Shirley Jackson centenary: a quiet, hidden rage

Born 100 years ago today, Shirley Jackson wrote stories filled with nameless dread that still speak to women’s anger

I first encountered Shirley Jackson through a single short story, “The Daemon Lover”, which I read when I was 12 without knowing any of her other work. Later, I rediscovered the story, along with the rest of Jackson’s writing, and became a fervent admirer of this brilliant and (at that time) much underrated American author.
In some ways, “The Daemon Lover”, from a 1949 collection is a typical Jackson story. An unnamed woman of 34 (though only 30 on her marriage certificate) wakes up on the day of her wedding to a man called James Harris. Impatiently the woman waits for her fiance to arrive, drinking cups of coffee and obsessing over trivia – her choice of dress, the flowers, the light meal she is planning after the ceremony. Hours pass, and at last it becomes clear that the fiance is a no-show. The woman, who does not know where he lives, leaves her flat in search of him, asking locals for a James Harris in hope of resolving the misunderstanding; after a Kafkaesque sequence of increasingly paranoid encounters, she ends up in front of an apartment door, behind which she can hear voices, but which, no matter how hard she knocks, no one ever answers.
Like so much of Jackson’s work, the horror (if that’s the word) of this tale is not based on explicit threat, but rooted in a sense of mounting and inescapable anxiety. Small details become horribly magnified; the prose has a queasy, lurching gait; the tension racks up until even the most mundane encounter – with a florist, a policeman on a street corner – becomes laden with dreadful significance. And underneath it all is the image of the woman – nameless in her own narrative, while even in his absence, the man has not only an identity (his name is taken from the same Scottish ghost story from which Jackson took her title), but all the agency the protagonist lacks [ . . . ]

Read Full Story: Shirley Jackson centenary: a quiet, hidden rage | Books | The Guardian

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