The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woma...

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Title:The Haunting of Hill House
Author:Shirley Jackson
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Edition Language:English

The Haunting of Hill House Reviews

  • Shawn

    Why rehash what the 5 star reviewers say below? Why even engage the lame arguments by the people who didn't enjoy the book (weak ending? unrealistic dialogue!? not enough happens!?! Christ, people, have an imagination! - although I will say this, they don't seem to be teaching kids what an "unreliable narrator" is in school nowadays, as this book is all about Eleanor's weak and self-centered take on her surroundings and how that slowly gets worked over by Hill House - so an unreliable narration

    Why rehash what the 5 star reviewers say below? Why even engage the lame arguments by the people who didn't enjoy the book (weak ending? unrealistic dialogue!? not enough happens!?! Christ, people, have an imagination! - although I will say this, they don't seem to be teaching kids what an "unreliable narrator" is in school nowadays, as this book is all about Eleanor's weak and self-centered take on her surroundings and how that slowly gets worked over by Hill House - so an unreliable narration subsumed by an even less reliable narration)

    Needless to say, if you like subtle, amazing writing (an ending that, if you have any kind of human feelings, should tear your heart out); if you like well-drawn characters who are of their times and psychologically complicated (yes, educated people did actually talk wittily to each other in days of yore - it was called the art of conversation - now go tweet someone about that awful egg McMuffin[tm:] you just ate) and astonishing well-controlled pacing and suspense (what was chasing them on the black, black path with the white, white trees? I'm sure happy I wasn't told, as not knowing was much more effective) then just pick up a copy of this, one of the finest supernatural novels ever written, lock the house, light a candle and relax. And PAY ATTENTION, because every detail is important. And don't trust the narrator, because she can't trust herself.

    This isn't a typical, structured review for me - THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is too well known to tread the ground with a plot synopsis. I will add this little idea that came to me (and which I posted on over in the Horror boards):

    Since the house seems to not be "haunted" by a spirit, in a traditional "haunted house" way (it certainly doesn't seem to be manifesting something/someone specific), because it seems to be an entity unto itself ("Hill House, Hill House, Hill House" mocks Theo in a wonderfully subtle scene that proves her telepathy) and because of some comments made by Eleanor late in the book, when, nearly gone and identifying wholly with the house and not her friends, she refers to their "clumsy, heavy, roughness" - I started to wonder if the answer to the question "what haunts Hill House?" isn't maybe - Dr. Montague and his team of psychics! Hill House seems to be an entity unto itself and maybe it is irritated and pained by these weak, sensitive, emotional creatures infesting it and wants them out of the picture so it can continue to walk alone.

    An amazing book by an amazing writer. Respect it as much as Shirley Jackson respects you, the reader.

  • Fabian

    This book is not about fear but rather about the love of being afraid-- for the ravenous gauging of limits. Adrenaline is searched for.... neurosis & a collective paranoia ensue. & cause naturally follows effect.

    "Books are frequently very good carriers... Materializations are often best produced in rooms where there're books. I cannot think of any time when material was in any way hampered by the presence of books." [186]

    There is an aura of authentic literary splicing here: the psycholog

    This book is not about fear but rather about the love of being afraid-- for the ravenous gauging of limits. Adrenaline is searched for.... neurosis & a collective paranoia ensue. & cause naturally follows effect.

    "Books are frequently very good carriers... Materializations are often best produced in rooms where there're books. I cannot think of any time when material was in any way hampered by the presence of books." [186]

    There is an aura of authentic literary splicing here: the psychological novel (think Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper") and the horror of microsocieties doing their malignant will-type stories (think "The Lottery", as exceptional a short story as this is a superb haunted house prototype, an ingenious fountainhead for all future horror maestros). The haunted house is in actuality a person who is on the precipice, the verge of disaster; here is the quintessential tome about the inner demons becoming unleashed and wreaking havoc in horrific ways.

    A handsome legend, an essential myth. There would be significantly scant haunted house lore without this gothic gem.

    PS: EVERYONE, READ THIS FOR THE HOLIDAY*!

    *HALLOWEEN, AUTUMN HARVEST, SAMHEIN. Whatev.

  • Bill  Kerwin

    (1959) is justly revered as an exemplar of the horror genre, not only because its plot provides the template for all those haunted house tales to come, but also because its superb prose and subtle psychology transcend genre, transforming what might otherwise have been merely a sensational tale into a artful novel, worthy of a discerning reader.

    The novel suffers from its own pervasive influence, for, as soon as it gets underway, it seems—whether or not you've seen eithe

    (1959) is justly revered as an exemplar of the horror genre, not only because its plot provides the template for all those haunted house tales to come, but also because its superb prose and subtle psychology transcend genre, transforming what might otherwise have been merely a sensational tale into a artful novel, worthy of a discerning reader.

