Raising Ghosts: ‘The Haunting of Hill House’

To those who don’t follow along on Instagram and have been wondering where I’ve been, I will quickly catch you up.

So far this year, I have:
danced with Lolly and the devil,
escaped the lab with Algernon,
picnicked at Hanging Rock,
witnessed Bloody torture in unending Chambers,
followed Snowman seeking Crake across a desolate wasteland,
heard the Crawdads Sing,
felt the Ice draw closer,
and the High-Rise loom higher.
For three months of mostly locked down living and a Year of anything but Rest and Relaxation, I am delighted by my [incomplete] list of adventures thus far.

One adventure, unlisted, we embarked upon together.

In celebration of Women in Horror month, February saw a brief (did I mention that posts have been limited this academic year due to pursuits of an enduringly academic nature?) exploration of the Gothic Psyche with a female focus. When my Spooky Nerds Book Club co-hosts (Rabbit Hearted Reader, Engaging Lit) and I were discussing our next communal read, there could be no other.

Emboldened by the company of the wider #thespookynerdsbookclub, in February, we thus [re]opened the doors to Shirley Jackson’s Hill House (as if you could keep me away). Today, I will take you on a brief tour of the Gothic Psyche; of madness and mother; of a house that dreams; a house of nightmares.

Β© Generally Gothic

“π•³π–Žπ–‘π–‘ π•³π–”π–šπ–˜π–Š, 𝖓𝖔𝖙 π–˜π–†π–“π–Š, π–˜π–™π–”π–”π–‰ π–‡π–ž π–Žπ–™π–˜π–Šπ–‘π–‹ π–†π–Œπ–†π–Žπ–“π–˜π–™ π–Žπ–™π–˜ π–π–Žπ–‘π–‘π–˜, π–π–”π–‘π–‰π–Žπ–“π–Œ π–‰π–†π–—π–π–“π–Šπ–˜π–˜ π–œπ–Žπ–™π–π–Žπ–“; π–Žπ–™ 𝖍𝖆𝖉 π–˜π–™π–”π–”π–‰ π–˜π–” 𝖋𝖔𝖗 π–Šπ–Žπ–Œπ–π–™π–ž π–žπ–Šπ–†π–—π–˜ 𝖆𝖓𝖉 π–’π–Žπ–Œπ–π–™ π–˜π–™π–†π–“π–‰ 𝖋𝖔𝖗 π–Šπ–Žπ–Œπ–π–™π–ž π–’π–”π–—π–Š.”

β€œNo live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Opening paragraph, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, Shirley Jackson

Hill House, not sane, is a horrific entity. The house is first and foremost; our titular character; eponymous and looming. She (yes, she) stands in unsightly, uninviting contrast to the cottages Eleanor ‘Nell’ Vance – our main, human character – dreams herself into whilst journeying towards Hill House. Here there are no stone lions, no ornamental oleander – symbols of power and poison protecting Eleanor’s dream home from attainability. Hill House, instead, is uncomfortable and unadorned. Its doors are heavy. Once you are within, or without, capriciously they slam shut.

Built with the fingerprints of Shakespeare, Poe, Gaskell, and Dickens in its foundations, there is inspiration and ambiguity at every architectural turn. If the house is protagonist, is Eleanor, then, antagonist? Is it her presence that causes horror here to manifest? Or is she a Shakespearean heroine embodying tragedy? The ultimate victim – a blameless plaything of mindless malevolence?

The house, as haunted ones are wont to be, is personified as evil, diseased, uninvit[ing/ed] – exciting but nothing unexpected for the genre. Where my interest is piqued is in the architectural impossibilities. For a genre built on buildings, lavish and extreme, this structural unsettling is particularly appealing. The concept of home as refuge is unsettled; the uncanny slips in…

Β© Generally Gothic

It is here, in the uncanny, that the Generally Gothic theme of February comes into focus. ‘Gothic Psyche‘; or, the idea of house as metaphor for mind. A house that is “evil” and “haunted”; a house built within an endless loop; rooms with “no windows, no access to the outdoors at all…” A suffocating, inescapable, disorientating interior – no escape; neither literal nor metaphorical doors connecting to the external world. The centre of Hill House as a labyrinthine nightmare, coiling in on its unending self.

It is so deliciously, psychoanalytically, domestically gothic. The dishes, my dears, belong on the shelves…

Β© Generally Gothic

“π•Ώπ–π–Š π–π–”π–šπ–˜π–Š π–œπ–†π–˜ π–›π–Žπ–‘π–Š. π•Ύπ–π–Š π–˜π–π–Žπ–›π–Šπ–—π–Šπ–‰ 𝖆𝖓𝖉 π–™π–π–”π–šπ–Œπ–π–™, π–™π–π–Š π–œπ–”π–—π–‰π–˜ π–ˆπ–”π–’π–Žπ–“π–Œ π–‹π–—π–Šπ–Šπ–‘π–ž π–Žπ–“π–™π–” π–π–Šπ–— π–’π–Žπ–“π–‰, π•³π–Žπ–‘π–‘ π•³π–”π–šπ–˜π–Š π–Žπ–˜ π–›π–Žπ–‘π–Š, π–Žπ–™ π–Žπ–˜ π–‰π–Žπ–˜π–Šπ–†π–˜π–Šπ–‰; π–Œπ–Šπ–™ π–†π–œπ–†π–ž 𝖋𝖗𝖔𝖒 π–π–Šπ–—π–Š 𝖆𝖙 π–”π–“π–ˆπ–Š.”

Throughout this reading (my first having been on audiobook, which I cannot recommend highly enough, a few years ago), Bachelard’s theories of physical space floated to the forefront of my mind.

