The Haunting of Hill House

by

Shirley Jackson

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Hill House Symbol Analysis

Hill House Symbol Icon

The central symbol throughout the novel is the titular manor, Hill House—a vast, sprawling, and logic-defying mansion whose very design is isolating, alienating, and unsettling. From the novel’s opening, Hill House is established as a “not sane” and menacing edifice which is definitely haunted by a presence which “walk[s] alone” throughout its halls. As the characters meant to spend part of a summer at the manor in service of Doctor Montague’s experiment with the supernatural arrive there, they sense a deep, dark evil radiating from the house. No one feels this malevolence more keenly than the novel’s protagonist, Eleanor Vance—a lonely, aloof woman whose psychological state deteriorates as the house seemingly seeks to possess her. One of the novel’s central themes is the fine line between supernatural and psychological phenomena, and the house becomes a potent symbol of the unknowable gray area between the two. Ultimately, Hill House symbolizes the mysteries of the human mind, whether healthy or ”not sane,” as well as the terror the inherent strangeness of the mind can inspire. 

Just like the mind, Hill House is intricate, complex, and seemingly unknowable. As Montague, Eleanor, Theodora, and Luke endeavor to explore every nook and cranny of the house, they find themselves trapped in concentric rooms, disoriented by strange angles, and made nervous by an irrational number of doors in and out of the house—doors which open and shut of their own accord, seemingly trying to keep people in or out of certain areas. The mind, too—especially a mind such as Eleanor’s which has been ravaged by isolation and her family’s manipulation—resists being studied or tamed.

The novel keeps ambiguous whether Hill House itself is evil, or whether the people who have inhabited it over the years have imbued it with an evil energy. Similarly, struggles to understand the human condition and its uncountable wonders, aberrations, and cruelties alike often come up short when it comes to the debate over nature versus nurture.

Hill House itself is, then, Jackson’s way of admitting to the idea that haunted houses—like the human mind—should perhaps be simply appreciated and left undisturbed. The desire to know too much, to probe too deep, or to determine the most basic nature of truth, fiction, fear, and desire will always end, she suggests, in calamity.

Hill House Quotes in The Haunting of Hill House

The The Haunting of Hill House quotes below all refer to the symbol of Hill House. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Haunting of Hill House published in 1959.
Chapter 1 Quotes

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

During the whole underside of her life, ever since her first memory, Eleanor had been waiting for something like Hill House. Caring for her mother, lifting a cross old lady from her chair to her bed, setting out endless little trays of soup and oatmeal, steeling herself to the filthy laundry, Eleanor had held fast to the belief that someday something would happen.

Related Characters: Eleanor Vance
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

When they were silent for a moment the quiet weight of the house pressed down from all around them. Eleanor, wondering if she were really here at all, and not dreaming of Hill House from some safe spot impossibly remote, looked slowly and carefully around the room, telling herself that this was real, these things existed, from the tiles around the fireplace to the marble cupid; these people were going to be her friends.

Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 42-43
Explanation and Analysis:

The doctor sighed again. “Suppose,” he said slowly, “you heard the story of Hill House and decided not to stay. How would you leave, tonight?” He looked around at them again, quickly. “The gates are locked. Hill House has a reputation for insistent hospitality; it seemingly dislikes letting its guests get away. The last person who tried to leave Hill House in darkness—it was eighteen years ago, I grant you—was killed at the turn in the driveway, where his horse bolted and crushed him against the big tree. Suppose I tell you about Hill House, and one of you wants to leave? Tomorrow, at least, we could see that you got safely to the village.”

Related Characters: Doctor John Montague (speaker), Eleanor Vance, Theodora, Luke Sanderson
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

“Certainly there are spots which inevitably attach to themselves an atmosphere of holiness and goodness; it might not then be too fanciful to say that some houses are born bad. Hill House, whatever the cause, has been unfit for human habitation for upwards of twenty years. What it was like before then, whether its personality was molded by the people who lived here, or the things they did, or whether it was evil from its start are all questions I cannot answer.”