    The novel suffers from its own pervasive influence, for, as soon as it gets underway, it seems—whether or not you've seen either movie version—woefully familiar. Dr Montague (stuffy old scientific type), wishing to investigate a haunted house, enlists the aid of Eleanor (shy,retiring type), Theodora (flamboyant bohemian type), and Luke (handsome upper-class type), the heir to the house. At first, by daylight, things don't seem half-bad, but then night comes, and... well, you get idea. (Of

    you do. You've heard it all before.)

    What you have

    heard before, however, is the intelligent tone or the distinctive music of her prose. Witness part of the description of Hill House, early in the second chapter, as seen through the eyes of Eleanor:

    What a wonderful repetition of “for” in the last sentence! (Instead, I probably would have written “not a fit place for people, love, or hope.” And I would have been wrong.)

    In addition to its prose, the book's subtle psychology—similar to James'

    --interests and entrances the reader with its ambiguity. Are the phenomena real or caused by one of the experimenters? Is the house possessing them, or is one of

    possessing the

    ? Shirley Jackson is too good a writer to decide for us. We must choose to decide—or not to decide—for ourselves.

    The book would have my highest praise except for the fact that the infuriating Mrs. Montague and her pompous friend Arthur Parker, brought in three-quarters of the way through to ease tension and give comic relief, are not only unnecessary but dissipate tension rather than relieve it. Besides, the laconic, creepy Mrs. Dudley (“I don't stay after six. Not after it begins to get dark.") is plenty of comic relief all by herself.

    But Mrs. M. and her friend P. are but a minor flaw. Give

    a chance. It is, in addition to being a classic of the genre, an excellent novel.

  • Michael

    I'm falling in love with this book all over again as I re-read it. The premise is that of a science experiment--an academic exercise to test the reality of house-haunting. I love the fact that the opening pages essentially replicate the clinical nature of the premise: here's the chief investigator, here are the three other characters, all described at a clinical remove before we get into the "story" itself. A contemporary editor might have said: "Cut this out and get right to the story," but to

    I'm falling in love with this book all over again as I re-read it. The premise is that of a science experiment--an academic exercise to test the reality of house-haunting. I love the fact that the opening pages essentially replicate the clinical nature of the premise: here's the chief investigator, here are the three other characters, all described at a clinical remove before we get into the "story" itself. A contemporary editor might have said: "Cut this out and get right to the story," but to me these opening pages are wonderful little character studies.

    Then we follow Eleanor, the main character, as she takes the car she shares with her sister and drives to Hill House. Again, it takes a few pages to get there, but it allows for wonderful scenes where her imagination takes flight or where she interacts, awkwardly, with the townsfolk in the nearest small town. The interaction in the diner is classic Shirley Jackson--capturing the suspicion and unease and boredom of small town life.

    ****

    Now for the house itself. I'd forgotten just what a genius description of the Hill House we're treated to when Eleanor first sees it. I find it fascinating that Jackson describes the house for nearly two pages without ever physically describing it, other than to say it's "enormous and dark" and has steps leading up to a veranda. And yet...we somehow know it intimately nonetheless. It's presented as being alive, as being almost a lover who "enshadows" Eleanor when she walks up those steps, and in that description you get not only a sense of the house itself, but a sense of Eleanor, of her loneliness and perhaps even madness. She's afraid of Hill House in the same way she'd be afraid of a lover. Here is this strong presence who threatens to swallow her up, and in a way, when she walks in, a sort of Gothic romance is born.

    ****

    The moment when Eleanor first meets Theodora is so brilliantly done. Eleanor is at the top of the stairs, looking down, and she begins talking before you realize there's anyone else there. "Thank heaven you're here," she says. To whom? Is there anyone really? Maybe not! Maybe Eleanor is mad. It's a disorienting moment, and then Eleanor sees Mrs. Dudley, but Eleanor is still not described as seeing anyone else until Theodora introduces herself. But even then, there is no physical description of Theodora--there's just a voice: "I'm Theodora." Is this all in Eleanor's head? Wow.

    ****

    There really is so little physical description of the other characters, with the possible exception of Doctor Montague, who's described as "round and rosy and bearded" and who "looked as though he might be more suitably established before a fire in a pleasant little sitting room, with a cat on his knee and a rosy little wife to bring him jellied scones....". I love that description, but what amazes even more is how the other characters really aren't described at all. Only the house is tangible in a way.

