The Haunting of Hill House

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The Haunting of Hill House

Editado: Dic 25, 2017, 3:30 am

Why I created this thread: (just substitute Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House for The Castle of Otranto). May contain spoilers, of course.

Dic 25, 2017, 3:11 am

This isn't actually one of Punter and Byron's 'Key Works' (I'd got it into my head it was, for some reason), but it was critically respected - according to Wikipedia 'considered one of the best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century' - and is the source for my all-time favourite horror film, The Haunting (1963), so I think it's worth it's own thread.

Editado: Dic 25, 2017, 3:28 am

I've read the first quarter or so and I'm puzzled.

What is the significance to the lady with the broken bag, or the utterly defeated girl in the diner? Are they somehow symbolic of Eleanor?

Why Twelfth Night? Does it seem somewhat inapposite in the context? I don't mean in terms of the 'seize the day' sentiment of the song, but being reminded of the play as a whole brings jolly thoughts to me rather than adding to the sense of menace.

Editado: Dic 25, 2017, 3:39 am

>1 alaudacorax:

I'd actually given up on my project of reading all of Punter and Byron's 'Key Works' after putting in a Herculean and masochistic effort to finish Caleb Williams and then finding myself confronted with The Monk, which I failed to get through three times. With some trepidation, I'm feeling a New Year's Resolution coming on ...

Editado: Dic 25, 2017, 8:51 pm

A totally irrelevant comment which I forgot when I was writing the above:

At the beginning of the book where Eleanor's family are arguing about her taking the car, her brother-in-law says, "I just don't think she should take the car, is all ..." He says it twice. I was quite astonished by this as I'd been firmly convinced that this 'is all' usage was invented by Joss Whedon or one of his writers - I was sure I'd never heard it in my life before Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I obviously don't know American speech patterns as well as I thought I did.

Dic 25, 2017, 10:52 pm

"is all" was very common in speech when I was younger. These sorts of idioms/phrases sometimes last a long time (and many don't). I was born in 1953.

I read this about 2 years ago and as I recall I thought it more creepy than horror. It isn't fresh enough in my mind to comment on your thoughts.

Editado: Dic 30, 2017, 4:00 am

> - ... I thought it more creepy than horror.

Interesting ... 'creepy' pretty much defines my ideal for a horror story or film ...

I've been puzzling over definitions and terminology, lately.

Literary studies tend to talk of 'terror' and 'horror - from Wikipedia, Terror is usually described as the feeling of dread and anticipation that precedes the horrifying experience. By contrast, horror is the feeling of revulsion that usually occurs after something frightening is seen, heard, or otherwise experienced.

Yet, when we talk of films, the latter may be called 'slashers', but are included firmly in the horror genre and the media doesn't really differentiate them from what I think of as 'traditional horror' which are predominantly powered by 'terror' - for example, the (first) film version of this book.

So, yes, I'm a big fan of 'creepy' - the creepier, the better - creepiness ratchetted up till you're twitching! I'm not really a fan of gross-out, slasher effects, though. So, I don't know if you intended so, but to me your comment comes across as a recommendation!

Dic 30, 2017, 12:55 pm

This is what I wrote after finishing it June 30, 2015. I would recommend it. The definitions you pulled up are interesting. In my mind Hill House isn't a horror novel - It is a suspense, supernatural gothic horror sort of story - a ghost story etc. Creepy fits into those sorts of stories quite well. I tend to avoid slasher sort of of horror - horror that really grosses you out. Hill House has some terror in it by the definition above and I would agree with that - terror in suspense novels or films is pretty common. Here is what I wrote ...

There is a real charm to this 1959 spooky psychological tale of horror. Hill House has a sad family history and it is very oddly built. A Dr. Montague wants to investigate it, since that is what he likes to do. He invites quite a few people to come stay at Hill House, which he has rented. Some respond. Even fewer show up. In fact, other than a nephew of the owner, only two young women show up. The scary stuff is fairly mild, but enough to creep you out if you are so inclined. Elements of the story will seem rather familiar to a modern audience. Since this is the early somewhat seminal stuff I don't think it can be a cliché - rather it is the prototype that inspired many imitators I would bet. The attention to small details in this is really rather superb and sets the story up nicely and continues to reward the reader. The characters are done very well, especially the two central women of the story Eleanor and Theodora. The nephew of the owner of the house, Luke, is a lesser but still important character.