Related Characters: Doctor John Montague (speaker), Eleanor Vance, Theodora, Luke Sanderson
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 50-51
Explanation and Analysis:

“It was accepted locally that she had chosen suicide because her guilty conscience drove her to it. I am more inclined to believe that she was one of those tenacious, unclever young women who can hold on desperately to what they believe is their own but cannot withstand, mentally, a constant nagging persecution; she had certainly no weapons to fight back against the younger sister’s campaign of hatred, her own friends in the village had been turned against her, and she seems to have been maddened by the conviction that locks and bolts could not keep out the enemy who stole into her house at night—”

“She should have gone away,” Eleanor said. “Left the house and run as far as she could go.”

“In effect, she did.”

Related Characters: Eleanor Vance (speaker), Doctor John Montague (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

“I think we are all incredibly silly to stay. I think that an atmosphere like this one can find out the flaws and faults and weaknesses in all of us, and break us apart in a matter of days. We have only one defense, and that is running away. At least it can’t follow us, can it? When we feel ourselves endangered we can leave, just as we came. And,” he added dryly, “just as fast as we can go. […] Promise me absolutely that you will leave, as fast as you can, if you begin to feel the house catching at you.”

“I promise,” Eleanor said, smiling.

Related Characters: Eleanor Vance (speaker), Doctor John Montague (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

“We must take precautions,” he said.

“Against what? How?”

“When Luke and I are called outside, and you two are kept imprisoned inside, doesn’t it begin to seem”—and his voice was very quiet—“doesn’t it begin to seem that the intention is, somehow, to separate us?”

Related Characters: Doctor John Montague (speaker), Theodora (speaker), Eleanor Vance, Luke Sanderson
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

Looking at herself in the mirror, with the bright morning sun light freshening even the blue room of Hill House, Eleanor thought, It is my second morning in Hill House, and I am unbelievably happy. Journeys end in lovers meeting; I have spent an all but sleepless night, I have told lies and made a fool of myself, and the very air tastes like wine. I have been frightened half out of my foolish wits, but I have somehow earned this joy; I have been waiting for it for so long.

Related Characters: Eleanor Vance (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

“I must say, John, I never expected to find you all so nervous," Mrs. Montague said. “I deplore fear in these matters.” She tapped her foot irritably. “You know perfectly well, John, that those who have passed beyond expect to see us happy and smiling; they want to know that we are thinking of them lovingly. The spirits dwelling in this house may be actually suffering because they are aware that you are afraid of them.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Montague (speaker), Doctor John Montague
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

“Eleanor Nellie Nell Nell. They sometimes do that,” Mrs. Montague broke off to explain. “They repeat a word over and over to make sure it comes across all right.”

Arthur cleared his throat. “What do you want?” he read.

[…]

“Want to be home.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Waiting.”

“Waiting for what?”

“Home.” Arthur stopped, and nodded profoundly. “There it is again,” he said. “Like a word, and use it over and over, just for the sound of it.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Montague (speaker), Arthur Parker (speaker), Eleanor Vance
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

Somewhere there was a great, shaking crash… […] Eleanor heard the laughter over all, coming thin and lunatic, rising in its little crazy tune, and thought, No; it is over for me. It is too much, she thought, I will relinquish my possession of this self of mine, abdicate, give over willingly what I never wanted at all; whatever it wants of me it can have.

“I’ll come,” she said aloud, and was speaking up to Theodora, who leaned over her. The room was perfectly quiet, and between the still curtains at the window she could see the sunlight.

Related Characters: Eleanor Vance (speaker), Theodora
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

“And your night?” the doctor asked timidly. “Did you spend a—ah—profitable night?”

“If by profitable you meant comfortable, John, I wish you would say so. No, in answer to your most civil inquiry, I did not spend a comfortable night. I did not sleep a wink. That room is unendurable.”

