Three book cover images from works by Shirley Jackson


Date(s) - Tue. Jan. 12, 2021
7:00 pm GMT - 8:15 pm GMT

Bernice M. Murphy

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Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) remains best known for her supernatural horror novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959). After several decades of critical and commercial neglect, her work now has a higher public profile than ever. Her back catalogue has been re-published by Penguin, Ruth Franklin’s award-winning 2016 biography inspired numerous reviews and articles, and Jackson’s estate has released two well-received collections of her previously unpublished work since the late 1990s, with a volume of her selected letters forthcoming. A film adaptation of her 1962 novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle was released last year, and Mike Flanagan’s 2018 Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House brought a whole new generation of fans to her work.

In the first half of seminar, I will be talking about who Jackson was and the reasons why her work remains so important for horror fans and creators. The impressive scope of her literary interests will be an important theme. As well as creating the most famous haunted house of the twentieth-century, Jackson also played a foundational role in establishing the ‘Suburban Gothic’ sub-genre (in her debut novel, The Road Through the Wall, 1948), wrote what is still the single-most notorious American folk horror tale (‘The Lottery’, 1948), and penned a bleakly funny apocalyptic satire (The Sundial, 1956). What’s more, she was also one of the most high-profile working mothers of her era, thanks to the many non-fiction stories about her busy family life published in contemporary women’s magazines.

In the second half of the talk, I will focus on one particularly timely (and influential) aspect of Jackson’s interest in domesticity and female interiority: her recurrent depiction of deeply troubled young women. I’ll argue that precocious mass-murderer Merricat Blackwood, the narrator of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is the precursor to the many young women in the contemporary horror cinema canon who find the boundaries between reality and fantasy dangerously malleable. Within American horror cinema, teenage girls are often only permitted to openly express rage when their actions are related to some kind of external supernatural force (as in The Exorcist, Carrie, Teeth, Ginger Snaps and Jennifer’s Body). We Have Always Lived in the Castle is therefore particularly interesting in that it explicitly relates its heroine’s disturbing behaviour to the deeply dysfunctional workings of the nuclear family. I will then discuss several recent horror films focusing on homicidal young women whose behaviour and motivations owe much to the Jackson blueprint. These films will include Excision (2012), The Bleeding House (2011), Black Swan (2010), Stoker (2013), The Eyes of My Mother (2016), and Thoroughbreds (2018).

Please note these are live events – they cannot be downloaded and watched later, so please be sure you are available at the time and timezone the classes are being offered in before registering.