Saturday, May 09, 2009


I don't often re-read novels, but I just re-read this one for the fifth time. I adore The Haunting of Hill House. I love the slightly out-of-kilter angles which swing the doors shut, I love Hugh Crain's disturbing obsessions, I love the suicidal companion dangling from a balcony in the library. I don't even mind that the characters are forever visualized as the actors in Robert Wise's The Haunting, because I adore that too.

The playful, witty dialogue and Eleanor's imaginative thoughtscape never fail to enchant, nor does the supporting cast, from Mrs. Dudley and her particular scheduling to Mrs. Montague and planchette.

Each time I read it I relish more Jackson's careful characterization. We are trapped in Eleanor's POV but never fail to understand that things are going badly wrong inside there. Although the book is amusing and charming it is powerfully disturbing at points. I appreciate most the scenes early in the book when Luke, Theo, Eleanor and Dr. Montague are whistling past the graveyard. They still regard Hill House as an adventure, and keep up their flirtatious banter as incorporeal evil batters the bedroom door.

Were I ever tempted back to academia, I might write a paper about Theo and Eleanor and feminism. Naive, traditional Eleanor is sacrificed so that cool, worldly Theo can continue! But that's a spoiler, sorry. Even though Theo is in many ways a hateful character, I feel most pity toward her. When Nell begs Theo to take her under her wing, Theo refuses, leaving Nell to a sad fate. There is a gorgeous chapter where still-quick Eleanor practice haunts Hill House, unaware that she will soon be 'walking' its halls in a metaphoric sense. Theo has to live with her failure to be compassionate. The relationship between these two polar opposites is grand psychic vampirism, straight out of Henry James; Hill House merely amplifies the catty and petty attacks and reprisals--it does not originate them.

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