As Eleanor and Theodora arrive back at Hill House, it is nearly dark. The women spot a man waiting on the verandah—upon seeing him, Eleanor finds herself thinking again of the refrain “Journeys end in lovers meeting.” As the man sees the women approaching, he remarks that if the two of them are the “ghostly inhabitants” haunting the house, then he will stay forever. Eleanor finds the flirtatious comment “silly.” The man introduces himself as Luke Sanderson, and Eleanor recognizes by his last name that he is a member of the family who owns the property. Luke tells the girls that Doctor Montague is inside, exploring the “haunted house.” Theodora looks around at how dark it’s become, and notes that as night approaches, the idea of the house being haunted isn’t so “funny” anymore. Doctor Montague emerges from the front doors, welcoming Theodora and Eleanor formally to Hill House.
The relationship between Eleanor and Luke is purposefully confusing and confounding. She has ingrained within herself the idea that “journeys end in lovers meeting” (a line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night), and so when she sees a man on the property for the first time, she’s filled with a kind of romantic hope. However, at the same time, she seems to look down on Luke and find him “silly” or annoying. Eleanor has told herself that her search for home, companionship, and purpose will end in a traditional way—the novel, however, will come to show that Eleanor could not be headed down a darker, stranger path towards a sense of “belonging.”
Doctor Montague, Eleanor, Theodora, and Luke retire to the dim, firelit study, where Luke fixes them all drinks. Doctor Montague makes a toast to their group’s “success at Hill House,” and Luke asks what exactly Montague defines as “success” in a place like this. Montague says he hopes their visit will be exciting, and that the book he’ll write about their experiences will “rock [his] colleagues back on their heels.” Eleanor remarks aloud that she can’t believe they’re all really at the haunted Hill House, and the room grows quiet—all four of them feel the “weight of the house press[ing] down” on them.
Luke suggests the four of them get acquainted with one another. All four begin self-consciously and jokingly telling farcical tales about their past—Luke describes himself as a “bullfighter” and Eleanor says she is an “artist’s model” who lives a “mad, abandoned life” as a transient. Theodora claims to be the daughter of a great, rich lord, and Doctor Montague declares himself a “pilgrim” who wanders the earth.
Luke’s use of humor, levity, and distraction to keep everyone’s spirits high will be shown to have significantly diminishing returns as the novel progresses. For now, the lightness is welcomed—later on, however, it will just serve to highlight how truly dire things are at Hill House.
Montague states that tomorrow, the four of them will get to exploring the house room by room—right now, though, he suggests they all go see about dinner. As they make their way to the dining room, Theodora becomes disoriented by the dark, twisting hall. Montague, who has studied maps of the house at length, offers to lead the other three through the “little odd rooms” which open up onto the dining room. As they walk, Doctor Montague describes the uncanny and strange layout of the house, which features rooms within rooms seemingly designed to disorient those who venture inside.
Hill House isn’t hostile just in terms of its energy—the very bones of the house are designed to confuse and isolate the people who inhabit it, and perhaps even drive them mad. These cruel aims mirror the confounding twists, turns, and uncertainties of the human mind itself.
In the dining room, the group finds the table set lavishly. Food in warming dishes has been set out on the sideboard. As the group begins discussing the odd Mrs. Dudley and the fine table she’s laid for them, Theodora suspects that Mrs. Dudley feels Hill House “belongs” to her, and is waiting for all of the Sanderson heirs to “die off in various horrible ways” so that she can get at a secret underground chamber full of treasures and jewels. Doctor Montague insists there are no secret chambers at Hill House—the others ask why they are here, if not to find out about the house’s secrets.
This passage seems to suggest that Hill House is not like other haunted houses, which promise some reward to its inhabitants or visitors for their troubles. Doctor Montague suggests that Hill House has nothing to offer—there are no jewels or prized possessions lying in wait, only more and more suffering to be found within.
Doctor Montague confesses that he knows little more about the house than any of the others—he promises to tell them his mission tomorrow, in daylight. Luke, Eleanor, and Theodora demand to know the story of Hill House, but Doctor Montague is reluctant to tell it. He says that if he were to tell them, he’d frighten them off—and Hill House itself “dislikes letting its guests get away.” The last person to try to leave Hill House in darkness, he says, nearly two decades ago, was killed at the turn in the driveway when his horse “bolted and crushed him against [a] big tree.” When this anecdote only makes the group hungrier for the truth, Doctor Montague acquiesces, and promises to tell them everything in the drawing room after dinner.
