Catching up: Shirley Jackson, part 2.
04 October 2012
The beginning of the summer found me blown away by Shirley Jackson.
As noted here yesterday, Jackson is perhaps best known for her short story "The Lottery." I've read that, and although I remember liking it okay back in high school, I couldn't remember much about it. But when I found Jackson's humorous collection of vignettes about raising her kids, Life Among the Savages, I became completely fascinated by her. So much so that I checked out the only biography I could find about her, Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson, by Judy Oppenheimer (published in 1989).
Reading that biography was quite a trip, I'll tell you. Jackson was an interesting personality from the start, but I thought the story really took off when it examined both her writing life and her marriage. She married a man she met in college, who was a literary critic, and taught at Bennington College in Vermont (near which they lived). In addition to having and looking after their four kids, and still writing prolifically herself, she also had to look after her very needy husband Stanley.* I forget the details now, but the book is full of ridiculous stories like Shirley having to stop whatever she was doing in the house and run to sharpen Stanley's pencils whenever he needed.
It's also a trip reading a biography from 1989. Is it really so long ago? It got the job done, and I can't rightly remember what took me by surprise about the book, but the author seemed to offer a great deal of conjecture and amateur psychoanalysis of her subject. Biographies I've read in recent years seem to be a lot better, leading me to believe perhaps we are in a golden age for biography? Anyone else have an opinion on this?
In addition to simply being fascinated by Jackson, I'll never forget the experience of reading this biography. I read it when I was having a slight health blip, and one day when I was feeling particularly lousy, Mr. CR took CRjr to the park for me and for an hour or so I just lazed about in bed, reading about Shirley Jackson and eating a Hershey bar (my condition was not one that precluded me from having chocolate, mercifully). For whatever reason, the whole experience made me feel very warmly about Shirley Jackson. Interesting how people think reading is entirely passive, and yet many of my very strong and visceral physical memories include books and reading. Do you find this to be true as well?
*She lived intensely, but she didn't live long, the poor thing: she died in 1965 at age 48.