Eleanor Vance is seriously in need of an adventure, an escape from the real world that she has been dealing with, and a selfish domineering older sister and brother-in-law who you want to give a good slap to, even if they are well meaning in some ways. Eleanor rebels and responding to a call that both attracts and repels, she journeys to Hill House. She wants to run away when she arrives, and yet something keeps her there. We listen in on Eleanor's internal dialogue and after a bit I began to think she was at least a little unbalanced or crazy, or at least a little warped and lacking in self esteem. She's breaking out of her old bubble coming to Hill House, and that should be a good thing. It isn't though as she seems destined to be possessed in a way by the evil presence of the house. Theodora is less well known to us. She seems a bit of a free spirit, flighty, prone to mood changes, and yet she and Eleanor bond when first meeting.

If one has an inkling for an old-fashioned but very well done haunted house story I can certainly recommend this. Not a long novel but I read it slow to take it all in. My internal "sense of justice" meter didn't like the ending, but it was effective. Who says a haunted house plays fair? I knew this was made into a movie long ago but didn't realize until I was half done that this is also the story for the 1999 film starring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luke Wilson, which explains why I kept having this vague feeling I had read the book before. The story was familiar from watching the movie on Netflix last year. duh.

Editado: Feb 9, 2018, 10:21 am

Sounds wonderful. Going on my list. Have not seen any movie related to this book, but helps to have the pool full before diving in! Will try to read it before watching Julie Harris do her thing.

I did see The Changeling (1980) with George C. Scott and his 2nd wife (sorry, I am a Colleen Dewhurst fan) and enjoyed it enough to read the book, but am unsure if it was an original script or an adaptation. The main character did not know about the temperament of the house going in, nor were there any other occupants, but it was most definitely haunted.

>7 alaudacorax: I also like the idea that there are different terms for pre and post scare. Terror is concept in the mind, horror is reaction to the experience. Clear as day, just never before thought of it that way.

>4 alaudacorax: Oh dear, they are both on my list for next year. Drat.

>3 alaudacorax: As for Twelfth Night, isn't there a scene where Malvolio gets locked up and is deemed mad? They play a nasty trick on him, unfair and immature, but they feel justified in their behavior, but he doesn't know that at the time ... He is confused and outraged and hanging onto the final shreds of sanity and dignity until he is finally released. Maybe that has something to do with the Julie Harris character spiraling into the experience so quickly due to her timid persona. My 2012 dvd with Brian Dennehy as Sir Toby, filmed at Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Ontario (within an hour drive from me), might reveal something new if I take another peek before buying a .99cent Kobo ebook. Looking forward to indulging in both. Maybe after that, the 1963 & 1999 films?!

>5 alaudacorax: Also, I wasn't around in the 50s but I still hear people say (and see them write) 'is all' (Canada) but my mother would have had a meltdown if any of her four daughters had used it in even an informal conversation. Same goes for 'eh' ... never in a million years will it escape my mouth. She's been gone awhile now, but I'm quite certain she'd return and snap my behind with a wet tea towel - ouch!

Feb 9, 2018, 9:22 am

>9 frahealee: I didn't love Caleb Williams (which is classified as Gothic and I guess I can see where that's coming from but it's not remotely the same sort of thing one thinks of when thinking of Gothic novels; Godwin was a philosopher and Caleb Williams is more along the lines of Dickens than being at all a Gothic horror novel) or The monk, but I had not the least difficulty getting through either, and The monk is really quite standard fare as far as all the typical old Gothics are concerned, if you've read those and liked them, you ought not dislike it either.

Feb 9, 2018, 9:39 am

>7 alaudacorax: I would share your opinion regarding "creepy". Hitchcock had it right. He never showed anything horrible. He relied on his audience to imagine it.

Robert Aickman's stories would follow the same approach.

Editado: Feb 9, 2018, 10:42 am

>10 .Monkey.: Oh yes, The Monk is on every list of Gothic Literature I have ever seen, so must address it eventually. Caleb Williams was a suggestion for a group book read, and I had never heard of it. I could consume one after the next after the next, but need to make time for my other goals too, to balance out my efforts. A little of this, a little of that, keeps it all fresh.

