Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Literary Biographies: Shirley Jackson, A Rather Haunted Life

Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite authors. She is a writer who continued in the American Gothic tradition of Hawthorne and Poe, but kept her work uniquely her own: the horror, either psychological or supernatural, blended with postwar, suburban mundanity.

Jackson was a significant figure in 20th century American literature, though often kept on the edges of mainstream literary canon. How many people have read the short story The Lottery, with its unflinching portrait of brutality and rituality in small American towns? Or how many people have seen either the 1963 or 1999 film adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House?

Last year we were lucky enough to see Let Me Tell You published -- a volume of Jackson’s previously unpublished and uncollected stories and nonfiction writings. This year, on the centenary of her birth, we get a biography from book critic and author, Ruth Franklin.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life is a meticulous, critical, empathetic work – not only a glimpse into Jackson’s motivations for her novels and stories, but also an exploration of the woman herself: someone who had a successful writing career but who struggled with marital issues, substance abuse, and personal and social anxieties.

Neil Gaiman writes of the new biography, “Ruth Franklin is the biographer Jackson needed: she tells the story of the author in a way that made me want to reread every word Jackson ever wrote.” I agree and would highly recommend it. It is nice seeing Jackson get her much-deserved due at the hands of a skilled biographer.

Below are a few other literary biographies I would recommend:

The Real Jane Austen / Paula Byrne
My Wars Are Laid Away in Books / Alfred Habegger
Beatrix Potter / Linda Lear
Flannery / Brad Gooch

And make sure to check out the New York Times Literary Biographies Reading List for even more suggestions.

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