Doctor Montague knows only the basic history of the house—but even this, he suggests, is too frightening for people to hear in the dark of night. He is afraid of scaring off the subjects of his experiment, and ending his own work before it’s begun. Ultimately, though, Montague—a genuinely kind man—puts his participants first, and bends to their requests, showing he values them more than his research already, or at least wants to seem to.
After the meal, the group gathers in the little study again, and Doctor Montague sips a glass of brandy. He admits that he is nervous to tell them all he knows about Hill House and color their perception of it or influence their minds. Theodora, however, suggests it’s the perfect time “for a ghost story.” The doctor warns Theodora not to speak flippantly about their surroundings or hold any “preconceived notions of ghosts and apparitions.” Montague wants the group to be “ignorant and receptive” as they encounter whatever psychic phenomena reside in Hill House—and to take copious notes. Doctor Montague says, however, that the group does deserve to be prepared for what they’re going into.
This passages makes it clear that Doctor Montague is fearful of whatever resides in or controls Hill House to the point of reverence. He wants his companions to also be respectful of the entity all around them, and to understand its true power.
Doctor Montague begins describing this history of Hill House. He states that “the concept of certain houses as unclean or forbidden” is an ancient one—just as some sites in the world are sacred or holy, some are inherently bad and evil. For over twenty years, Hill House has been uninhabitable—and has possibly been “evil from its start.” Doctor Montague sees the house not quite as evil, but as sick or “deranged.” Doctor Montague heard about the house a year ago, from a previous tenant—after investigating the place, he learned that no one who had rented the house had stayed more than a few days. Montague admits that he himself had a hard time securing even a short lease—and was able to do so only under the provision that a member of the family, Luke, accompany him.
Though Jackson never reveals the full truth or specifics behind Hill House, she engages with tropes of myth and legend in this passage as she describes, through Doctor Montague, the mysterious root of Hill House’s affliction. Jackson is suggesting that all the worst things people fear about hauntings are real.
Montague says that he has summoned Eleanor and Theodora because of their psychic sensitivities—Theodora has telepathic abilities, and Eleanor has been “intimately involved in poltergeist phenomena.” Eleanor balks at the categorization—she has always believed the stones thrown at her childhood home were the work of angry, “jealous” neighbors.
Eleanor’s past is another one of the novel’s great unsolved mysteries. Whether the hail of rocks that fell upon her childhood home was the work of poltergeists, angry neighbors, or secret telekinetic abilities belonging to Eleanor herself is never revealed and is instead left ambiguous—and therefore all the more terrifying.
Theodora asks what could truly live in the house that frightens people so—Doctor Montague replies that he does not want to “put a name to what has no name.” Doctor Montague asks the other three if any of them wants to leave, but they all admit that though they’re frightened, they want to stay. Eleanor says none of them could leave even if they wanted to—but is surprised by the utterance, as she was unaware the words were coming out of her mouth.
Again, Doctor Montague’s reverence for whatever haunts Hill House is clear in this passage. He does not see the force as something to be tamed, understood, or exorcised—he sees the chance to merely observe it as a gift.
Doctor Montague pours himself another drink and tells the group more about Hill House. He explains that it was built over eighty years ago by a wealthy man named Hugh Crain as a home for his family. The house though, seemed to have been cursed from the outset—Crain’s young wife died before even setting eyes on the house, when the carriage bringing her up the road crashed in the driveway. The lady Crain was brought dead into the house. In the wake of his wife’s death, Crain became “sad and bitter,” and stubbornly insisted on raising his two daughters in Hill House, inhospitable though it was. Crain married twice more, but both wives died tragically. Crain traveled to Europe, where he remained abroad for most of the girls’ youth; they moved out of Hill House and went to stay with a cousin of their mothers’.
This anecdote about Hill House’s history further complicates the places origins, raising the question of whether the house and its grounds were always evil and corrupt, and thus killed the lady Crain, or whether her death somehow sullied or corrupted what was then a normal house, forever warping the property into a house of horrors rather than a loving home.
