2015 Reading Challenge: Shirley Jackson Marathon: Week One

AKA The comparing and contrasting of The Haunting of Hill House and its two film adaptions

Otherwise known as: Why is Eleanor portrayed as a B-movie hysteric?

Yeah, so, I’ve seen both movie adaptions, and I saw them before reading the book. I saw the 1963 movie in the early to mid 90s, and the 1999 movie in maybe the early 2000s on TV. I had the same problem with both: Eleanor, or Nell. With the 1963 movie I had no idea about the book and thought that this was just your average B-movie ‘hysteric’ AKA the woman who loses her shit. You’ll find her in every B-movie ever made. Irritating but usual.

When I saw the 1999 adaption I knew by then that it was BASED on a book, but I still hadn’t read it, so I merely compared the new movie to the old one, not knowing which was closest. A lot is different in the 1999 adaption in terms of back story and in terms of the house’s history, and yet, again, the portrayal of Eleanor was pretty much ‘the one who goes nuts and gets hysterical’. I mean they tried to make her all heroic and shit but meh….meh, meh, meh. As the whole movie was a huge mess of a fail that really didn’t work.

Fast forward to this summer, when I finally read the book. It was not the first Jackson I read. I read We Have Always Lived In the Castle and Hangsaman first, and so I was expecting great things from Jackson regarding the character of Eleanor, buuuuut they didn’t happen. She is the same mess in the book as in the movies and….well, it both surpised me greatly (because THOHH was written later than the ones I’d read) and really disappointed me.

Eleanor has put up with her mother for a long time, I feel her fragility stems from that enforced role of carer and also her strength emanates from the same place. I think the book would have been far scarier and more convincing if her strength had manifested even just a little bit more before she disintegrates. As it is, her collapse is so inevitable it steals all tension from the book, and her brittle neuroticism seems to come out of nowhere time and time again. There is context for it in the story, but not in her character as she is described or portrayed – at least not at first. There’s way more argument for it later on.

Jackson writes a lot about this sort of personality, and I think she handles them far better in those earlier books, and I will talk more about that as I reach those books in this marathon. This one is definitely interesting, and many people think it her best work, but I’d have to disagree. For me, it’s her worst.

You can buy this book in the UK here

And in the US here

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