>11 pgmcc: Saw The Birds (1963) as a child, after a wedding reception. That babysitter was a sicko! Scarred me for life, but likely started my fascination with black/white film. I should have been watching The Aristocats! No recall of spooky stories when young, but lots of Hallowe'en lore in future writing for school and beyond. The scene I always picture in Dickens is when the stage coach breaks down along the road at night during the trip to Dover, in A Tale of Two Cities. I love the way he builds suspense, with the lantern in the gloom, and the sounds, etc. All for not! Terrific use of sensory language to send shivers up the spine!

Will gladly research Aickman also.

Feb 9, 2018, 10:41 am

>12 frahealee: I have not read A Tale of Two Cities yet but plan to in the not too distant future. Your comments are increasing the chances that I will read it sooner rather than later. I am due some Dickens in my reading diet.

Editado: Feb 9, 2018, 1:41 pm

>13 pgmcc: It was an unexpected delight. Must admit, my son roped me into reading it years ago for high school English class, without first having checked page count, so begged me to zoom through and help him with exam prep. After the book, we watched the film together A Tale of Two Cities (1935) with Ronald Colman, both so worthwhile. I have identical twin sons, so he found that "mirror" element critical to his enjoyment of the story. Enjoy your dip back into Dickens! May take some trudging, but wow, just wow. His wiser twin read a book half as hulking, but the next year, went with the very compact The Great Gatsby. Ha!

The other funny connection, was just yesterday, I looked up a dark comedy film reference with Andy Serkis Burke and Hare (2010) and realized that it also 'sees its shadow' reflected in A Tale of Two Cities. When 'housefulofpaper' spoke of Lewton, online research brought this to light. True story, grisly details, but will watch it someday. I could not access The Seventh Victim on YouTube, but saw snippets of scenes. The same goes for The Haunting (1963). Unable to find full movie, but a few select scenes certainly create immediate impact and leave you wanting more.

Pardon me for being chatty today, but we are snowed in with 20cm expected. Coffee and book ready ... shovel duty can wait. Currently flexing my imagination muscle!

Feb 10, 2018, 6:38 am

>14 frahealee:

The number of times I've enthused over The Haunting in this group is probably making me boring, but I think it's really worth your while watching - my all-time favourite horror film. Julie Harris is brilliant: first seeing it was the first time I was aware of her and afterwards I was astonished to come across several completely different women on screen - all played by Julie Harris - I saw her in something as a drug-addicted but seedily glamorous jazz singer - about as far from The Haunting's Eleanor as one could imagine. Come to think of it, I'm probably due for another watch of the The Haunting ...

>12 frahealee:

That babysitter must have had your future interests at heart - you are probably now perfectly equipped to get the utmost frisson out of all those scenes where a bird suddenly flies out and startles the hero/heroine!

Feb 10, 2018, 7:01 am

>12 frahealee:

Caleb Williams and The Monk between them pretty much derailed my project of reading all the novels treated in 'Key Works' in Punter & Byron's The Gothic.

Hated Caleb Williams - thought Godwin was a lousy writer - and thoroughly enjoyed writing a nasty review of it on my blog. I failed three times to drag myself all the way through The Monk and lately I've been trying to brace myself up for another attempt.

I need to finish with The Haunting of Hill House first, though. I got through it pretty quickly, but, between Julie Harris interfering with my reading and some puzzlement over the narrative voice's attitudes, I've decided to read it again. Second thoughts, it's probably not a good idea to re-watch The Haunting at the moment (>15 alaudacorax:).

Editado: Ago 11, 2018, 9:15 am

Finally found a time slot to enjoy this story, an audiobook online narrated by David Warner. Made me want to dig out A Christmas Carol dvd with George C. Scott as Scrooge and Warner as the buoyant Bob. 1984. Did manage to find the 1999 film online. Still have not seen the original.

I could listen to this every night; balm, humour, sincerity, startling, sublime vocals. Short enough for one day's indulgence. It brought to mind Hemingway's The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, 1947 (EH's personal favourite). It made for a good day.