“Noisy old house, isn’t it?” Arthur said. “Branch kept tapping against my window all night; nearly drove me crazy, tapping and tapping.”

Related Characters: Doctor John Montague (speaker), Mrs. Montague (speaker), Arthur Parker (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 152-153
Explanation and Analysis:

She heard the little melody fade, and felt the slight movement of air as the footsteps came close to her, and something almost brushed her face; perhaps there was a tiny sigh against her cheek, and she turned in surprise. Luke and the doctor bent over the chessboard, Arthur leaned confidingly close to Theodora, and Mrs. Montague talked.

None of them heard it, she thought with joy; nobody heard it but me.

Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Dancing, the carpet soft under her feet, she came to the door behind which Theodora slept; faithless Theo, she thought, cruel, laughing Theo, wake up, wake up, wake up, and pounded and slapped the door, laughing, and shook the doorknob and then ran swiftly down the hall to Luke’s door and pounded; wake up, she thought, wake up and be faithless. None of them will open their doors, she thought; they will sit inside, with the blankets pressed around them, shivering and wondering what is going to happen to them next; wake up, she thought, pounding on the doctor’s door; I dare you to open your door and come out to see me dancing in the hall of Hill House.

Related Characters: Eleanor Vance (speaker), Doctor John Montague, Theodora, Luke Sanderson
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

No stone lions for me, she thought, no oleanders; I have broken the spell of Hill House and somehow come inside. I am home, she thought, and stopped in wonder at the thought. I am home, I am home, she thought; now to climb.

Related Characters: Eleanor Vance (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

“I haven’t any apartment,” she said to Theodora. “I made it up. I sleep on a cot at my sister’s, in the baby’s room. I haven’t any home, no place at all.” […] She laughed, hearing her own words, so inadequate and so unutterably sad. […] “So you see there’s no place you can send me.”

I could, of course, go on and on, she wanted to tell them, seeing always their frightened, staring faces. I could go on and on, leaving my clothes for Theodora; I could go wandering and homeless, errant, and I would always come back here. It would be simpler to let me stay, more sensible, she wanted to tell them, happier.

Related Characters: Eleanor Vance (speaker), Theodora, Carrie
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

“Go away, Eleanor, you can’t stay here; but I can,” she sang, “but I can; they don’t make the rules around here. They can’t turn me out […]; I won’t go, and Hill House belongs to me.”

With what she perceived as quick cleverness she pressed her foot down hard on the accelerator… [...] I am really doing it, she thought, turning the wheel to send the car directly at the great tree at the curve of the driveway, I am really doing it, I am doing this all by myself, now, at last; this is me, I am really really really doing it by myself.

In the unending, crashing second before the car hurled into the tree she thought clearly, Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why don’t they stop me?

Related Characters: Eleanor Vance (speaker), Doctor John Montague, Theodora, Luke Sanderson
Related Symbols: Hill House
Page Number: 181-182
Explanation and Analysis:
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Hill House Symbol Timeline in The Haunting of Hill House

