Shirley Jackson Biography Essay

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As Franklin keenly observes, “One of the ironies of Jackson’s fiction is the essential role that women play in enforcing the standards of the community—standards that hurt them most.”In a biography densely packed with anecdotes, letters, highly detailed descriptions, and lengthy, thoughtful analyses of most of Jackson’s work, Franklin paints a picture of Jackson as creatively fulfilled but isolated and unhappy.

She relied on Hyman for critical feedback, but resented her dependence on him.

There was the “Polish slut of twenty-six” who was “damned good-looking in a consumptive way”; the three bohemian girls he met at a party (“I fondled them all indiscriminately [and] called all three of them ‘baby’ ”); and the cute redhead in the apartment upstairs he romanced while Jackson was on vacation with her family.

Like any critic worth his salt, Hyman justified his behavior with ideology.

In his view, all enlightened bohemians recognized that monogamy was a faulty construct designed for high-capitalist sheep.

Jackson wrote him angry letters about his affairs, but rarely sent them.

Reading her work today sometimes feels like discovering a detailed prophecy not just of rape culture but of the vitriolic thugs who seem to rule the internet and have somehow invaded politics lately.

Seven decades before Donald Trump’s outraged mobs, Jackson unveiled the brutality and contempt that lurk beneath the surface of neighborly human interactions.

(Jackson once wrote of the faculty wife, “She is always just the teensiest bit in the way.”) By all reports, Jackson charted her own course through the domestic expectations placed on her.

A great cook, she balked at cleaning or playing the traditional, self-sacrificing mother but spent lots of time singing and reading books to her children.


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