Shirley Jackson

(1916-1965), American

Shirley Jackson was an American writer who was born in San Francisco on December 14th, 1916. She is best remembered for her gothic horror novels and stories of suspense and mystery.

Shirley Jackson is regarded as one of, if not the, greatest American horror writers of the 20th century. Throughout her career, she published multiple stories and novels still studied in schools and universities worldwide. These include her short story “The Lottery” and her novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House.’

Life Facts

  • Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco, California, in December of 1916.
  • She got married in 1940 and had four children.
  • Her first novel was ‘The Road Through the Wall.’
  • In 1959 she published her best-known novel, ‘The Haunting of Hill House.’
  • Shirley Jackson died in 1965 at the age of 48.

Interesting Facts

  • Jackson struggled with her relationship with her parents, particularly her mother.
  • She had an unhappy childhood and young adulthood, dealing with issues of self-confidence.
  • She struggled with agoraphobia in her later life as well as alcohol and drug problems.
  • “The Lottery” horrified many readers due to Jackson’s depiction of human nature.

Famous Books and Stories

The Haunting of Hill House – Written in 1959, this classic gothic horror novel follows four people who rent the isolated Hill House to investigate supernatural occurrences. It has been adapted for TV and film multiple times.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Published in 1962, this mystery novel centers around a family living in an isolated house. The novel won the 1962 Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award.

The Lottery – Jackson’s most famous work, “The Lottery,” is a short story published in 1948 that tells the tale of a shocking tradition in a small town. The story sparked widespread debate about the true nature of horror and its consequences on society.

Life Among the Savages – This is a semi-autobiographical novel/collection of short stories that was published in 1953. It follows Jackson’s family life in Vermont. It was considered her most humorous work and received much praise from critics. Most of the stories in this collection were originally published in literary magazines.

Hangsaman – Published in 1951, this psychological thriller novel and coming-of-age story follows a college student who starts to exhibit strange behavior while attending a new school. It was praised by critics for its exploration of mental illness and the power of isolation. It was Jackson’s second novel. It is said to have been inspired by the real-life disappearance of a college student in Vermont. 

Early Life

Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco, California, in December of 1916. She had an isolated childhood, spending much of her youth on her own, discovering her passion for writing. She also struggled with her relationship with her mother, who she believed loved her brother more. She had a hard time throughout her teen years as well, attending Burlingame High School before relocating to New York with her family. She graduated in 1934.

Jackson later unhappily attended the University of Rochester, quite close to her family and still under their watchful eye. She transferred away from Rochester to Syracuse University. There, she started working for the campus literary magazine and eventually met her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman. The two married in 1940 and settled in Vermont. 

Literary Career

Jackson’s first literary success came when the university magazine published her short story “Janice.” It, critics believe, was inspired by the writer’s youthful struggles with confidence and suicidal thoughts.

Jackson spent her time in Vermont writing while her husband worked at a local university. Over their relationship, the two had four children, and Jackson asserted herself as the far more successful partner of the two, something one of her children later described in enthusiastic detail.

Her career really took off in 1948 when she published her first novel, ‘The Road Through the Wall.’ The book was inspired by her youth in California and what it was like growing up in the 20s. The same year saw the publication of what is still considered to be the best short story of her career, “The Lottery.” The story was received very differently by readers around the country, who were intrigued by and horrified by Jackson’s depiction of human nature.

She included “The Lottery” in her short story collection, ‘The Lottery and Other Stories,’ which was published a year later. Her second novel, ‘Hangsaman,’ was released in 1951. It was inspired by the disappearance of a college student in the mid-1940s. Her next literary publication was ‘Life Among the Savages,’ another short story collection (in which all the stories were interconnected) about her youth.

In 1959 she published her best-known novel, ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘ It is cited, to this day, as one of the best examples of gothic horror in the 20th century. The novel was published around the same time as ‘The Sundial’ and ‘Raising Demons.’

Later Life and Death

Her final novel, ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle,’ was another success. It was released in 1962 while Jackson’s health was suffering, and she was dealing with increasing feelings of agoraphobia. Jackson also struggled with an addiction to barbiturates, prescribed by her doctor for her anxiety. She also began drinking and taking tranquilizers.

Shirley Jackson died in 1965 in her sleep at the age of 48 from a heart attack. Following her death, her husband released a collection of short stories and an unfinished novel that Jackson had been working on at the time of her death. Another group of stories was discovered in 1996 and published together as ‘Just an Ordinary Day.’

Literature by Shirley Jackson

Explore literature by Shirley Jackson below, created by the team at Book Analysis.