i. start / miscellaneous snippets & thoughts

shirley hardie jackson (dec 14 1916 - aug 08 1965)
was an american horror writer born in san francisco. she moved to upstate new york in her senior year of high school, then attended the university of rochester & syracuse university, where she got a bachelor's in journalism and met her future husband, stanley edgar hyman. jackson and hyman married in 1940 and settled in north benningtom, vermont, where they had four children and jackson became the chief breadwinner of the family via her writing. hyman is also dead, now, so i feel no guilt in saying that he appears to have been a real shitty husband, given that he often had affairs with his students at the college he taught at. she wrote six novels, two memoirs, and over 200 short stories before dying at age 48 of a heart attack.

notable works for the purposes of this page:

hangsaman (1951)

the sundial (1958)

the haunting of hill house (1959)

we have always lived in the castle (1962)

to be clear: i'm not trying to retroactively assign labels to a person who died 50 years ago here, but if i were, i feel like there's a really strong case to be made for shirley jackson's lesbianism — or at least for her being sapphic in some way.

there's a constant theme in jackson's work of horror entwined with sexuality, and specifically with lesbian sexuality; characters who have some isolation or aversion to traditional heterosexual intimacy becoming obsessed with other women, becoming two parts of one whole with them. jackson's horror is always gendered — the horror of the home and the domestic and the expectations of women to be homemakers; the horror of succumbing to that expectation or the horror of defying it. jackson's characters are consumed with longing for connection to other women; their intense lesbian loneliness is what fuels the horror stories.

It is a longing so intense that it creates what it desires, it cannot endure any touch of correction; it is, as I say, unspeakable... It is unholy because it is heretic. It is foul. It is abominable to need something so badly that you cannot picture living without it. It is a contradiction to the condition of mankind.

(the sundial)

"All I need," said Tony, "is a desire so strong that the world, all of the world, has got to bend itself and forget itself and break out of its circles and rock itself crazy, all to do what I want, and there's got to be a great crash when the ground under me crashes itself wide open and the fire inside is forced to crawl away from my feet and the sky too turns back so that there is nothing above me and nothing below me and nothing in all time except me and what I want."


Constance and Merricat [from We Have Always Lived in the Castle] are indeed 'two halves of the same person,' together forming one identity, just as man and woman are traditionally supposed to in marriage. Not finding that wholeness in marriage, Jackson sought it elsewhere; first with Jeanette Beatty, later with her friend Barbara Karmiller, also younger, who came back into her life shortly after she finished Castle.

(shirley jackson: a rather haunted life by ruth franklin)

i want my jenny in castle to be absolutely secure in her home and her place in the world, so much so that she can dispose of her husband without concern... but when jenny's identity depends entirely upon her thoroughly romantic association with constance, then i am tagged again. jenny wants to see the world, with always one foot on base at home, constance never wants to leave home. they are again two halves of the same person, and must i then suspect that? together they are one identity, safe and eventually hidden. do they hide becasue they are somehow unnatural? am i never to be sure of any of my characters? if the alliance between jenny and constance is unholy then my book is unholy and i am writing something terrible, in my own terms, because my own identity is gone and the word is only something that means something else.

(shirley jackson, writing about an earlier draft of we have always lived in the castle)

Eleanor’s crush on Luke is rather half-heartedly conveyed by Jackson; it doesn’t even seem to convince Eleanor herself. During their only conversation alone together (her only conversation alone with any man, Eleanor notes), she concludes that he’s “selfish,” and even worse, “not very interesting.” Robert Wise’s fine 1963 film version of the novel, The Haunting (skip the awful 1999 remake), transfers Eleanor’s affections to a glamorized Dr. Montague, a shrewd choice. But giving Eleanor a more plausible, Oedipal love object diverts attention from the novel’s most charged and significant relationship, that between Eleanor and Theo. There’s a small murkiness in this otherwise fiercely lucid book, around the matter of romantic love. Theo’s sexuality is ambiguous; she lives with a “friend” to whom she is not married and whose gender remains coyly unspecified. At times, Eleanor’s crush on Luke seems like Jackson’s way of asserting that her attachment to Theo isn’t erotic, and Theo’s possible lesbianism is a way to state that her rivalry with Eleanor isn’t over Luke.