Editado: Ago 12, 2018, 2:36 pm

Noticed a new production underway for a limited series, found accidentally when researching something about Carla Gugino. Time will tell whether worth watching. We don't use Netflix so will not be able to see it personally, but thought it might be of interest to someone.

If Amblin is behind it, that means they're working with Spielberg's resources.

Editado: Ene 23, 2019, 11:33 pm

>16 alaudacorax: - ... I've decided to read it again.

I never did get round to a re-read, but, prompted by WeeTurtle's starting of a 'Shirley Jackson' thread earlier today, I've just spent the evening reading it through.

The thing is, while I found it quite enthralling, I don't feel I've properly got to grips with it any more than I did last time. The thing seems to shift under one's feet, somehow.

First of all, is Hill House actually haunted, or are we intended to conclude that all the supernatural manifestations are poltergeist activity caused, together with the showers of stones of her childhood, directly by Eleanor? Or, if Hill House actually is haunted, of whom is the ghost? Hugh Crain, who died far away? The companion who hung herself? One of the sisters? One of the first two wives? Or are we to accept the house itself as an animate and malignant entity? Jackson seems to be offering us our choice of possibilities.

I can't quite get my head around the extreme swings in Eleanor's feelings towards Theodora and Theodora's behaviour towards her. I was tempted to see Eleanor's swings as an indication of her mental instability, but they are to some extent mirrored by Theodora. Are they both being psychically manipulated by the house?

And I seem to have written that far and fallen asleep, and now it's ten to four in the morning ...

Ene 24, 2019, 8:26 am

So much in this book is puzzling that I'm now wondering if I can make the argument that Jackson intentionally created a study in ambiguity. The house is 'off' in so many ways - for example, it is deliberately built with all the angles and levels a little out of true so as to unsettle the visitor. Did Jackson mirror this in her writing of the book as a deliberate intellectual exercise?

Ene 24, 2019, 9:05 am

And then there are a lot of disturbing little points that I didn't know how to fit into my posts.

I don't know what to say about the undercurrent of dry humour running through the book, though it defintely adds rather than detracts.

I don't know what to think about the cynicism towards human character that it seems to show - absolutely no character in the book is 'satisfactory': minor characters are defeated, unpleasant or downright nasty; the narrator treats Montague sceptically from the start - and for his character and methods, not for his believe in the supernatural, which the narrator accepts in the opening lines; the narrator tells us straight off that Luke is a liar and a thief (though he does show courage and character in bringing Nell from the spiral staircase); Theodora is self-centred, a drama queen and attention-seeker, and cruel to her lover; Eleanor seems the most sympathetic at first, but then her character seems to become more like Theodora's and there are the vague hints that she deliberately brought about her mother's death.

Then there is the really problematic ending: at the last moment she clearly wakes up to the reality of what she is doing, but at the same I was left with the seriously disturbing impression that this was a happy ending for Eleanor - and that Shirley Jackson was playing games with my head!

Ene 24, 2019, 9:09 am

>20 alaudacorax: I think Jackson was being very clever in some of her techniques. She was constantly giving clues to future events while filtering through disinformation and doubt. I felt she had signalled the ending at an early stage so was not surprised when it happened, but she was leaving so many options about the origins of the haunting that it was intriguing to follow the events that took place with the characters.

I found the professor's wife to be great comic relief. It struck me as not just bit of humour introduced to lighten the tone, but almost a social snub by the spirits of the house against the arrogance of the wife's confident knowledge and certainty of purpose in relation to the needs of the wandering phantasms.

Editado: Ene 24, 2019, 11:37 am

I’ve just been reading ‘Helping Eleanor Come Home: A Reassessment of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House’, by Brittany Roberts, from The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies 16 (Autumn 2017). It’s quite absorbing and illuminating - particularly on the 'happy ending' I mentioned above - though holds a viewpoint that some might not agree with.

If anyone's interested it's at

ETA - I really should have warned anyone interested to read the novel first - the article contains spoilers, of course.

Editado: Ene 24, 2019, 11:29 am

>22 pgmcc:

Yes, it was funny. It leaves Montague rather a pathetic figure, though, and having read some snippets of Jackson's home life in the article linked in >23 alaudacorax:, I have to wonder if she wasn't working out a little revenge/wish-fulfillment on the husband/father-figure - is the professor a cuckold, perhaps?

