Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco in 1916.
When her short story The Lottery, written in a single morning, was published in The New Yorker in 1948, readers were so horrified they sent her hate mail. It is now considered one of the greatest American stories of all time.
Her first novel, The Road Through The Wall, was published in the same year and was followed by five more: Hangsaman, The Bird’s Nest, The Sundial, The Haunting of Hill House (which has been made into two films, and a Netflix series), and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, widely seen as her masterpiece.
In these novels, she explores power and disempowerment. Madness, repressed rage and psychological demons haunt her characters, particularly the women. ‘I wrote of neuroses and fear,’ Jackson once said, ‘and I think all my books laid end to end would be one long documentation of anxiety.’ But the novels are full of a glorious subversive humour; she was an expert at black comedy.
Reviewing We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Dorothy Parker wrote: ‘There is still sunshine for us. The miracle is wrought by Shirley Jackson, God bless her, as ever unparalleled...(a) leader in the field of quiet, cumulative shudders. This novel brings back all my faith in terror and death. I can say no higher of it and her.’
As well as her novels and stories, she wrote lightly fictionalized magazine pieces about family life with her four children and her clever, arrogant, serially unfaithful husband, the literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman.
She died of heart failure at the age of forty-eight.