Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin - review by Alison Flood

Alison Flood

Hitting the Jackpot

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life


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When Shirley Jackson’s short story ‘The Lottery’ was published in the New Yorker in June 1948, some of its readers, incredibly, believed it to be fact. Set in a village of three hundred people, it tells, in Jackson’s simple, economical style, of a ritual sacrifice in which one villager is chosen by lot to be stoned to death: ‘“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.’

Published three years after the end of the Second World War, just before McCarthyism gripped America and the witch-hunt for communists got under way, ‘The Lottery’ found a febrile readership. Jackson and the New Yorker received hundreds of letters about the tale, many of them antagonistic. Ruth Franklin’s new biography of the author, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, reports Jackson’s claim that ‘only 13 were kind’. ‘Readers wanted’, Franklin writes, ‘to know where such lotteries were held, and whether they could go and watch; they threatened to cancel their subscriptions; they declared the story a piece of trash.’

‘The Lottery’ wasn’t the first short story Jackson published, but, notorious on publication and much anthologised, it is by far her best known. Its reach means that, today, its piercingly perceptive, brilliant author is largely remembered, if at all, as a horror writer. Examining Jackson’s life through her diaries, through

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