October 18, 2017
Shirley Jackson, Humor & HorrorOn this day in 1965 Shirley Jackson died of heart failure, at the age of forty-eight. For twenty years and from various angles Jackson had built a reputation for quietly ripping the lid off life in Pleasantville: "The Lottery" and other stories; her two family chronicles, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons; her horror novel, The Haunting of Hill House. By 1962 her physical and mental health had deteriorated to the point that she could not face venturing into, let alone fictionalizing, her Bennington, Vermont hometown. The eventual psychiatric diagnosis was "acute anxiety," for which any number of descriptions and causes were offered: her mother, agoraphobia, years of drug abuse (amphetamines and tranquilizers), years of overeating and overdrinking, etc.
Whatever the cause, Jackson was acutely aware of her writer's block, if not her personality block, over the last years. She sought therapy in journal writing, and felt that a new style, even a new self, was waiting for her in the "great golden world outside." At one point, the self-help journal included this ministration: "I have already thought I will not be able to re-read this page without embarrassment and cringing because I wrote 'getting laid.' Surely this is unreasonable. Getting laid getting laid getting laid...." Her last journal entry, six months before she died, shows the struggle continuing:
After Jackson's death over a hundred unpublished or uncollected stories were found in the family's Vermont barn. In "What a Thought," now published in the 1995 collection, Just an Ordinary Day, a troubled wife contemplates life with her pleasant, no-idea husband:
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