The timeline below shows where the symbol Hill House appears in The Haunting of Hill House. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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The novel opens with a description of the titular manor Hill House , a “not sane” place which contains an unnamed presence that “walk[s] alone.” The narrator... (full context)
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...manifestations,” yet fears besmirching his name and shattering his “air of respectability.” He has rented Hill House for three months, hoping to study the haunted place and finally legitimize the study of... (full context)
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...by angry neighbors, the story became local lore and evidence of a poltergeist in the house—for this reason, Eleanor has wound up on Doctor Montague’s list. (full context)
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...happen to her. She accepts the invitation and begins looking forward to the summer at Hill House , despite her sister and brother-in-law’s suggestions that Montague is a scammer or predator who... (full context)
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...He is not a psychic subject, however—he is the man who stands to inherit the house once his aunt, its current owner, passes. Luke has been forced by the family lawyer... (full context)
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...she can take the car she helped pay for, and which they all share, to Hill House for the summer. Eleanor’s sister worries that they’ll need it on their own summer vacation... (full context)
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...city limits, she pulls out a letter from Doctor Montague which contains detailed directions to Hill House. The directions specify that anyone travelling to Hill House should not stop in the village... (full context)
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...existence throughout the countryside, but is ultimately forced to admit that her curiosity about the house and Doctor Montague is driving her forward. As Eleanor passes a large and beautiful house... (full context)
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Eleanor gets back in her car and starts on the rocky, unpaved road up to Hill House. She worries that the rutted road will damage the car—and, for the first time all... (full context)
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The tall, heavy gate to the house is locked, chained, and barred. Eleanor presses the horn of her car, and soon a... (full context)
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...Dudley, and tells Eleanor that no one but he and his wife has stayed around Hill House —but even the two of them won’t stay on the property after dark. (full context)
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...House along the winding, twisting road, occasionally catching a glimpse through the trees of the house’s tall towers and spires. As she finally comes into full view of the house, she... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Hill House is a “place of despair,” a house which seems almost “awake” to Eleanor. She feels the house is “without kindness” and was... (full context)
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...appearance and clean apron. She realizes the murky energy she’s feeling is a product of Hill House itself. (full context)
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...her room, willing herself not to cry—she feels abject horror as she looks around the house’s main hall, which is “overfull of dark wood.” Mrs. Dudley wordlessly begins climbing the stairs,... (full context)
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As Eleanor sets her suitcase down, Mrs. Dudley robotically explains the schedule at Hill House. Mrs. Dudley states that she sets dinner out at six o’clock sharp and leaves shortly... (full context)
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Mrs. Dudley leaves the room. Even though she doesn’t want to stay in the “awful” house and is off-put by the blue room’s “chillingly wrong” atmosphere and dimensions, Eleanor tries to... (full context)
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...step out onto the veranda and take in the expansive grounds of Hill House. The house is aptly named—behind the manse there are many green, rolling hills. Theodora predicts that she... (full context)
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...she must have just seen a rabbit. Eleanor suggests they hurry back up to the house in case Doctor Montague and the others have arrived. As they walk back, Eleanor pauses,... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...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... (full context)
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...Hill House, and the room grows quiet—all four of them feel the “weight of the house press[ing] down” on them. (full context)
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...Hill House—the others ask why they are here, if not to find out about the house’s secrets. (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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After Hugh Crain died, the house was left to the two sisters, who were by then young ladies. The older sister,... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...he suggests that from now on, none of them should wander the halls alone. The house, he feels, is watching them all. (full context)
Chapter 4
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As the group sets out to explore the house, they are amazed by how dark and dreary the windowless, concentric rooms which make up... (full context)
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As the group continues exploring the house, Theodora points out the odd architecture—she and Eleanor should be able to see the tower... (full context)
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...be explained—though he believes the cold barrier at the door marks “the heart of the house.” The nursery itself is warm, marked by an “indefinable air of neglect” that upsets Eleanor.... (full context)
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...soon.” The doctor points out the ridiculousness of their collective choice to stay in the house, and urges Eleanor to promise him that she’ll leave immediately if she feels the house... (full context)
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...she’s “Coming, mother” as she reaches for the lights. She remembers that she is at Hill House , and realizes Theodora is calling her. She walks through the bathroom to Theodora’s room,... (full context)