“[W]e shall see,” he writes, “the imagination build ‘walls’ of impalpable shadows, comfort itself with the illusion of protection — or, just the contrary, tremble behind thick walls, mistrust the staunchest ramparts.”

A house, in literary terms, is rarely just a house; in the gothic, it is often Freudian: the mind. Filled with echoes of past traumas, the house may reflect the human or embody the intangible. Hill House specifically may be many things – you may read refuge, family, lover. Each are absent from Nell’s life; it’s no coincidence that she creates a fiction at her journey’s start, imagining herself in a row of already occupied houses as she drives by. She is simply seeking home – a space for herself.

Nell, unsettled, suffers temporary inhabitancy in the permanence of others – as guest or carer, with purpose, without ownership. Fractious female relationships fill all these spaces. “Fear and guilt are sisters”, Jackson tells us — sisters as amicable as Eleanor and Carrie driven apart by a part-owned car; as the old Crain sisters destroyed by dishes; as Nell and Theo, one red, one yellow; as Eleanor and her mother…

Β© Generally Gothic

β€œπ•΄ 𝖆𝖒 π–‘π–Žπ–π–Š 𝖆 π–˜π–’π–†π–‘π–‘ π–ˆπ–—π–Šπ–†π–™π–šπ–—π–Š π–˜π–œπ–†π–‘π–‘π–”π–œπ–Šπ–‰ π–œπ–π–”π–‘π–Š π–‡π–ž 𝖆 π–’π–”π–“π–˜π–™π–Šπ–—, π–˜π–π–Š π–™π–π–”π–šπ–Œπ–π–™, 𝖆𝖓𝖉 π–™π–π–Š π–’π–”π–“π–˜π–™π–Šπ–— π–‹π–Šπ–Šπ–‘π–˜ π–’π–ž π–™π–Žπ–“π–ž π–‘π–Žπ–™π–™π–‘π–Š π–’π–”π–›π–Šπ–’π–Šπ–“π–™π–˜ π–Žπ–“π–˜π–Žπ–‰π–Š.”

On this reading, I heard, most loudly, house as mother – a concept Jackson explicitly explores in chapter 8.3. It is her mother’s death that propels Nell, homeless, toward Hill House. The absence of her mother – for whom she cared, for whom she lived, whom she hated, and by whom she felt hated in return – fills Hill House. It decorates, boldly, with resentment and guilt. For Nell, the house manifests in mind as mother. It decorates, boldly, in horror and blood. It communicates, at first, banging through walls – just as mother did… It protects and harms, enveloping her in powerful arms. It is, as Books From Fangorn astutely observed during book club discussion, womblike – Nell, in utero, is unformed, dependent, imprisoned within bloody, red walls. And, like a monstrous mother’s womb, it is here that she grows into herself – a paranoid, fearful self. It is here that she determines her fate: if not Hill House, then not anywhere.

“𝕬𝖓 π–Šπ–“π–™π–Žπ–—π–Š π–•π–†π–˜π–™ π–ˆπ–”π–’π–Šπ–˜ 𝖙𝖔 π–‰π–œπ–Šπ–‘π–‘ π–Žπ–“ 𝖆 π–“π–Šπ–œ π–π–”π–šπ–˜π–Š.” – π•­π–†π–ˆπ–π–Šπ–‘π–†π–—π–‰

“Hill House itself, not sane, stood against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Closing paragraph, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, Shirley Jackson.

What, if anything, do you think Hill House represents? Share your thoughts and theories with me below.

~

This blog post was fuelled by candles burnt at both ends and a house mutating in shadows. If you have enjoyed it, please consider making a small contribution so that I need not be plunged into darkness.

The next Spooky Nerds Book Club read will be announced soon; follow along on IG or twitter to keep up to [frequently belated] date.

Submissions are open – if you have creative or critical writing or artistic expression in any blog-compatible mode that you’d like to see here, get in touch. If you’d like to collab., or have an exciting new endeavour in need of review, IΒ  am similarly all ears/eyes/fangs.

In the meantime, dive deeper into the gothic psyche, with:
An Unutterable Wretchedness of the Mind: β€˜JaneΒ Eyre’,
Everything was Brightness, or Dark: β€˜Wide SargassoΒ Sea’, and
A Dream Dreaming Itself: β€˜Hiraeth’ AuthorΒ Interview.

One thought on “Raising Ghosts: ‘The Haunting of Hill House’

  1. An amazing insight as always, I love reading your blog so much and I honestly missed it! I enjoyed the read-along so much, there was an incredible discussion.

    In this post, mention Bachelard’s theories of physical space but also give an insight on objects that compose the house, I hadn’t thought about objects that compose the house at all! You made a very interesting point that could be explored deeper in the future! I can think of Baudrillard’s object theory, as he suggests that objects give us information about spaces, personalities, situations, among others. As you mentioned, the lions Elanor thinks about having are meaningful.

    I honestly love the collaborative analysis so much! The idea of the womb occurred to me after I read your suggestion that the house could be understood as a mother. I had read a book called “The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image” by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, and a book by Joseph Campbell called “Goddess”. Those books talk about a possible explanation of rock art in caves, the authors suggest that the cave might be understood as a womb because it could have transformed human beings, but at the same time, it was a dark space that could contain life. When you mentioned that the house could be understood as a mother, I remember the idea of those authors, even if they refer to rock art in caves, the house in “The House of Hill House”, certainly might function as a womb, as it is where Elanor seems to have found a place where she grows into another self. There is a transformation, as it might have happened to human beings who stamped their hands on the walls of dark caves transforming themselves.

    I have had “The Haunting of Hill House” lying on my shelf for a long time waiting to be read, it was one of your post, one you wrote on Instagram, before the Spooky Nerds Book Club, that inspired me to make some additional time to read the novel. And it was a wonderful journey to reread it again for the book club!

    Like

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