(guillermo del toro's introduction to the haunting of hill house)

She had, in fact, an exaggerated fear of lesbianism, and in the late ’50s was sent into a tailspin of depression when she discovered herself mentioned in a scholarly book about lesbian-themed writing. In Jackson’s own work, as several critics have pointed out, sex is mostly noticeable for being so absent. Her characters long for emotional connections but seldom make them.

this is from a new york times article about ruth franklin's biography of shirley jackson, and i think it's hilariously obtuse. who would be more likely to go into a tailspin of depression over being mentioned in the same sentence as lesbianism: a straight woman, or a closeted gay one? might her characters' longing for emotional connections have something to do with that, rather than just being some kind of oversight?
For Jackson, queer desire is not merely a “problem with no name,” but the unnameable, that not to be spoken of, quite literally, the devil: “here is a word for you; the devil is of course not that devil, but the personal one, the area of my private delight and public embarrassment, the one who sits dreaming, the bad bad one whom I never contemplate without that kind of secret tender oh-god-if-anyone-knew feeling; in a word, the bad one” (SJP Box 14 Folder 3). The “bad one” is the “not that,” the abject. In Hangsaman, queer desire is not merely non-normative sexual desire: instead, it is a deeper desire for self-articulation, a desire to expand the mind, the spirit, the self, outside the boundaries of postwar institutions of power. Jackson’s claim, then, that she is “frightened by a word” illustrates her own fear that queer desire might be at the heart of her artistic endeavor.

( Growing Cold: Postwar Women Writers and the Novel of Development, 1945-1960, Leslie Allison)

i. journeys end in lovers meeting / excerpts from the haunting of hill house

She nearly stopped forever just outside Ashton, because she came to a tiny cottage buried in a garden. I could live there all alone, she thought, slowing the car to look down the winding garden path to the small blue front door with, perfectly, a white cat on the step. No one would ever find me there, either, behind all those roses, and just to make sure I would plant oleanders by the road. I will light a fire in the cool evenings and toast apples at my own hearth. I will raise white cats and sew white curtains for the windows and sometimes come out of my door to go to the store to buy cinnamon and tea and thread. People will come to me to have their fortunes told, and I will brew love potions for sad maidens; I will have a robin. . . .

Yesterday, packing her suitcase in the city, she had chosen clothes which she assumed would be suitable for wearing in an isolated country house; she had even run out at the last minute and bought—excited at her own daring—two pairs of slacks, something she had not worn in more years than she could remember. Mother would be furious, she had thought, packing the slacks down at the bottom of her suitcase so that she need not take them out, need never let anyone know she had them, in case she lost her courage. Now, in Hill House, they no longer seemed so new; she unpacked carelessly, setting dresses crookedly on hangers, tossing the slacks into the bottom drawer of the high marble-topped dresser, throwing her city shoes into a corner of the great wardrobe.
“You know,” Theodora said slowly, “up until the last minute—when I got to the gates, I guess—I never really thought there would be a Hill House. You don’t go around expecting things like this to happen.”

“But some of us go around hoping,” Eleanor said.

Theodora laughed and swung around before the mirror and caught Eleanor’s hand. “Fellow babe in the woods,” she said, “let’s go exploring.”

Believing her for a minute, Eleanor turned and stared, and then saw the amusement on her face and thought, She’s much braver than I am. Unexpectedly—although it was later to become a familiar note, a recognizable attribute of what was to mean “Theodora” in Eleanor’s mind—Theodora caught at Eleanor’s thought, and answered her. “Don’t be so afraid all the time,” she said and reached out to touch Eleanor’s cheek with one finger. “We never know where our courage is coming from.”
“Eleanor.” Theodora put an arm across her shoulders. “Would you let them separate us now? Now that we’ve found out we’re cousins?”

i need to find some proper sources for this argument, but the running joke of theodora calling eleanor her cousin strikes me as a very lesbian trope — with how often lesbian couples are assumed to be siblings or relatives by straight society, and the historical use of this trope to censor lesbian relationships (looking at you, sailor moon)
Across the fire from the doctor was Theodora, who had gone unerringly to the most nearly comfortable chair, had wriggled herself into it somehow with her legs over the arm and her head tucked in against the back; she was like a cat, Eleanor thought, and clearly a cat waiting for its dinner.
“When I was a child,” Theodora said lazily, “—‘many years ago,’ Doctor, as you put it so tactfully—I was whipped for throwing a brick through a greenhouse roof. I remember I thought about it for a long time, remembering the whipping but remembering also the lovely crash, and after thinking about it very seriously I went out and did it again.”
“It was said that the older sister was crossed in love,” the doctor agreed, “although that is said of almost any lady who prefers, for whatever reason, to live alone. At any rate, it was the older sister who came back here to live. She seems to have resembled her father strongly; she lived here alone for a number of years, almost in seclusion, although the village of Hillsdale knew her. Incredible as it may sound to you, she genuinely loved Hill House and looked upon it as her family home. She eventually took a girl from the village to live with her, as a kind of companion; so far as I can learn there seems to have been no strong feeling among the villagers about the house then, since old Miss Crain—as she was inevitably known—hired her servants in the village, and it was thought a fine thing for her to take the village girl as a companion.


