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Let's discuss "Haunting of Hill House"
It seems like several of you have read Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House". I'd like to discuss that book. I don't care if we have plot spoilers in this. Anyone who hasn't read the book, beware. We can't really have a discussion without spoiling it for those who haven't.

This was a unique book and I think it would be well worth a discussion. I'd like to hear other people's take on this book.

Was the house really haunted? What was really going on? The author doesn't exactly come out and say anything specific, so we can all use our imagination to come up with our own conclusions.
tamtam Wrote:Was the house really haunted? What was really going on? The author doesn't exactly come out and say anything specific, so we can all use our imagination to come up with our own conclusions.

I think the house was definitely haunted, but it only fed off those minds that were already weak and vulnerable. People like Eleanor were the most susceptible to being victims.

This is why the Professor's wife was not affected. Even though she may have wanted to believe, she was a no-nonsense, confident woman who could not be victimized by the house.

Why and by whom the house was haunted, I'll have to think about that one.
I've never really made up my mind on whether the house was haunted or not, mostly because Eleanor's psychology is (to me) the real mystery. Let's put it this way: Eleanor is more haunted than the house, even if the house is haunted!

I do think it's a place that is "not good." Whether there were actually ghosts haunting it, I don't know (and I'm not sure Jackson knew, either), but I do think she set out to create a place that had an aura of evil and darkness. By putting Eleanor in such a place, her inevitable breakdown was sped up.

Maybe Eleanor was responsible for everything: the banging, the soiled room, etc. After all, she did have telekinetic ability as seen by the shower of stones that fell on her house when she was young. Perhaps there was psychic phenomena going on in the house--but it was all Eleanor.

I think the ambiguity of it all is one of the most fascinating things about the novel.

Also, one thing that no film or play version has done is to do the scene outdoors, when Theo and Eleanor go for a walk. I found that scene strangely frightening. It works on a very subtle level and suggests that (since the characters were outside the house) that a) the grounds were haunted as well or b) it's evidence that the "haunting" is all Eleanor-created, since they aren't in the house when this happens.

Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite writers. Ambiguity is a big theme in her work, but I don't find it frustrating. Instead, it's endlessly fascinating.
I still haven't gotten a copy of the film but I am curious to see it. If you are referring to the walk they took at night, I wondered about what Theo saw that was scary. She never described it. She just told Eleanor to run.

There was definitely something wrong with the house. As Jackson described, it was as if it was "sick". The professor attributed the poltergeist activity to Eleanor as a child, but how do we know it was not her sister as well? For the sake of our discussion, I'm willing to concede that it was more likely Eleanor. I also agree with Desdemona that she was weak-minded, or very susceptible to her atmosphere, and therefore, was more likely to experience the hauntings. But as I said before, especially in the last scene in their little drawing room, when she was experiencing voices that no one else heard, it was like she was on a psychedelic trip.
You know, when I think of a haunted house, it usually is haunted because something dreadful happened in the home. What happened in this house? Practically nothing, except for the companion who committed suicide, and that came much later. The lady of the house was killed in the drive, so the grounds should have been haunted, which can explain the strange scenes outside the house. Perhaps, the loneliness of the individuals who lived there left an aura of unhappiness, but they talked about how happy the girls were as children, before they started bickering. Perhaps the original owner, in building the house with unusual dimensions (and I cannot imagine how a house like that could stand up) made it 'mad' like a mentally or emotionally disturbed individual, whose hormones in the brain are are not right.

Now, let's look at the characters. I personally felt sorry for Eleanor and I did not like what happened to her. Poltergeist activity is attributed to children, but how does an adult influence psychic events. I think something about her did connect with the house, even though it repelled her at first. But I was shocked that the house didn't try to protect her, to keep her there. (I'm reminded of that TV movie way back when, "This House Possessed" where the house tried to protect the heroine) I wonder if the Professor set Eleanor up, knowing she was weak-minded. Theo and the other guy (I forget his name) seemed to go out of their way to belittle Eleanor. Did anyone else feel their conversations were strange? Did you think the house had anything to do with that?
I don't know what different cultures believe, but growing up my parents were very superstitious when it came to buying a house. They would research the history of the previous owners and if there was anything they considered negative, they would try to avoid the house. A big example is a divorce. The last house they bought, though, was from a widow, whose elderly husband died at home from a chronic illness. A few years after living in it, my mother developed cancer and died. It's strange, too, when someone I knew was looking for a house and I related these superstitions to her, she recalled neighbors who divorced and sold their home. Three subsequent couples in the house ended up divorcing and selling the house. She also found a "stigmatized house" and when she asked the realtor about it, she was told a man had killed his wife in the house, so the house was considered "stigmatized" and realtors avoided those houses due to concerns about future resale. So I guess the superstitious feelings are ubiquitous. I would also venture to guess that houses can become "haunted" or have a bad aura not only from catastrophic disasters but an overwhelming feeling of "badness". The things you describe, such as, strange dimensions in the house, grief at the original homecoming, bitterness within the family, several small family tragedies, etc., coud build up to create an evil environment within the house and its surroundings.