Ene 24, 2019, 11:35 am

Anyway, I'm not sure if my above lengthy posts made it clear, but my second reading made me a confirmed Jackson fan - I'm definitely going to read more of her stuff. However, believe it or not, I'm going to read this yet again, first - just have to read it once more in the light of the Brittany Roberts article.

Ene 24, 2019, 12:23 pm

>24 alaudacorax: is the professor a cuckold, perhaps?

I must say that did cross my mind and I got the impression that he knew it and did not really care.

Ene 25, 2019, 2:12 am

>26 pgmcc:

Of course, it still confuses the issue that in my mind's eye I see him as Richard Johnson in the '63 film - not all what Shirley Jackson described.

Ene 25, 2019, 3:01 am

>27 alaudacorax: My recollection of the film is so vague and my reading of the book so recent I was not affected in that way. Having just looked at pictures of Richard Johnson in the film (the wonders of the Google world) I can agree that my mental picture was not in line with Richard Johson’s appearance. Whether my mental image from the book was true to Jackson’s description I know not but I had pictured an older man, a more professorial man. Johnson looks slightly too young to match my mental image.

Ene 25, 2019, 8:56 am

>28 pgmcc:

Her description in the book actually brought to my mind photographs of the older M. R. James, but this was probably because of her use of the name Montague.

Netflix has made a 'modern reimagining' of The Haunting of Hill House. I've just been reading about it and apparently 'reimagining' means 'we've borrowed a few names and we're going to chuck Shirley Jackson's name and her book title about a bit to try to add some gravitas' ...

Ene 25, 2019, 9:08 am

>29 alaudacorax:
Oh, you mean Netflix has done with The Haunting of Hill House the same thing that virtaully every film ever based on a Philip K. Dick story has done?

Ene 25, 2019, 9:14 am

>27 alaudacorax:

I had a similar experience with Our Man in Havana. The film, starring Alec Guinness, was a firm favourite in our house and I had seen it many times before ever reading the book. When I read the book I could not picture anyone else other than Alec Guinness in the role. I found myself wondering if Graham Greene had written the role with Alec Guinness in mind or if Alec Guinness, when asked to play the role, played it so well that his performance matched the book's character perfectly and whether he had adopted the character's behaviours for future roles. I have read the book a couple of times in the past few years and seen the film again. I cannot shake the first impression I had.

Ene 26, 2019, 6:53 am

>30 pgmcc:

Blade Runner is one of my favourite films ever (the director's cut NOT the original cinema release!) and, of course, I had to read the book - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Really not the same thing - I was so disappointed I don't think I've read anything by Philip K Dick since, even though it was was obviously not his fault. I'm just an illogical person, I suppose ...

Editado: Ene 26, 2019, 8:22 am

>32 alaudacorax: I have managed, after much angst, to get myself to consider a book and its screen adaptation as two separate entities and to judge them as entirely separate entities and not to compare them. That has made life a lot more pleasant for me.

Like yourself, Blade Runner is one of my favourite films, if not my absolute favourite. I too read the book after having seen the film and was disappointed. However, I had read other Philip K. Dick stories and novels before and enjoyed them enough not to be put off by that experience. (I find the quality of his stories goes up and down but find the good ones sufficiently rewarding to persevere through the dross.) From the films "Total Recall" (the real one, not the Colin Farrell fiasco) and "Minority Report" I learnt that film makers take Dick's name, a few ideas, and an essence of the original plot from his stories and then make films that bear little or no resemblance to the original story. The only way to enjoy them properly is to consider them as a totally separate entity.

By the way, the original story for "Total Recall" is a short story called "We Can Remember it for you Wholesale". (Apologies if you already knew that.) If you can get your hands on it you can enjoy a story that has a great ending and I think it leaves the ending of Arnie's screen version in the poor place.

The "Minority Report" film did an interesting take on the original story. The main protagonist in the film is actually the bad guy in the book.

Apparently "A Scanner Darkly" is the screen adaptation that keeps closest to the original story of all the Dick screen adaptations. I have not read the original story yet so cannot comment.