The companion insisted that the house was left to her, but the younger sister and her husband maintained most violently that the house belonged legally to them and claimed that the companion had tricked the older sister into signing away property which she had always intended leaving to her sister.


Oddly enough, sympathy around the village was almost entirely with the younger sister, perhaps because the companion, once a village girl, was now lady of the manor. The villagers believed—and still believe, I think—that the younger sister was defrauded of her inheritance by a scheming young woman. They did not believe that she would murder her friend, you see, but they were delighted to believe that she was dishonest, certainly because they were capable of dishonesty themselves when opportunity arose. Well, gossip is always a bad enemy.

“I’m terrible, aren’t I?” Theodora moved quickly and put her hand over Eleanor’s. “I sit here and grouch because there’s nothing to amuse me; I’m very selfish. Tell me how horrible I am.” And in the firelight her eyes shone with delight.

“You’re horrible,” Eleanor said obediently; Theodora’s hand on her own embarrassed her. She disliked being touched, and yet a small physical gesture seemed to be Theodora’s chosen way of expressing contrition, or pleasure, or sympathy; I wonder if my fingernails are clean, Eleanor thought, and slid her hand away gently.

“I am horrible,” Theodora said, good-humored again. “I’m horrible and beastly and no one can stand me. There. Now tell me about yourself.”

“I’m horrible and beastly and no one can stand me.”

Theodora laughed. “Don’t make fun of me. You’re sweet and pleasant and everyone likes you very much; Luke has fallen madly in love with you, and I am jealous. Now I want to know more about you. Did you really take care of your mother for many years?”

“Yes,” Eleanor said. Her fingernails were dirty, and her hand was badly shaped and people made jokes about love because sometimes it was funny. “Eleven years, until she died three months ago.”

“And then of course you started a gay, mad fling that brought you inevitably to Hill House?”
“What is your apartment like?”

Theodora shrugged. “Nice,” she said. “We found an old place and fixed it up ourselves. One big room, and a couple of small bedrooms, nice kitchen—we painted it red and white and made over a lot of old furniture we dug up in junk shops—one really nice table, with a marble top. We both love doing over old things.”

“Are you married?” Eleanor asked.

There was a little silence, and then Theodora laughed quickly and said, “No.”1

“Sorry,” Eleanor said, horribly embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to be curious.”

“You’re funny,” Theodora said and touched Eleanor’s cheek with her finger. There are lines by my eyes, Eleanor thought, and turned her face away from the fire. “Tell me where you live,” Theodora said.

1 i've seen people talk about how theodora was originally intended to be textually a lesbian in thohh, and that shirley jackson edited that out, but like — this feels pretty clear to me.
Theodora was waiting for her in the hall, vivid in the dullness in gaudy plaid; looking at Theodora, it was not possible for Eleanor to believe that she ever dressed or washed or moved or ate or slept or talked without enjoying every minute of what she was doing; perhaps Theodora never cared at all what other people thought of her.
“You keep thinking of the little children,” Eleanor said to Theodora, “but I can’t forget that lonely little companion, walking around these rooms, wondering who else was in the house.”
Eleanor did not sleep during the afternoon, although she would have liked to; instead, she lay on Theodora’s bed in the green room and watched Theodora do her nails, chatting lazily, unwilling to let herself perceive that she had followed Theodora into the green room because she had not dared to be alone.
“Well,” Theodora said with determination, “by the time I’m through with you, you will be a different person; I dislike being with women of no color.”
Eleanor said aloud, “Now I know why people scream, because I think I’m going to,” and Theodora said, “I will if you will,” and laughed, so that Eleanor turned quickly back to the bed and they held each other, listening in silence.


“Mine’s locked too,” Eleanor said against her ear, and Theodora closed her eyes in relief.