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...only came back inside when they heard Theodora and Eleanor shout. The doctor wonders if Hill House ’s “intention” is to separate the four of them from one another. (full context)
Chapter 5
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...remarks on how beautiful Eleanor—whom she calls “Nell”—looks, and states that the “curious life” at Hill House agrees with her. Eleanor smiles, and notices that the life agrees with the radiant-looking Theodora,... (full context)
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...his handkerchief. Back in the parlor, Eleanor, paralyzed with fear, cries to Montague that the house knows her name. She begs Theodora to say she wrote it as a joke to... (full context)
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Eleanor wonders why the house has chosen to taunt her. Theodora suggests that Eleanor wrote the letters herself, and the... (full context)
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...of what has befallen them so far. The next morning, the group’s third morning in Hill House , Montague and Luke try to measure the cold spot while Eleanor and Theodora take... (full context)
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...wonders what is happening, and why her name has again appeared on a wall of Hill House. The doctor returns from Eleanor’s room and tells Eleanor that Theodora will have to stay... (full context)
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...her hand away. Eleanor remarks how violated she feels at the thought of whatever haunts Hill House using her name against her. She feels she’s splitting in half, she says, between her... (full context)
Chapter 6
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The next day, Eleanor, exhausted and pale, sits beside Luke outside on the steps of Hill House ’s smaller, adjoining summer home. They are having a deep discussion about how impossible it... (full context)
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...finishing the book, Theodora curses Crain for writing a dirty book and building a dirty house. (full context)
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...Eleanor about whether she’ll invite Luke over to her apartment after they’re all done at Hill House. She mentions Eleanor’s “cup of stars” and “stone lions,” seeming to make reference to lies... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...alone into the hills, wanting to be alone and away from the darkness of the house. She lies down in the grass, but is unable to be comforted by nature. She... (full context)
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...Mrs. Montague speculates that a monk and a nun are “walled up” somewhere in the house, and says she wants to dig up the cellar—Doctor Montague reminds her that they are... (full context)
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...horror. Eleanor is miserable to have been “singled out again” by the presence haunting the house. Eleanor wishes she could have some peace, quiet, and rest. (full context)
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...making jokes about the hostility of their summer lodgings. Theodora even makes fun of the house for having “exhausted [its] repertoire,” and repeating the “pounding act” from several nights ago. Eleanor... (full context)
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...over and over, that the presence “can’t get in,” but Eleanor, freezing, feels that the house is “breaking” her apart. As the pounding quiets, she predicts that the noise is about... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...stairs. What she doesn’t say is that she can now hear “everything, all over the house.” Soon enough, Mrs. Montague and Arthur soon come through the dining room doors, Mrs. Montague... (full context)
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...diaries when Eleanor confesses that she’s not sure of what to do once she leaves Hill House. She says that she wants to go home with Theodora, and live with her—Eleanor says... (full context)
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...them wonder if they’ll appear as characters in the book Doctor Montague will write about Hill House. Eleanor listens as the two of them decide to go into the hills looking for... (full context)
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...she looks in Eleanor’s clothes. Eleanor sits quietly alone, listening to “the sounds of the house.” She can hear everything everywhere—every creak, every bird alighting on the roof. The only room... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...to disturb anyone, even as it occurs to her that if ever there was a house not to worry about making noise in at night, it’s Hill House. She feels compelled... (full context)
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...library, where the air is warmer still. She feels she has broken the spell of Hill House , and is at last home. She begins climbing the little iron stairway which leads... (full context)
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...away. Eleanor insists she can’t leave, but Theodora urges Eleanor to “get away” from the house. Eleanor insists again that she cannot leave. Theodora remind Eleanor that she has her own... (full context)
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...Eleanor home to the city, but Doctor Montague says that to “prolong the association” with Hill House would only damage Eleanor further. He asks if she feels comfortable finding her own way... (full context)
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Later, everyone sees Eleanor out of the house, and as she looks up at the tower above them all, she feels as if... (full context)
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...write to Eleanor, and whispers that perhaps one day, they can meet up at the house again and have a picnic by the brook. (full context)
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...want to go. The others are telling her to leave—but she knows they’re powerless against Hill House , which wants her to stay. Eleanor points her car at a large oak tree... (full context)
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...and her roommate. Luke goes to Paris to stay a while with his aunt, the house’s owner. Doctor Montague publishes an article analyzing the psychic phenomena of Hill House, but it... (full context)