    ****

    I love the playfulness in Shirley Jackson, and the first conversation, when all four characters are sitting around talking, is a marvelous example of it. They're playing a game, inventing whimsical characters for themselves, but all is not pure fun--there's the flash of Eleanor's jealousy when Theodora gives Luke a "quick, understanding glance"--the same kind of glance "she had earlier given Eleanor." Beneath the fun and games lies something deadly serious.

    ****

    The relationship between Theodora and Eleanor makes me think of a major theme in this book--sisterhood. You have Eleanor and her sister, of course, at the beginning of the book, and then the tale of the orphaned sisters who lived in Hill House, and then Eleanor and Theodora themselves, who quickly become like sisters. All those relationships are marked and marred by jealousy, one that lies just beneath the polite surface of things. Fascinating.

    ****

    Interesting to study how Jackson builds the sense of disquiet throughout the novel. She does it through so many small decisions like the one I mentioned earlier, where she doesn't physically describe her characters. There's also a wonderful moment at the beginning of Chapter 4, where Eleanor and Theodora wake up after the first (uneventful) night at Hill House. It's a small moment, yet so revealing of Jackson's technique. Theodora is in the bathroom, taking a bath. Eleanor is in her room, looking out the window. Then in the very next paragraph, with no transition whatsoever, Theodora is suddenly pounding on the bathroom door telling Eleanor to hurry up. What? It takes a moment to realize what has happened--to realize that now Eleanor is in the bath, and Theordora is outside waiting for her. It's a startling jump-cut, to use a movie term. Jackson is constantly doing that sort of thing, unsettling the reader's expectations, making us realize that anything can happen and we can't rely on the usual narrative logic. It's so subtle, yet so masterful.

    ****

    I've been thinking of the line that Eleanor keeps quoting: "Journeys end in lovers meeting." I didn't know this before, but it's actually from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night--it's a line sung by the "fool" in that play. Does this have any significance for Jackson's novel? I'm not sure. It's an interesting line in and of itself--so revealing of Eleanor's romantic desires, the way she seems so attracted to Theodora and to Hill House itself. She has the overwhelming sense that she belongs here, that she's part of this slapdash "family" of people staying at the house. She's excited; she's happy; she's constantly afraid of "missing something." In short, she's having the time of her life. This is her journey's end, and she's met her lover (or lovers), and she relishes every moment.

    ****

    But then things start to turn--the relationship between Eleanor and Theodora starts to fray. It's begins with something immensely small--Theodora painting Eleanor's toenails red without Eleanor's permission. It's a small moment, but Eleanor harkens back to it later, when Theodora is frightened by the bloody creepy words painted on her wall: HELP ELEANOR COME HOME ELEANOR. Theodora is badly shaken and they all wonder if it's really blood and, of course, who put it there. Suspicion immediately falls on Eleanor, and you can see her struggle with what to say, her thoughts veering back to the red of her toenails and focusing on the fact that Theodora will now have to stay in her room and wear her clothes, and you can't help wonder if all this is Eleanor's elaborate revenge. Even afterwards, as they're all sitting talking, Eleanor's anger can't help coming through in her thoughts. "I would like to hit her with a stick, Eleanor thought, looking down on Theodora's head beside her chair; I would like to batter her with rocks." We see the fraying not only of the relationship, but of Eleanor's mind. Suddenly she feels suddenly like an outsider, like someone who's apart from the others--she sees how they stare at her, how they scrutinize what she says, as odd things begin to slip out in her speech and she begins to wonder what she's been saying, how much she's been revealing of herself.

    ****

    Mrs. Montague is a wonderful character who bursts onto the scene in all her grand foolishness. But like Shakespeare's fools, she is perceptive in her own way--in this case, about Eleanor's relationship with her mother, which is one of Eleanor's dark secrets and which Mrs. Montague perceives after her session with planchette (a Ouija board). There's a dark horror at the heart of it, which we can't quite grasp, and it's all conveyed by this great fool, and so shot through with her bombastic comedy, that it leaves the reader unsure whether to laugh or cringe (or both).

    ****

    I will try not to give too much away of the ending. I'll just say that it's fascinating to watch Eleanor: her rage, her jealousy, her giddiness. How she perceives the other characters, how she watches them and listens to them and to the house itself, how she hurtles toward the end ("I am doing this all by myself, now, at last; this is me, I am really really really doing it by myself."). And then that amazing ending, recapitulating the opening, and that final word--"alone"--capturing a sense of the house as a sentient being much like Eleanor herself. Just breathtaking. A truly remarkable book.

  • Jeffrey Keeten

    The opening paragraph gives me my first tingle of unease.