Looking at herself in the mirror, with the bright morning sunlight freshening even the blue room of Hill House, Eleanor thought, It is my second morning in Hill House, and I am unbelievably happy. Journeys end in lovers meeting; I have spent an all but sleepless night, I have told lies and made a fool of myself, and the very air tastes like wine. I have been frightened half out of my foolish wits, but I have somehow earned this joy; I have been waiting for it for so long. Abandoning a lifelong belief that to name happiness is to dissipate it, she smiled at herself in the mirror and told herself silently, You are happy, Eleanor, you have finally been given a part of your measure of happiness. Looking away from her own face in the mirror, she thought blindly, Journeys end in lovers meeting, lovers meeting.

“Luke?” It was Theodora, calling outside in the hall. “You carried off one of my stockings last night, and you are a thieving cad, and I hope Mrs. Dudley can hear me.”

Theodora opened the door and said happily, “How pretty you look this morning, my Nell. This curious life agrees with you.”

Eleanor smiled at her; the life clearly agreed with Theodora too.

“We ought by rights to be walking around with dark circles under our eyes and a look of wild despair,” Theodora said, putting an arm around Eleanor and looking into the mirror beside her, “and look at us—two blooming, fresh young lovelies.”

[after theodora's closet is mysteriously covered with red paint or blood]

“I told you, it makes me sick but it doesn’t frighten me,” she said, pleased, and turned to Theodora. Theodora was lying on Eleanor’s bed, and Eleanor saw with a queasy turn that Theodora had gotten red on her hands and it was rubbing off onto Eleanor’s pillow. “Look,” she said harshly, coming over to Theodora, “you’ll have to wear my clothes until you get new ones, or until we get the others cleaned.”

“Cleaned?” Theodora rolled convulsively on the bed and pressed her stained hands against her eyes. “Cleaned?”

“For heaven’s sake,” Eleanor said, “let me wash you off.” She thought, without trying to find a reason, that she had never felt such uncontrollable loathing1 for any person before, and she went into the bathroom and soaked a towel and came back to scrub roughly at Theodora’s hands and face. “You’re filthy with the stuff,” she said, hating to touch Theodora.2



She is wicked, Eleanor thought, beastly and soiled and dirty. She took the towel into the bathroom and left it to soak in cold water; when she came out Luke was saying, “ . . . another bed in here; you girls are going to share a room from now on.”

“Share a room and share our clothes,” Theodora said. “We’re going to be practically twins.”

“Cousins,” Eleanor said, but no one heard her.

I would like to hit her with a stick, Eleanor thought, looking down on Theodora’s head beside her chair; I would like to batter her with rocks.

“An exquisite refinement, exquisite. Because of course the chalk strokes would have been almost unbearable, excruciating, if the victim were ticklish.”

I hate her, Eleanor thought, she sickens me; she is all washed and clean and wearing my red sweater.

“When the death was by hanging in chains, however, the executioner . . .”

“Nell?” Theodora looked up at her and smiled. “I really am sorry, you know,” she said.

I would like to watch her dying, Eleanor thought, and smiled back and said, “Don’t be silly.”

something something internalized homophobia. something something intense emotions being mistaken for hatred. something something eroticization of violence
“I think we are only afraid of ourselves,” the doctor said slowly.

“No,” Luke said. “Of seeing ourselves clearly and without disguise.”

“Of knowing what we really want,” Theodora said. She pressed her cheek against Eleanor’s hand and Eleanor, hating the touch of her, took her hand away quickly.

“I am always afraid of being alone,” Eleanor said

Then he looked at her briefly and smiled what she was coming to know as his self-deprecatory smile; did Theodora, she wondered, and the thought was unwelcome, did Theodora know him as well as this?1

“I never had a mother,” he said, and the shock was enormous. Is that all he thinks of me, his estimate of what I want to hear of him; will I enlarge this into a confidence making me worthy of great confidences? Shall I sigh? Murmur? Walk away? “No one ever loved me because I belonged,” he said. “I suppose you can understand that?”

No, she thought, you are not going to catch me so cheaply; I do not understand words and will not accept them in trade for my feelings2; this man is a parrot. I will tell him that I can never understand such a thing, that maudlin self-pity does not move directly at my heart; I will not make a fool of myself by encouraging him to mock me. “I understand, yes,” she said.

