Much like Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe before her, horror author Shirley Jackson lived a life that in many ways was as shocking and twisted as her stories. Always present in any discussion of the best horror writers in history, Jackson wrote one of the best ghost stories of all time: The Haunting of Hill House. But how did this formidable and inspiring writer get her start in such a male-dominated profession, especially at a time when most women were raised to be housewives? Who was the woman who created stories that still spawn movie adaptations and inspire others?
Jackson overcame a dysfunctional childhood to raise four children while still pursuing her passion for art and writing. Actress Elisabeth Moss will portray the famed author in a big-screen adaptation of the novel Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell. Before Hollywood takes hold of this literary legend, familiarize yourself with a few Shirley Jackson facts to learn about the strange life she led.
Among the many cruel things Jackson's mother did or said to her, perhaps the most shocking was telling her that she was a "failed abortion." Geraldine Jackson expressed great displeasure with every aspect of her daughter's person, from her hair to her weight.
Geraldine's family was rooted in the wealthy enclaves of California and New York. She hoped her daughter would follow in her debutante footsteps, but was disappointed with and angered by her child.
Jackson hailed from high society, with a socialite mother and a father who headed a printing press. Her mother criticized what she saw as Jackson's lack of beauty and poise, leading to her daughter's struggle with anxiety and weight loss throughout her life.
Depression and self-confidence issues plagued the writer even after she left home and married. Her mother continually wrote harsh letters to Jackson, sprinkled with comments like, "I have been so sad all morning about what you have allowed yourself to look like."
Jackson attempted to spite her mother by marrying fellow writer Stanley Hyman - though he turned out to be just as damaging to her psyche thanks to his numerous affairs. In time, Jackson turned to alcohol and pills to soothe her depression and anxiety. However, she continued to suffer from nightmares and experienced periods of sleepwalking.
According to Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, Jackson's grandmother Mimi followed Christian Science teachings. In describing the religion, Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy said, "God is understood to be infinite Love, and so invariably good that a clear glimpse of this through prayer has power to heal, redeem, and restore anyone."
Mimi and Geraldine once prayed over the broken arm of her brother to induce healing, eschewing a hospital. Mimi herself died from stomach cancer after refusing to seek medical help.
In 1940, Jackson married Stanley Hyman after the two met at Syracuse University. Hyman was Jewish and the marriage infuriated Jackson's mother. The two settled in Greenwich Village before moving to North Bennington, VT, in 1945 for Hyman's career. Jackson began raising their four children while writing short stories and essays about her home life.
Hyman taught literature at Bennington College while Jackson took care of the household and children. Through her writing, she continued to earn the majority of the family's income.