Your audiobook is waiting…

Shirley Jackson

A Rather Haunted Life
Narrated by: Bernadette Dunne
Length: 19 hrs and 25 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (127 ratings)
Regular price: $38.46
$14.95/month after 30 days. Cancel anytime.

Publisher's Summary

National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, Biography, 2016

This historically relevant biography establishes Shirley Jackson as a towering figure in American literature and revives the life and work of a neglected master. 

Known to millions mainly as the author of the "The Lottery", Shirley Jackson has been curiously absent from the mainstream American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense and psychological horror, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America more deeply than anyone. Ruth Franklin reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the author of The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition stretching back to Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on "domestic horror". Almost two decades before The Feminine Mystique ignited the women's movement, Jackson's stories and nonfiction chronicles were already exploring the exploitation and the desperate isolation of women, particularly married women, in American society. 

Here Jackson emerges as a ferociously talented, determined, and prodigiously creative writer when it was unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession. Mother of four and wife of a prominent New Yorker critic and academic, Jackson lived a seemingly bucolic life in Vermont. Yet, much like her stories, which explored the claustrophobia of marriage and motherhood, Jackson's creativity was haunted by a darker side. As her career progressed, her marriage became more tenuous, her anxiety mounted, and she became addicted to amphetamines and tranquilizers. Franklin insightfully details the effects of Jackson's upbringing, hypercritical mother, and relationship with her husband. 

Based on previously undiscovered correspondence and dozens of new interviews, this book explores an astonishing talent shaped by a damaging childhood and turbulent marriage and becomes the definitive biography of a generational avatar and American literary giant. 

©2016 Ruth Franklin (P)2016 Blackstone Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    78
  • 4 Stars
    28
  • 3 Stars
    17
  • 2 Stars
    4
  • 1 Stars
    0

Performance

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    73
  • 4 Stars
    25
  • 3 Stars
    10
  • 2 Stars
    4
  • 1 Stars
    1

Story

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    70
  • 4 Stars
    27
  • 3 Stars
    15
  • 2 Stars
    2
  • 1 Stars
    0
Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Lesley
  • Seattle, WA, United States
  • 10-08-16

An incredible writer; a courageous woman

Millions of Americans have read "The Lottery"--if you've ever wondered about the mind behind it, you will love this biography.

Using new interviews and new correspondence, Ruth Franklin has produced a vivid yet nuanced portrait of Jackson, both as a writer and as a woman leading what was a very unconventional life for a member of The Greatest Generation. Her marriage was "mixed": her husband, critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, was Jewish at a time of widespread anti-semitism. Amid the racial bias of that era, some of the couple's friends, like novelist Ralph Ellison, were not white. Her more frightening works, like "The Lottery" and "The Haunting of Hill House," caused sensations when they were printed, and Jackson herself read tarot cards, claiming the label of "practicing amateur witch."

Coexisting with all that, however, was a more conventional person, a writer whose funny family stories frequently appeared in magazines for "ladies," like Good Housekeeping and Mademoiselle. A mother of four herself, she produced a book of advice for new mothers.

At the same time, neither version of Shirley Jackson was definitive--and neither was happy. The only daughter of a viciously critical mother who essentially rejected her, Jackson was self-conscious and anxious to extremes, suffering from agoraphobia and nightmares. Her marriage was not happy: Hyman, too, was over-critical, and she felt he lavished attention on his students and friends (including female friends), while paying less attention to her and the children.

Franklin observes the tension between the two unhappy Shirleys, drawing sharp parallels to Jackson's fiction. She is usually kind, even toward the womanizing Hyman, but she's never condescending as she shows us everything that Jackson was up against in post-war America: the idea that writing was men's work meant her writing often didn't get the attention it deserved. Small-town prejudice created constant nuisance in her daily life. The expectations for women of her era were difficult for any woman to embody--let alone a brilliant creative like Jackson.

I came away with a feeling that Jackson would have been happier if she were born later in history, and the simultaneous knowledge that a later Jackson would not have been the same writer. Like all the best biographers, Franklin concentrates on the personal while never overwhelming us with too much detail. Bernadette Dunne's smooth narration makes this book an excellent listen. Five stars all around--recommended for anyone who loves Jackson, even those who've read only "The Lottery."

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

I feel I really know her now!

Ruth Franklin should be applauded for her thorough and insightful biography of Shirley Jackson. I knew Shirley Jackson as the author of the lottery, I saw the film The Haunting before I knew that Shirley Jackson was the author of the Haunting of Hill House.

Although Daphne du Maurier was not mentioned in this biography, I find that Jackson and du Maurier have a way of bringing the reader into the inner life of their female protagonists, and of drawing the reader into the protagonists’ struggle with the mysterious and unsettling nature of the mind, of the perception of reality and time, and the struggle between the individual and society, as well as between individuals, that these two authors are linked together in my mind.

Bernadette Dunne is an excellent narrator, her voice is clear and her pace and emphasis are precise and appropriate. I look forward to hearing her voice again on another audiobook very soon.

I look forward to reading the other works by Shirley Jackson mentioned in this biography. Literary criticism is not my cup of tea, so I will not be reading the work of Stanley Hyman anytime soon, but I thought the biographer provided the needed amount of detail about Hyman’s work, for us to understand the marital, intellectual and professional relationship between Jackson and her husband. Also it is clear that Hyman was a source of frustration and pain for Jackson, often demanding and uncaring, but also supportive of her and encouraging of her talent, as he was of Ralph Ellison and other writers whom he admired.

The author also paints a picture of Shirley Jackson as a woman who bucked convention, who was a woman ahead of her time; a mother, wife, career woman, a creative person, highly successful in creating true art, and in doing so with great productivity, so that she was also financially successful in her profession.

Finally, I have never before learned so much about the development of an author, and how an author develops his or her work, and pursues a career, in the face of personal and professional challenges. For all of this, I am grateful to Ruth Franklin for writing this biography of Shirley Jackson.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Fantastic contribution!

Incredibly impressive in its scope, the value of this biography cannot be overstated. Franklin has worked tirelessly to synthesize the vast material record of Shirley Jackson into a readable and comprehensible work. And it's almost perfect. I felt that at times, there was too much repetition in the descriptions of Jackson and Hyman -- too much attention paid to the same cyclical problems faced by the couple without enough reflection. So much so that it was hard to keep track of time and space. Jackson was always struggling and Hyman was always chasing girls -- exiting and entering Bennington College, always writing this good thing for the New Yorker or this bad thing for the New Yorker. Shortening and condensing would have done this work some good. While the first half was absolutely riveting, I had to power through the last three hours or so -- unfortunately turns into a bit of a slog. Franklin's brilliant ideas and keen observations hidden amongst the humdrum onslaught of the everyday trials of Jackson and Hyman.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • David
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 10-22-17

The story of one of my favorite authors.

Franklin delivers one of the most thorough biographies of one of my favorite authors. She documents all of Jackson's life, her beginnings, her rise, her challenges, and her unfortunate early death. Franklin provides excellent sources and wonderful depth to the life of Jackson. My only serious critique is that Dunne does not distinguish between some of the 'characters' in this book well. However her pacing is solid, her pronunciation is easy to understand, and she does a decent enough job between switching her normal voice for the voice of Jackson when she reads sources directly attributed to Jackson. If you are a fan of Jackson's works, this biography is a must a listen.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Nellig
  • 05-28-17

Nice chewy one

This is a nice long, workmanlike, properly-researched account of Shirley Jackson's life. Very listenable. Perceptive and sympathetic without losing objectivity. Kept me entertained for ages.