1 fellas, is it gay to only be able to think about the woman you're unhealthily obsessed with while you lounge on the steps of the summerhouse with a boy

2 the instant combativeness the moment luke suggests anything about love (and incredibly heterosexual models of love at that — luke as the overgrown childish husband who expects his wife to mother him, etc)

Does he think that a human gesture of affection might seduce me into hurling myself madly at him?Is he afraid that I cannot behave like a lady? What does he know about me, about how I think and feel; does he feel sorry for me? “Journeys end in lovers meeting,” she said.
the only man I have ever sat and talked to alone, and I am impatient; he is simply not very interesting.
[dr. montague, while looking through a book of the deadly sins]

“Her very own scrapbook. Note Pride1, the very image of our Nell here.”

1 hill house was published in 1959, while the word pride wasn't associated with gayness until after the '69 stonewall uprising, from what i can find — but still, it's an interesting coincidence at least
Fear and guilt are sisters; Theodora caught her on the lawn. Silent, angry, hurt, they left Hill House side by side, walking together, each sorry for the other. A person angry, or laughing, or terrified, or jealous, will go stubbornly on into extremes of behavior impossible at another time;1 neither Eleanor nor Theodora reflected for a minute that it was imprudent for them to walk far from Hill House after dark. Each was so bent upon her own despair that escape into darkness was vital,2 and, containing themselves in that tight, vulnerable, impossible cloak which is fury, they stamped along together, each achingly aware of the other, each determined to be the last to speak.

Eleanor spoke first, finally; she had hurt her foot against a rock and tried to be too proud to notice it, but after a minute, her foot paining, she said, in a voice tight with the attempt to sound level, “I can’t imagine why you think you have any right to interfere in my affairs,” her language formal to prevent a flood of recrimination, or undeserved reproach (were they not strangers? cousins?). “I am sure that nothing I do is of any interest to you.”

“That’s right,” Theodora said grimly. “Nothing that you do is of any interest to me.”

We are walking on either side of a fence, Eleanor thought, but I have a right to live too, and I wasted an hour with Luke at the summerhouse trying to prove it.

1 extremes of behavior like... eleanor jumping so quickly to fantasizing about theo's death a few exerpts ago?

2 james flint, noted gay pirate, in black sails: This is how they survive. You must know this. You're too smart not to know this. They paint the world full of shadows... and then tell their children to stay close to the light. Their light. Their reasons, their judgments. Because in the darkness, there be dragons. But it isn't true. We can prove that it isn't true. In the dark, there is discovery, there is possibility, there is freedom in the dark once someone has illuminated it.

this is probably my favorite passage in the entire book:

Theodora was silent for a minute, walking in the darkness, and Eleanor was suddenly absurdly sure that Theodora had put out a hand to her, unseen. “Theo,” Eleanor said awkwardly, “I’m no good at talking to people and saying things.”

Theodora laughed. “What are you good at?” she demanded. “Running away?”

Nothing irrevocable had yet been spoken, but there was only the barest margin of safety left them; each of them moving delicately along the outskirts of an open question, and, once spoken, such a question—as “Do you love me?”—could never be answered or forgotten. They walked slowly, meditating, wondering, and the path sloped down from their feet and they followed, walking side by side in the most extreme intimacy of expectation; their feinting and hesitation done with, they could only await passively for resolution. Each knew, almost within a breath, what the other was thinking and wanting to say; each of them almost wept for the other. They perceived at the same moment the change in the path and each knew then the other’s knowledge of it; Theodora took Eleanor’s arm and, afraid to stop, they moved on slowly, close together, and ahead of them the path widened and blackened and curved.

once spoken, such a question—as “Do you love me?”—could never be answered or forgotten — it's about the subtext, and the history of subtext being necessary for gay peoples' survival, and the ever-present censorship in this era's literature! they cannot ask the question aloud, on either the watsonian level as lesbians or the doylist level as book characters, and so the irrevocable question remains unspoken!

see also: the love that dare not speak its name

Like vast clouds of steam from thermal springs in winter the years of things unsaid and now unsayable—admissions, declarations, shames, guilts, fears—rose around them. - brokeback mountain, annie proulx
After a minute Theodora said, “I think I am going to be simply crazy about Mrs. Montague.”

“I don’t know,” Eleanor said. “Arthur is rather more to my taste. And Luke is a coward, I think.”

“Poor Luke,” Theodora said. “He never had a mother.”

Looking up, Eleanor found that Theodora was regarding her with a curious smile, and she moved away from the table so quickly that a glass spilled.