In my experience, and this has nothing to do with Philip K. Dick, the film I have seen that kept closest to the book it was based on is, "The Name of the Rose" based on Umberto Eco's medieval murder mystery, the one that brought him to the attention of the reading masses. I detected only one slight change to the book at the end of the film and it was not material to the story. Even the sex scene in the kitchen kept very close to the original description.

To return this post to something close, if not exactly in the realm of a haunted house, I shall describe my experiences of The Exorcist. When the film was announced and was due for release I hunted down the novel and read it before seeing the film. (The book is much more scary than the film.) As I read the book I found the character of the policeman to be that of Columbo, the TV detective played by Peter Falk. I went to the film expecting to see just such a character and was a bit disappointed to find that the policeman was played by Lee J. Cobb. He played the role with his usual competence but the character was a relatively low-key detective rather than the muddle-headed bungler who was working everything out logically behind his fake public face. I thought I must have been mistaken in my reading of the novel.

Some time later I was browsing in a bookshop, as one does, and found a book entitled, The Making of the Exorcist*. I of course bought the book and devoured it. In this book it discussed many aspects of making the film, including the picking of Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" for the film's theme, and also the elements of the book that were too much to include in an hour-and-a-half film. Hey presto, the character of the policeman was considered too much to keep in and was excluded from the film but was used to make a TV detective series entitled, you guessed it, "Columbo".

Ever since then I have been waiting for the pub quiz question, "What is the connection between the Exorcist and Columbo?"

*That is one of my books that I leant to a friend and never saw again. I leant it to him the 1970s so I do not think I am likely to ever see it again. :-(

ETA: About four years ago the Irish Film Institute (a type of film club open to the public (members get preferential treatment and early booking rights) in the centre of Dublin that shows arty and special interest films, and hosts foreign language film festivals etc...) had a one night showing of "Blade Runner: the Director's Cut". I attended with my wife and one of my sons. As you can imagine it was a specialist audience; only people who knew and loved the film were there. It was an amazing experience to sit and watch it in a cinema environment with everybody focused on the film and not making any noise. Everyone who was there was there to see a film they loved. It was the perfect cinematic experience.

Editado: Ene 26, 2019, 11:45 pm

>32 alaudacorax:

I'm off the mind that those are really two (book and novel) different works and don't compare well. They each had different points to make, I think.

Ene 27, 2019, 6:58 am

>33 pgmcc:, >34 WeeTurtle:

Yes, quite agree - it's really a mistake to be impressed by a film and immediately rush into reading the book ...

The only film I can remember that really mirrored the book - and bear in mind I haven't come across either in many decades so my memory might be a bit at fault - is To Kill a Mockingbird.

Ene 27, 2019, 7:45 am

>35 alaudacorax:
I enjoyed both the book and the film but my recollection is that I read the book several years after seeing the film so managed to avoid the urge for a direct comparison.

Feb 24, 2020, 10:38 pm

>8 RBeffa: >33 pgmcc: Mild! Oh my God. This book The Haunting of Hill House and the film The Exorcist scared me for life! The book The Exorcist didn't bother me that much. I grew up in a truly haunted house, and I could so easily imagine holding a hand for hours, and discovering it could not have been my companion! I could barely go to sleep at night at home because a spectral man would sit on the end of my bed and look at me. I just couldn't close my eyes, and I still have insomnia. When you don't know what will happen, and it could be literally anything, anything, how could anything be scarier?

mayo 16, 2020, 8:24 pm

I've read this book several times. When I was an early teenager (I'm now 68). I would sneak out of my bed, get the book and read...being terrified most of the time. Don't ask me why I read it - you'd think that terror would allow me to not read it anymore...
At any rate, the book is one to remember - very scary.
PS As an adult (college age) I NEVER went to a scary movie or read a scary book. I was scarred for life from my young teenager sneaking around! ;)

mayo 16, 2020, 10:41 pm

"UtopianPessimist"--love the handle. :)

Jun 18, 2020, 2:08 pm

My Husband uses SkepticalOptimist
It's a riot, because they really are US!
Funny, eh?

Jun 19, 2020, 10:33 am

I sometimes use Enigma'sConundrum.

Jun 19, 2020, 9:59 pm

>40 UtopianPessimist:

A match made in heaven, as they say!