I can't remember the book well, but when did the "hauntings" start? Didn't it start with the companion? Didn't she think the younger sister was stealing? and the younger sister denied it? Perhaps the house was angry with the companion, perhaps the younger sister somehow influenced the house to have these feelings towards the companion and drove her to suicide.

The author stated that previous occupants of the house left after a few days without talking about their experiences. Could we assume that they were all hypersensitive? Why couldn't any of them have been as no-nonsense as the Professor's wife? The Professor had invited Theo and Eleanor due to their previous psychic experiences, which made them susceptible to whatever was going on in Hill House. But these other occupants, as far as we know, did not have any of these previous experiences. Why were they vulnerable and not the Professor's wife or Arthur?
Tamtam, definitely get the 1960's version of the film if you are interested in one that has any relationship to the book. The more recent version is nothing like it. In fact, it dismisses all subtlety, which is the antithesis of what Jackson was portraying.

And yes, I was referring to the scene when they go walking outside and Theo sees something horrible. There is something vague about the scene, since we never know what is so terrifying. But, to me anyway, that makes it all the more scary.

I think what MysteryMind said about wondering why the house was haunted since nothing terrible happened there is very interesting. In both film versions, they make the past events in the house far more dramatic. Jackson could have given the house a truly horrific past, but she doesn't. Again, I think this reinforces the idea that the house is diseased in some way--a place of loneliness and isolation--but not necessarily haunted in the traditional sense.

Regarding whether their conversations were strange or not, I agree, they were strange. Everything was a little off in the way everyone interacted. I think lots and lots of things were going on there. The dialogue reflects Eleanor's relationship to other people in general, and also shows all the strange tensions/conflicts going on under the surface. It's light and superficial at times, full of jokes, but often has a biting, dark undertone.

The whole book is almost like a riddle, isn't it?
Yes, it was like a riddle and when you finished, you wondered what was really going on. That's what was unique with this book and it was a good one for discussion. Thanks to everyone who contributed. I wish we could find another to discuss like this. We'll be discussing all the Gothic themes with the three books we listed, but we should find something unique like "The Haunting of Hill House" to discuss as well.
Wait, wait! I'm not done yet!

I wanted to throw two more ideas out there.

Some criticism I've read suggests that part of the psychic energy of the house was a manifestation of Eleanor's repressed sexuality. There is an unusual attraction between her and Theo and I've also read that this may have been of a sexual nature. I'm not sure that Jackson was thinking THIS deeply about the characters, but it's interesting to consider.

Also, regarding the haunting of the house, there were sick vibes and hints of impropriety from Hugh Crain's book to his daughter. The man had a strange religious fixation and his book had pictures of terrible things happening to his daughter if she did not remain pure. He included pictures of the seven deadly sins and drew the picture of lust himself. He then signed the book with his own blood.

This was the one part I felt very uncomfortable with in the whole book. Reading between the lines, was there child abuse in this house? I think Theodora's words hint at it, "Hugh Crain," Theodora said, "you were a dirty old man and you made a dirty old house and if you can still hear me from anywhere I would like to tell you to your face that I genuinely hope you will spend eternity in that foul horrible picture and never stop burning for a minute."
Was there child abuse in the history of Hill House? Or was this more a reflection of the characters' (Theo, Eleanor) own histories?

There is something going on between Theo and Nell that is more than attraction, I think. It's something deeper, and I'm not sure either one understood it. Perhaps they are meant to be mirror images of each other: where Theo is relaxed about her psychic abilities, Nell is uptight. Where Theo is stylish, Nell is dowdy. Where Theo is socially adept, Nell is awkward. Yet, despite these differences, they are pulled toward one another. Is it sexual? Yes, partly--but maybe it's even more primal than sexuality. It's almost like they are "soul sisters."

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