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Jackson, Shirley

Entry updated 12 December 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1916-1965) US author of short stories and novels, married from 1940 until her death to the literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman (1919-1970). None of her fiction is sf in any orthodox sense [see her entry in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Much of her work – although some untypical stories appeared before World War Two – comprises psychological studies of women at the end of their tether. She became famous for one tale, "The Lottery" (26 June 1948 The New Yorker), which established her reputation as an author of Gothic fiction; the ritual stoning which climaxes the story is perhaps readable as an example of Horror in SF, and the New England in which the event occurs betrays the profile of a land suffering the aftermath of the some vast Disaster. The Godgame implications of what may be her finest single tale, One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts (January 1955 F&SF; 1990 chap), are laid in with an Equipoisal certainty of touch – for the tale is simultaneously a mundane idyll and a savage demonstration of the fickle cruelty of the gods – that is deeply unsettling, but quite possibly invisible to the unwary. Most of the remaining stories assembled in The Lottery, or The Adventures of James Harris (coll 1949; vt The Lottery; Or, the Adventures of James Harris, Daemon Lover 1950) are fantasies of alienation.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959), filmed as The Haunting (1963) by Robert Wise, is a superb ghost story [for Bad Place see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], Equipoisally ambiguous about the balance or complicity between supernatural activity and a young woman's psychological disturbance. The closest to sf she came was probably The Sundial (1958), in which – following an ominous ghostly warning – a dozen of her typical New England characters await an unnamed but tangible catastrophe which will usher in the End of the World. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), with no overt supernatural content, is narrated by a disturbed teenager who may have slaughtered her entire family, and who has created a completely self-contained internal world; for her the outside is a barren landscape populated by ghosts and ghouls.

9 Magic Wishes (1964 chap) is a fantasy tale for children. Autobiographical work comprises Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957), two edgily light-hearted memoirs of family life whose effect was radically dissimilar to that of Jackson's fiction.

The Shirley Jackson Awards, named for her and honouring "psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic", were first presented in 2008; many award winners are represented in When Things Get Dark: Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson (anth 2021) edited by Ellen Datlow, an Original Anthology that also contains work from other authors. [JC]

Shirley Hardie Jackson

born San Francisco, California: 14 December 1916 [Jackson herself claimed 1919]

died North Bennington, Vermont: 8 August 1965

works (selected)

collections and stories


about the author


previous versions of this entry

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