After Hugh Crain died, the house was left to the two sisters, who were by then young ladies. The older sister, a spinster, returned to Hill House to live alone, eventually taking a girl from the village of Hillsdale into the house “as a kind of companion.” Old Miss Crain, as she became known, quarreled constantly with her younger sister, who demanded to be given several family heirlooms kept in the house—jewels, furniture, and china. Eventually Old Miss Crain died in the house, and though her companion from the village insisted the house had been left to her, the younger Crain sister laid claim to the manor. The case went to court, where Old Miss Crain’s companion testified that the younger Crain sister had been spotted frequently inside the house at nights, making off with “her” heirlooms. This, Doctor Montague states, is potential evidence of the house’s powers.
The familial resentment which echoed through the generations of the Crain family is suggested to have furthered the destructive energy of Hill House. Hill House seems to reflect the fears of its inhabitants—perhaps as a way of driving them mad or pushing them to their limits.
Though the companion won the case, the other Crain sister harassed her constantly with letters and threats. The companion eventually left the house “in terror,” insisting all the while that Crain sent cronies to burgle the house each night. The companion eventually killed herself—with no friends in the village and the constant threat of the Crain family’s harassment, not to mention the invisible burglars who still tormented her mind, she went mad and hung herself, rumor has it, from a tower of Hill House. Her cousins are the Sandersons, who now own the house. Though the other Crain sister is now dead, too, she insisted all her life that she never once went to the house, nor did she ever send anyone to burgle Hill House. At the conclusion of Montague’s horrible tale, Luke remarks jovially that he thinks they’ll all be “very comfortable here.”
The story about Hill House, and the way it drove Old Miss Crain’s companion to psychosis and eventually to death, is terrifying and bleak, suggesting that Eleanor and her companions are in a dire situation indeed. Once again, Luke uses humor to lighten the mood, but the story leaves an indelible mark on the group, showing it just how powerful the place they’re staying truly is.
Eleanor begins growing sleepy. The others discuss what games they could play. Montague says there’s a chess set in another room, and goes out to get it. When he returns, he is visibly shaken—as he lays out the chess set, he suggests that from now on, none of them should wander the halls alone. The house, he feels, is watching them all.
When in a group, Montague and the others can sense the house’s weight and presence—but when isolated, it seems, they have more profound and terrifying experiences within it.
As the men play chess, Eleanor and Theodora sit by the fire and talk about their lives. Eleanor remembers feeling lonely as she cared for her mother, bored with nothing to do but read love stories. Eleanor reveals that she cared for her mother for eleven years—the woman just died three months ago, and Eleanor was not sorry when she went; her mother had not been a “happy” woman for a long time.
Eleanor’s dark backstory is bleak and lonely. The fact that she lost her mother just three months ago suggests that she is still grappling with the loss, even if she was on some level grateful to be done with caring for her mother.
Eleanor asks Theodora about her life, and Theodora tells Eleanor about the bohemian apartment she shares with a friend—the two of them have filled it with old furniture and gaudy decorations. Theodora asks Eleanor where she lives, and Eleanor replies that she has a little place of her own, too, and is working at furnishing it slowly.
Eleanor, envious of Theodora’s independent and freewheeling lifestyle, lies about her own circumstances (recall that she lives with her sister and brother-in-law, not on her own) in order to make herself seem more normal and worldly.
Everyone is sleepy, and they decide to head upstairs together. Montague announces his intent to read for an hour or so before bed, and offers to read aloud to anyone who isn’t ready to be alone in their rooms. As they all mount the stairs Eleanor realizes just how tired she is. The four of them all go off to their separate rooms. Eleanor’s room is freezing, and she locks her bedroom door, gets into bed, and pulls the quilt around her. She is very afraid, and believes the door to be moving. She comforts herself with thoughts of home, and reminds herself how brave she has been in coming such a long way.
Eleanor is terrified as she gets into bed on her first night at Hill House. As she waits for something horrible to happen, she tries to distract herself by thinking of what she’s gained through her journey to Hill House: a newfound sense of independence, and in many ways, a new self entirely. Eleanor’s journey into Hill House is symbolic of one’s journey into one’s own psyche: harrowing, but not without reward.