The Haunting of Hill House Discussion

HillHouseReadalong

Welcome to my discussion post for the fantastic Haunting of Hill House read-along hosted by The Estella Society! I love participating in these because they always choose such fantastic books and post such thought-provoking questions. Also, I usually don’t want to try to tackle the book alone because of the intimidation factor, so it’s always nice to read along with others.

The Haunting of Hill House is also one of my picks for the R.I.P. IX challenge, hosted by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings. It’s the perfect time of year for spooky reading, and the challenge participants have already posted over 200 total posts about spooky books and films at the review site here.

Anyway, The Haunting of Hill House was written by Shirley Jackson, who may be better known for her short story The Lottery. You remember reading that in high school, right? The story where residents of a small village come together for a regular ritual in which they host a lottery to decide which villager to stone? Yep, same author. And more of the same thematic, creepy, atmospheric terror. I watched the 1963 film version (The Haunting) a few years ago – didn’t sleep well for at least a week. So the book was better for me simply because I was prepared. I knew the story. That didn’t stop it from being terrifying though.

1. Do you see Hill House’s horrors as being different for its male and female inhabitants? Any gender issues at play here?

Hmm, tricky. I definitely thought the ladies were exposed to the scarier manifestations. Like the blood/paint in Theodora’s room and the knocking on the doors while the gentlemen were out chasing a dog. I won’t attempt to understand any possible symbolism at play, other than to say the gentlemen definitely got off lightly.

2. What’s up with the ghostly disturbances in this book? Eleanor’s blooming telekinetic abilities, real-deal ghosties, a big mess of unreliable character? What say you?

I say terrifying. I think Eleanor and the house share that same sort of supernatural mystery and ability, so I think she played off the house and the house played off her abilities. Regardless, I wasn’t able to sleep with my hands outside my blankets that night for fear of something ghostly holding my hand.

3. The Haunting of Hill House was first published in 1959. What aspects of 1950s culture or society do you see the novel critiquing, criticizing, or commenting on?

I think this is where gender issues play a big part. In the 1950s, men still had a lot of power in society. I see that in this book quite a bit, as Eleanor and Theodora continually look to the men for safety. And Luke is considered Dr. Montague’s assistant automatically. The women are constantly portrayed as emotional and helpless.

4. Most Gothic novels are written in an ornate style, but Jackson chooses a simplistic style with a conversational word choice. What does it add to this harrowing tale? Do you find that it detracts in some places?

I think Jackson’s style makes the book realistic. Like I could use Dr. Montague’s directions and make my own way to Hill House, meet the Dudleys, and encounter the house as described in the book. I never found it detracting from the story in any way. In fact, Eleanor as unrealistic narrator perfectly fit the chaotic, atmospheric tension of the book.

5. The Big One: what is it about Hill House that allows it to consume Eleanor’s sanity so efficiently? Or, what is it about Eleanor that allows Hill House to consumer her sanity?

I think Eleanor wanted a place to belong, and the house picked up on that. Eleanor’s background set her up perfectly to feel unwanted, unloved, unappreciated. She was truly the only character to leave nothing background and have nothing to look forward to in the future. And the house needed someone as well. So they were a perfect fit, really. Eleanor could give herself to the house as it claimed her.

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12 Comments

Filed under Read-Alongs, Reading Challenges, Reviews

12 responses to “The Haunting of Hill House Discussion

  1. Re #4: I hadn’t thought about how important the journey is: Dr. M’s detailed directions, seeing the sights on the way, meeting the Dudley’s. Jackson really does take us from concrete things to Eleanor to Hill House.

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  2. Great post! One of the things I loved about the book was the seeping sense of dread that it engendered in me. I didn’t find it scary so much as really atmospheric. I love Victorian gothic, so reading a more contemporary take on a really old form was fascinating for me. I thought Shirley Jackson managed it beautifully!

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    • Yes! It was really atmospheric. That was the best part. It wasn’t like your typical horror story where things are jumping out to scare you on every page. Instead, there’s a creeping sense of terror and suspense that kept my nerves taut throughout.

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  3. That scene where Eleanor thinks she’s holding hands with Theodora and then realizes that it was someone/something else was so spooky, wasn’t it?! I greatly enjoyed this book and will read more by Jackson. (I never read The Lottery…)

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    • You should definitely read The Lottery. It’s a short story, so it’s not too intense of an investment, but it’s creepy and disturbing and fascinating all at once! As for the ghostly hand-holding, there is a reason I construct a blanket burrito every night. Gotta protect my hands and feet at all time. 🙂

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  4. I love readalongs,too. It’s always fun to have someone to talk to about a book and for some of the longer classics, I appreciate the group support.

    Eleanor was really a great character and I’m surprised it took me so long to figure out how unreliable she was. I also loved how Jackson was able to create the slow build of tension and dread. I’m going to reread this book next year for R.I.P. and pay closer attention to both those aspects.

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    • I do reading challenges with my roommate so we can tackle books that intimidate us. It always helps to compete.

      Eleanor was amazing. I had seen the movie, so I knew what happened already, but even so, I love the slow decline of her stability.

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  5. I’d never heard of Shirley Jackson before this readalong. I enjoy joining readalongs periodically that broaden my horizons and introduce me to new books, authors, and genres.

    I saw gender issues playing a huge role in the story. In the 50s, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women who didn’t get married, and Eleanor used her marriageable years caring for her mother. Now that her mother’s dead, she’s caught in limbo and doesn’t really have much hope for a desirable future. Hill House, bleak though it may be, is a chance for a fresh start and for Eleanor to do something for herself for the first time in her life.

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  6. I liked your comment about the journey, and how that brings the reader in. I also thought it was a way to really get insight into Eleanor’s personality before the house starts to affect her. I want to read that part again. I also want to see the movie.

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    • The movie is pretty terrifying. Not gonna lie. Because it was a psychological fear and tension instead of a jump scare every two minutes. And I’m really visual, so reading wasn’t as scary as watching.

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