“We shouldn’t be alone,” she said, oddly breathless. “We’ve got to find the others.” She left the table and almost ran from the room, and Theodora ran after her, laughing, down the corridor and into the little parlor, where Luke and the doctor stood before the fire.

Eleanor, rocking to the pounding, which seemed inside her head as much as in the hall, holding tight to Theodora, said, “They know where we are,” and the others, assuming that she meant Arthur and Mrs. Montague, nodded and listened. The knocking, Eleanor told herself, pressing her hands to her eyes and swaying with the noise, will go on down the hall, it will go on and on to the end of the hall and turn and come back again, it will just go on and on the way it did before and then it will stop and we will look at each other and laugh and try to remember how cold we were, and the little swimming curls of fear on our backs; after a while it will stop.

“It never hurt us,” Theodora was telling the doctor, across the noise of the pounding. “It won’t hurt them.”

“I only hope she doesn’t try to do anything about it,” the doctor said grimly; he was still at the door, but seemingly unable to open it against the volume of noise outside.

“I feel positively like an old hand at this,” Theodora said to Eleanor. “Come closer, Nell; keep warm,” and she pulled Eleanor even nearer to her under the blanket, and the sickening, still cold surrounded them.

repeatedly, supernatural events give eleanor and theodora an excuse for cuddling up with each other — which, when paired with the interpretation that eleanor herself is causing the hauntings (time stops working in the direction it's meant to, and most of the hauntings she experiences in the house in the first part of the book are echoed by her actions in the second part), suggests eleanor is trying to create plausible deniability for herself before doing anything gay?
“Theo?” Eleanor put down her notepad, and Theodora, scribbling busily, looked up with a frown. “I’ve been thinking about something.”

“I hate writing these notes; I feel like a damn fool trying to write this crazy stuff.”

“I’ve been wondering.”

“Well?” Theodora smiled a little. “You look so serious,” she said. “Are you coming to some great decision?”

“Yes,” Eleanor said, deciding. “About what I’m going to do afterwards. After we all leave Hill House.”


“I’m coming with you,” Eleanor said.

“Coming where with me?”

“Back with you, back home. I”—and Eleanor smiled wryly—“am going to follow you home.” 1

Theodora stared. “Why?” she asked blankly.

“I never had anyone to care about,” Eleanor said, wondering where she had heard someone say something like this before. “I want to be someplace where I belong.”

“I am not in the habit of taking home stray cats,” Theodora said lightly.

Eleanor laughed too. “I am a kind of stray cat, aren’t I?”

“Well.” Theodora took up her pencil again. “You have your own home,” she said. “You’ll be glad enough to get back to it when the time comes, Nell my Nellie. I suppose we’ll all be glad to get back home. What are you saying about those noises last night? I can’t describe them.”

“I’ll come, you know,” Eleanor said. “I’ll just come.”

“Nellie, Nellie.” Theodora laughed again. “Look,” she said. “This is just a summer, just a few weeks’ visit to a lovely old summer resort in the country. 2 You have your life back home, I have my life. When the summer is over, we go back. We’ll write each other, of course, and maybe visit, but Hill House is not forever, you know.”

“I can get a job; I won’t be in your way.”

“I don’t understand.” Theodora threw down her pencil in exasperation. “Do you always go where you’re not wanted?”

Eleanor smiled placidly. “I’ve never been wanted anywhere,” she said.

1 classic uhaul lesbian behavior!! but actually, though — eleanor's latched onto theo as, probably, the first gay person she's knowingly met, and as such is a symbol that eleanor herself doesn't need to be so repressed. of course she wants to follow theodora home, either for attraction or love or freedom or all of the above.

2 summer lovin', happened so fast....

“It’s all so motherly,” Luke said. “Everything so soft. Everything so padded. Great embracing chairs and sofas which turn out to be hard and unwelcome when you sit down, and reject you at once—”

“Theo?” Eleanor said softly, and Theodora looked at her and shook her head in bewilderment.

“—and hands everywhere. Little soft glass hands, curving out to you, beckoning—”

“Theo?” Eleanor said.

“No,” Theodora said. “I won’t have you. And I don’t want to talk about it any more.”

this comes right after i've never been wanted anywhere, and i feel like the juxtaposition is really purposeful — we've established already that what luke is looking for in a lover is someone to act motherly towards him, and that all eleanor wants is to follow theo home, and both eleanor and luke are being rejected.
Theodora said carefully, “She wants me to take her home with me after we leave Hill House, and I won’t do it.”