    I am already conjuring up malevolent thoughts about what kind of creature could be haunting the hallways of Hill House in the dead of night. Is it a ghost, demon, beast, or something new? Or is it just a manifestation of fear, unattached to anything existing outside the mind?

    Dr. John Montague wants to conduct a thorough, scientific investigation of Hill House. He has asked Eleanor Vance, Theodora, just Theodora, and Luke Sanderson to join him. Eleanor and Theodora are selected because they have experienced phenomenon before, and both exhibit minds that are more receptive to psychic and telekinetic occurrences. Luke is the heir of Hill House and the host of this inquiry.

    Mrs. Dudley, caretaker from a nearby town, is only in the house during very regimented times to serve meals.

    Mrs. Dudley, despite being creepy on par with Mrs. Danvers from

    actually provides some comic relief throughout the story as her pedantic adherence to keeping to a specific time table amuses the guests and relieves some of the growing oppressiveness of fear that the house is beginning to impose upon the guests. Later when Mrs. Montague, wife of the doctor, and her chauffeur Arthur arrive, they, too, provide some comic relief through her fussiness and bossiness and Arthur’s boneheaded machismo.

    If horror is handled right, especially in films, the audience should have moments where they gasp, cringe, and laugh, sometimes all at the same time. Shirley Jackson understood that people in terrifying situations are experiencing a roller coaster of emotions, to the point that giggling and screaming are equally normal reactions to adverse conditions. Instead of being annoying, Mrs. Dudley’s insistence on structure in the midst of chaos is hilarious.

    Eleanor is the central character to the story. With the death of her mother, she is finally free to experience life. When the summons from Montague comes, she is determined to attend the investigation at Hill House. Even if someone had told her the house contains a cult and she was destined to be sacrificed on a blood altar, it would not have deterred her. She attaches herself to Luke and then to Theodora. It is easy to see that she has never really had friends before and is hungry for acceptance.

    Theodora is beautiful, cruel, and caring in equal measures. She is living with a “friend,” and somehow, without Jackson writing a word of corroboration, I catch a whiff of lesbianism which, of course, if spelled out, would have been too much for an audience in 1959 and would have overwhelmed and detracted from the plot. Still, I love the way Jackson so cunningly plants the seed in the dark of the night, and it is morning before I realize that I have been left a clue.

    The house reacts to Eleanor the most, with sprawled messages evoking her name. She hears things and sees things that the others cannot. The transition is interesting to experience as Eleanor goes from being irritated and terrified about being singled out to finding it strangely comforting.

    If people won’t accept her, maybe a haunted house will.

    The house is built at angles, in such a way that a person is perpetually discombobulated. The compass in the mind is confused as rooms that one thinks should be just overhead are actually on the other side of the house. The front door appears where it logically shouldn’t be. Even with other people around, everyone feels isolated and untethered. Those feelings are continually magnified by occurrences that give the house power beyond what an inanimate object should have.

    Manifestations happen. The air turns Arctic cold in spots. They are tricked by illusions. Something knocks on their doors vigorously enough to nearly spring the hinges. The question of who or what is behind all this remains elusive, but the chills and thrills continue to frighten.

    No one is as affected as Eleanor, and soon the Doctor realizes that he has to get her out of the house, but Eleanor feels like she has finally come home. Someone, something wants her.

    Skeptics and believers can both read and enjoy this story. Jackson leaves much up to the reader to interpret. Bread crumbs lead the reader down a hallway only to see the crumbs split into two paths going opposite directions. Your natural tendencies will lead you down the path of your own choosing. Whatever conclusions you come to will be supportable and refutable. The one thing I hope we can all agree on is that this is a masterpiece and this story’s influence on literature is incontestable.

    If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit

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  • Stephen

    Shirley Jackson, you saucy little devil, where have you been all my life? I never knew she could spread prose like this. This is an impressive bit of work and definitely belongs among the classics of literate horror novels.

    Right from the first pitch, you can see that Ms Jackson…Shirl…is smitten with language and she uses it to great effect to create an emotionally charged, disorientating atmosphere with healthy heapings of melodrama. Very gothic in feel and actually reminded me of

    Shirley Jackson, you saucy little devil, where have you been all my life? I never knew she could spread prose like this. This is an impressive bit of work and definitely belongs among the classics of literate horror novels.

    Right from the first pitch, you can see that Ms Jackson…Shirl…is smitten with language and she uses it to great effect to create an emotionally charged, disorientating atmosphere with healthy heapings of melodrama. Very gothic in feel and actually reminded me of

    as far as the sense of emotional bleakness and dread that pervaded the narrative. I say this a good thangalang as I am a true fanboy of

    .

