Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Friday, December 2, 2011

Feminist Fiction Friday--Shirley Jackson

The story I've always heard is that Shirley Jackson wrote "The Lottery" because her refrigerator had broken down and she needed money to fix it. I loved that idea, not just because the anecdote epitomizes a professionalism I very much admire--there is no writer's block in freelancing--but also because I love the idea that she was paid more than a pittance for her work.
"The Lottery" is probably my favorite short story EVER.  I first read it for a middle school English class along with Jack London's "To Build a Fire," and W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw" and Saki's "The Open Window." The story led me to other writers of short fiction, particularly Harlan Ellison, whose "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" is my second favorite short story.
I'm pretty sure after reading Jackson's biography on Wikkipedia that the story about the refrigerator is just that, a story. Jackson was vehement about not explaining her work or her process or herself. She famously refused to be interviewed. There are photographs of her, though, and those pictures send a chill through me.
Shirley Jackson and my mother could have been twin sisters. That picture in the upper left?  Substitute cats eye glasses and you have my mother.  Same eyes, same arched brows, same full lower lip.  The hairdo is the same one my mother wore most of her life, a faux tortoise shell comb holding her hair away from her pale brow.
Like Shirley Jackson, my mother was a heavy smoker but she managed to eke out an extra decade on the writer, who died at 48, of a heart attack in her sleep.
I wish Jackson hadn't left the party so early. I loved her novel The Haunting of Hill House so much that I can quote whole chunks of it.  The book is one of the best haunted house novels ever written (much stronger than James' Turn of the Screw), and Jackson's portrait of Eleanor, a woman slipping into madness, is profound. Julie Harris played Eleanor in the 1963 movie adaptation (called The Haunting, and not to be confused with the dreadful remake of 1999), and her delicate portrait of a woman whose life has passed her by is haunting indeed. (If you've seen the movie, all I need to say is ... that scene with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom and the door!  If you haven't seen the movie, you're in for a treat and if you haven't read the book, go get it now.) You can buy Jackson's novels and collected stories here.

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