Luke laughed. “Poor silly Nell,” he said. “Journeys end in lovers meeting. Let’s go down to the brook.”

Smiling, Eleanor went on ahead, kicking her feet comfortably along the path. Now I know where I am going, she thought; I told her about my mother so that’s all right; I will find a little house, or maybe an apartment like hers. I will see her every day, and we will go searching together for lovely things—gold-trimmed dishes, and a white cat, and a sugar Easter egg, and a cup of stars. I will not be frightened or alone any more; I will call myself just Eleanor. “Are you two talking about me?” she asked over her shoulder.

After a minute Luke answered politely, “A struggle between good and evil for the soul of Nell. I suppose I will have to be God, however.”

“But of course she cannot trust either of us,” Theodora said, amused.

“Not me, certainly,” Luke said.

“Besides, Nell,” Theodora said, “we were not talking about you at all. As though I were the games mistress,” she said, half angry, to Luke.

I have waited such a long time, Eleanor was thinking; I have finally earned my happiness. She came, leading them, to the top of the hill and looked down to the slim line of trees they must pass through to get to the brook. They are lovely against the sky, she thought, so straight and free; Luke was wrong about the softness everywhere, because the trees are hard like wooden trees. They are still talking about me, talking about how I came to Hill House and found Theodora and now I will not let her go. Behind her she could hear the murmur of their voices, edged sometimes with malice, sometimes rising in mockery, sometimes touched with a laughter almost of kinship, and she walked on dreamily, hearing them come behind. She could tell when they entered the tall grass a minute after she did, because the grass moved hissingly beneath their feet and a startled grasshopper leaped wildly away.

I could help her in her shop, Eleanor thought; she loves beautiful things and I would go with her to find them. We could go anywhere we pleased, to the edge of the world if we liked, and come back when we wanted to. He is telling her now what he knows about me: that I am not easily taken in, that I had an oleander wall around me, and she is laughing because I am not going to be lonely any more. They are very much alike and they are very kind; I would not really have expected as much from them as they are giving me; I was very right to come because journeys end in lovers meeting.

“Journeys end in lovers meeting,” Luke said, and smiled across the room at Eleanor. “Does that blue dress on Theo really belong to you? I’ve never seen it before.”

“I am Eleanor,” Theodora said wickedly, “because I have a beard.”1

“You were wise to bring clothes for two,” Luke told Eleanor. “Theo would never have looked half so well in my old blazer.”

“I am Eleanor,” Theo said, “because I am wearing blue. I love my love with an E because she is ethereal. Her name is Eleanor, and she lives in expectation.

She is being spiteful, Eleanor thought remotely; from a great distance, it seemed, she could watch these people and listen to them. Now she thought, Theo is being spiteful and Luke is trying to be nice; Luke is ashamed of himself for laughing at me and he is ashamed of Theo for being spiteful. “Luke,” Theodora said, with a half-glance at Eleanor2, “come and sing to me again.”

1 unlike the "nell is the very image of pride" thing, where pride hadn't yet gained gay connotations by the time the book was published, the word beard was used in a gay context by the early 20th century (though i can't find any more specific years), as a word meaning 'the different-gender partner that a gay person pretends to date to conceal their gayness'. theo saying she has a beard here is, sure, a reference to dr. montague saying the same in an earlier scene where they did similar bits of identity-switching wordplay — but here, used while she's actively flirting with luke to make a point to eleanor, it feels like such a specific usage that i can't imagine shirley jackson not knowing the gay meaning of the word when she wrote this scene.

2 luke is constantly being used as a pawn between theo and eleanor to get some reaction from the other. eleanor compares her disinterest in luke to her obsession with theo (a comp-het sort of 'why am i not more interested in [man] like a normal woman would be' thought process), and theo flirts with luke while looking straight at eleanor to make her jealous.

