed agoraphobia and a dependency on prescription drugs even as her dark (and darkly funny) literary novels The Bird’s Nest, The Sundial, The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle gained her renown in the literary world. Jackson died in 1965 at the age of 48, and in the years since her passing, her work has been given a second life through the publication of Let Me Tell You, a collection of unpublished stories and essays, as well as widely-celebrated screen and stage adaptations of The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
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Historical Context of The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House takes place in the mid-to-late 1950s, and the characters within it—though self-consciously isolated from the world around them—nonetheless wrestle with the social conventions of the time. Eleanor Vance, unmarried at thirty-two, is shy and reserved—even wearing red toenail polish is too garish a gesture for her, and she feels rebellious when she dons a pair of pants. Eleanor has spent most of her life caring for her ailing mother, and as she comes into her femininity like a teenage girl might, she’s both drawn to and frightened by the changing limitations on how women her age are expected to dress, speak, and behave. This issue is also exemplified through Theodora—a bold and bohemian woman who lives alone with a female roommate in an unnamed city, and who experiences a palpable attraction to Eleanor during their shared time at Hill House. The bond between the two women suggests a subtext of homosexuality that would still have been socially unacceptable at the time. For her part, Eleanor is drawn to Theodora for many reasons, which are hinted at but never fully explained—Theodora may be a representation of Eleanor’s desire to be free and unburdened by responsibility, by the expectations of others, and by the pressure to emulate a traditional social or romantic life.  

Other Books Related to The Haunting of Hill House

Victorian ghost stories and Gothic horror fascinated Jackson, and they have also been ripe fodder for many other novelists throughout the years. Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is yet another twentieth-century novel which pays homage to some of the most famous ghost stories of English literature—notably Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. More contemporary novelists, too, have been inspired to use a haunted house—as Jackson did in Hill House—as a metaphor for the psychological and emotional conflicts facing a character or a group of characters; Jac Jemc’s novel The Grip of It and Gillian Flynn’s short story “The Grownup” both feature this chilling premise.
Key Facts about The Haunting of Hill House
  • Full Title: The Haunting of Hill House
  • When Written: 1950s
  • Where Written: Bennington, VT
  • When Published: 1959
  • Literary Period: Contemporary/Postmodern
  • Genre: Fiction; horror; suspense
  • Setting: Northeast USA
  • Climax: Eleanor Vance, who has become possessed by Hill, decides to crash her car into an oak tree on the property and commit suicide rather than drive away after being forced to leave by Doctor Montague.
  • Antagonist: Hill House; Theodora
  • Point of View: Third-person

Extra Credit for The Haunting of Hill House

A Haunting Tale. The Haunting of Hill House has been widely adapted for screen, stage, and radio; its best-known adaptations are perhaps the 1999 film The Haunting and the 2018 Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House, which takes considerable liberties with Jackson’s source material.

Intense Research. After endeavoring to write the novel after reading about a real-life group of nineteenth-century researchers who ventured to a haunted house and reported on their experiences there, Jackson undertook a great deal of research, studying plans of large, possibly-haunted houses throughout the country, reading multiple volumes of ghost stories, and sketching out plans of her vision of Hill House and its expansive grounds.