    I thought Shirl's writing style was smooth and glassy and had nice flow. It was also an utter mind-trip and I blew my whole thought-wad trying to keep up with her conflicting back and forth sense of "is it real or unreal” "is it genuine horror or psychological terror.” I admit by the end of this fairly short novel I was as drained and spent as a sailor on a weekend pass to Vegas.

    On the surface, this appears to be a classic haunted house story with a professor of the supernatural renting Hill House in order to investigate the mysterious phenomena rumored to have occurred within its oddly angled walls. Along with Dr. X-file, we have a Luke (one of the heirs to the house), Theodora and Eleanor. Eleanor is our troubled main protag who has had a happlyless life of playing recluse while taking care of her ungrateful mommie dearest.

    I don’t want to give away the plot so I will just say that almost immediately upon arriving at Hill House, the guests begin to experience “oddness” in the form of lost emotional control, muddled thinking, unusual feelings and unexplained sensations and occurrences...

    . These events begin to wear on each of them, however, nothing overtly supernatural is shown to the reader.

    That is what was so yummy about the story is that Shirl leaves it up to the reader to determine what is really going on. One thing is very clear though…Hill House and people do not a good combination make and there is a growing sense of dread over the whole narrative from the very beginning. The terror is psychological (whether real or not) and the horror is all about atmosphere and “what if” rather than in your face. Makes of a chilling, intelligent tale.

    To sum up...a terrific gothic story. Well written, engaging and with what I thought was a Fergaluscious ending that fit perfectly with the rest of the narrative. I think this is a novel that could stay with you and should become even better upon subsequent readings. 4.0 to 4.5 stars.

  • Lyn

    Weird, weird book.

    But well worth the time reading it.

    Jackson was a masterful storyteller, using a minimalistic approach and a terse, almost journalistic narrative, she creates a mood and sense of expectancy and mystery that grips the reader slowly and completely and lasts until the very end.

    And unlike other ghost stories that struggle with an ending, Jackson's haunted house tale brilliantly ends with the same mystery and psychological tension as the narrative held throughout, she leaves the re

    Weird, weird book.

    But well worth the time reading it.

    Jackson was a masterful storyteller, using a minimalistic approach and a terse, almost journalistic narrative, she creates a mood and sense of expectancy and mystery that grips the reader slowly and completely and lasts until the very end.

    And unlike other ghost stories that struggle with an ending, Jackson's haunted house tale brilliantly ends with the same mystery and psychological tension as the narrative held throughout, she leaves the reader without a falsely satisfying conclusion.

    A very good story told by a very good writer.

  • Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin

    I got this from the library and I can't figure out what to rate it so I had to go with a 3 for right now.

    Here's the thing. I loved the movies better than the book. But I did enjoy the crazy, through the rabbit hole ness of the book. It's not scary in the least. Not to me anyway. But it's good weird and just uggg I can't explain it.

    Anyway, sorry so short. I don't feel that good. I wanted to do a longer review on this one. 😕

    Mel ❤

    I got this from the library and I can't figure out what to rate it so I had to go with a 3 for right now.

    Here's the thing. I loved the movies better than the book. But I did enjoy the crazy, through the rabbit hole ness of the book. It's not scary in the least. Not to me anyway. But it's good weird and just uggg I can't explain it.

    Anyway, sorry so short. I don't feel that good. I wanted to do a longer review on this one. 😕

    Mel ❤️

  • Keith

    Erm. This book was lent to me with the assurance that it was one of the ten-or-so greatest horror novels of all time.

    So, just having finished it, I'm already forgetting having read it. The two stars it gets are because, quite literally, "it was ok" -- Jackson has an interesting writing style and an ear for consistent, if not always realistic, quirky dialogue. But the characters spend so much time being weirdly objective about their own fears that when bad stuff happens, I feel sort of...objecti

    Erm. This book was lent to me with the assurance that it was one of the ten-or-so greatest horror novels of all time.

    So, just having finished it, I'm already forgetting having read it. The two stars it gets are because, quite literally, "it was ok" -- Jackson has an interesting writing style and an ear for consistent, if not always realistic, quirky dialogue. But the characters spend so much time being weirdly objective about their own fears that when bad stuff happens, I feel sort of...objective about it. The book veers between said objectivity and long hallucinatory 'scary' bits, but I found those bits sort of messily written and vague to the point of being coy, and just scanned through them.

    I dunno, it's like a bunch of hipstery academic fucks try to have an adventure, and instead spend most of the time discussing the adventure they're currently having, instead of actually having it.

    Oh, and the last ten pages got a little more focused and they were sort of creepy, but I was kind of forcing it because I really wanted to get something more out of the book than I actually did. The end.

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