“Eleanor?” It was Luke’s voice, and she thought, Of all of them I would least like to have Luke catch me; don’t let him see me, she thought beggingly, and turned and ran, without stopping, into the library.
And here I am, she thought. Here I am inside. It was not cold at all, but deliciously, fondly warm. It was light enough for her to see the iron stairway curving around and around up to the tower, and the little door at the top. Under her feet the stone floor moved caressingly, rubbing itself against the soles of her feet, and all around the soft air touched her, stirring her hair, drifting against her fingers, coming in a light breath across her mouth, and she danced in circles. No stone lions for me, she thought, no oleanders; I have broken the spell of Hill House and somehow come inside. I am home, she thought, and stopped in wonder at the thought. I am home, I am home, she thought; now to climb.1

Climbing the narrow iron stairway was intoxicating—going higher and higher, around and around, looking down, clinging to the slim iron railing, looking far far down onto the stone floor. 2 Climbing, looking down, she thought of the soft green grass outside and the rolling hills and the rich trees. Looking up, she thought of the tower of Hill House rising triumphantly between the trees, tall over the road which wound through Hillsdale and past a white house set in flowers and past the magic oleanders and past the stone lions and on, far, far away, to a little lady who was going to pray for her. Time is ended now, she thought, all that is gone and left behind, and that poor little lady, praying still, for me.


For a minute she could not remember who they were (had they been guests of hers in the house of the stone lions? Dining at her long table in the candlelight? Had she met them at the inn, over the tumbling stream? Had one of them come riding down a green hill, banners flying? Had one of them run beside her in the darkness? and then she remembered, and they fell into place where they belonged) and she hesitated, clinging to the railing. They were so small, so ineffectual. They stood far below on the stone floor and pointed at her; they called to her, and their voices were urgent and far away.

“Luke,” she said, remembering. They could hear her, because they were quiet when she spoke. “Doctor Montague,” she said. “Mrs. Montague. Arthur.” She could not remember the other, who stood silent and a little apart.3

there's so much happening in this scene.

1 eleanor being rejected by theodora (after trying to make theodora her home) and then embraced by hill house.

2 eleanor climbing up the tower in a daze echoing ms. crain's companion who hanged herself in the tower after her lover's death.

3eleanor forgets who theodora even is, unable to recognize her. theodora becoming silent and apart from everyone else, echoing how eleanor saw herself at the beginning of the book — eleanor becomes hill house, theodora becomes eleanor, the love in this book is about consuming and becoming your lover.

I can’t get away, she thought, and looked down; she saw one face clearly, and the name came into her mind. “Theodora,” she said.1

“Nell, do as they tell you. Please.”

“Theodora? I can’t get out; the door’s been nailed shut.” 2

“Damn right it’s been nailed shut,” Luke said. “And lucky for you, too, my girl.” Climbing, coming very slowly, he had almost reached the narrow platform. “Stay perfectly still,” he said.

“Stay perfectly still, Eleanor,” the doctor said.

“Nell,” Theodora said. “Please do what they say.”

1 and the moment hill house loosens its grip on eleanor the tiniest bit, she remembers theo. fellas is it gay to be in a love triangle with another woman and a haunted house

2 the theme of rejection returns — eleanor has nowhere to go after hill house, so she cannot escape. also, the moment she remembers theo, hill house starts rejecting her and not allowing her in, like a jealous lover demanding that she choose between them.

Involuntarily, below her, the doctor and Theodora held out their arms, as though ready to catch her if she fell, and once when Eleanor stumbled and missed a step, the handrail wavering as she clung to it, Theodora gasped and ran to hold the end of the stairway. “It’s all right, my Nellie,” she said over and over, “it’s all right, it’s all right.”
Then Eleanor, her hand on the door of the car, stopped and turned. “Theo?” she said inquiringly, and Theodora ran down the steps to her.

“I thought you weren’t going to say good-by to me,” she said. “Oh, Nellie, my Nell—be happy; please be happy. Don’t really forget me; someday things really will be all right again, and you’ll write me letters and I’ll answer and we’ll visit each other and we’ll have fun talking over the crazy things we did and saw and heard in Hill House—oh, Nellie! I thought you weren’t going to say good-by to me.

“Good-by,” Eleanor said to her.

“Nellie,” Theodora said timidly, and put out a hand to touch Eleanor’s cheek, “listen—maybe someday we can meet here again? And have our picnic by the brook? We never had our picnic,” she told the doctor, and he shook his head, looking at Eleanor.

iii. the end... for now

+ more

"Frightened by a Word": Shirley Jackson and the Lesbian Gothic

Exhibit explores sexual ambiguity in Shirley Jackson's best-known novel
› "The group exhibition identifies queerness in themes including the uncanny and the stranger, with a particular interest in the haunted house as undiscovered country and object of desire," according to the curators. They conceived the exhibition, exploring relationships between artists, theorists, Jackson, and "The Haunting of Hill House," over a year of research and planning.


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