The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 8, 2017

August 8, 1965

Joyce Carol Oates is an authority on Shirley Jackson (December 14, 1916 to August 8, 1965). We excerpt one of her reviews on Jackson.

Through her adult life Jackson managed, while maintaining a legendarily gregarious and intellectually intense household, to publish six novels, of which two
(The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle) are classics of American gothic fiction; a collection of unnervingly original, thematically linked stories, The Lottery: The Adventures of James Harris; and warmly humorous, best-selling memoirs of family life titled Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons,....

Jackson was a naturally gifted short-story writer for whom the form was a continuous challenge and delight. Her first story, “Janice,” published in a Syracuse University literary magazine in 1938 when she was a freshman, is nearly as accomplished, for all its brevity, as her more mature work; when her future husband, a fellow undergraduate at Syracuse, read “Janice” he demanded to know who the author was and vowed that he would marry her, which he did within two years. Through her career Jackson’s stories appeared in remarkably diverse magazines
—The New Yorker, Ladies’ Home Journal, Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Mademoiselle, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction—and were frequently anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories, at that time widely read and reviewed. Though Hyman complained that Jackson “received no awards or prizes, grants or fellowships” and was routinely left off lists of distinguished writers, the inclusion in these volumes constituted a substantial literary honor, and The Haunting of Hill House was nominated for a National Book Award in 1960.....

The witchcraft chronicles
[Jackson] treasured—written by male historians, often men of the church, who sought to demonstrate that witches presented a serious threat to Christian morality—are stories of powerful women: women who defy social norms, women who get what they desire, women who can channel the power of the devil himself.

Jackson’s last completed novel,
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is a first-person narrative in which adolescent witchcraft is celebrated; Merricat is an unrepentant murderess, with canny ways of survival in the midst of enemies that mimic Jackson’s own.

Of famous literary marriages, not a few seem to have been forged in hell. Yet like the marriages of Jean Stafford and Robert Lowell or Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, the marriage of Shirley Jackson and Stanley Edgar Hyman was both fruitful and destructive (to the wife); the passionately conflicted marital life seems to have been a stimulant to both, an inspiration as well as a font of rage and exhaustion. Out of the wellsprings of domestic life—its pleasures, its miseries, its repetitions—came much of the imagery of Jackson’s fiction, the painful as well as the light-hearted. Virtually all of her discomforting tales are set purposefully in houses, as places of definition and confinement. Here in her essay “Memory and Delusion”—included in the recent anthology
Let Me Tell You, coedited by two of her children, Laurence Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman DeWitt—is the captive cheerily assuring strangers that all is well:

I am a writer who, due to a series of innocent and ignorant faults of judgment, finds herself with a family of four children and a husband, an eighteen-room house and no help, and two Great Danes and four cats…. It’s a wonder I get even four hours’ sleep, it really is.

Joyce Carol Oates writing about Shirley Jackson, genius on genius, has a special persuasiveness, even apart from their both caring for cats.

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