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.