Cover Image: The Letters of Shirley Jackson

The Letters of Shirley Jackson

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

In an age of instant communication, it can be easy to forget that letter-writing is an art form. And Shirley Jackson had it nailed. Through letters to her parents, publishers, fellow authors, friends, and even fans, we get a valuable glimpse at Jackson as a person. We learn about her writing methods, her financial struggles (and eventual successes), her love of fancy cars, her unrealized dream of seeing a film adaptation of her novel, The Sundial, and many other wonderful tidbits.

Throughout the course of the book, I became very invested in Jackson’s family. To read about Jackson’s daughter Sally discovering her potential path as a writer, and to see Laurie (who edited this very book) go from wunderkind jazz artist, to photographer, to father, was truly a pleasure. Jackson’s pride in her four children was incredibly palpable. No wonder they inspired her two family memoirs, Life Among the Savages, and Raising Demons.

These letters reveal a lot about Jackson’s tumultuous relationship with her husband, Stanley. From their early courtship, to a particularly harrowing unsent letter towards the latter part of Jackson’s life, these letters suggest that Stanley, an academic, critic, and struggling writer, was perhaps resentful of Jackson’s success. Jackson undoubtedly performed the duel role of breadwinner and dominant parent, whereas Stanley mostly comes across as a philandering bully.  

I found myself getting very sad towards the end of the book. As Jackson’s health deteriorates, her letters become less frequent, and lack the vibrancy and humor of her earlier missives. It is so completely unfair that the world was robbed of such an immense talent so young. And at the peak of her powers. 

This book is pure gold for any Jackson obsessive. It is the closest thing to an autobiography, albeit an unconventional one. The thing that came across most is just how funny Jackson was. She is often remembered for her knack for the uncanny, but she is genuinely playful in some of these letters. And her illustrations are hilarious. What a great talent, what an absolute loss for the literary world, but what a legacy.
Was this review helpful?
The Letters of Shirley Jackson
by Shirley Jackson
 Random House Publishing Group - Random House 
Pub Date 13 Jul 2021
 Biographies & Memoirs  |  Literary Fiction 

I am reviewing a copy of The Letters of Shirley Jackson through Random House Publishing and NetGalley:

If you’re looking to get a deeper look into the life of one of the most influential writers of thee past 100 years, then I highly recommend The Letters of Shirley Jackson.

The letters in this book were written of the spam of three decades, from her college years, to six days before her early death at the age of forty-eight, these letters become the autobiography Shirley Jackson never wrote. As well as being a bestselling author, Jackson spent much of her adult life as a mother of four in Vermont, and the landscape here is often the everyday: raucous holidays and trips to the dentist, overdue taxes and frayed lines of Christmas lights, new dogs and new babies. But in recounting these events to family, friends, and colleagues, she turns them into remarkable stories: entertaining, revealing, and wise. At the same time, many of these letters provide fresh insight into the genesis and progress of Jackson’s writing over nearly three decades.

For those who like myself want to know, more about the lives of authors, in this case it is Shirley Jackson’s life we get to look into, I highly recommend The Letters of Shirley Jackson.

I give The Letters of Shirley Jackson five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!
Was this review helpful?
I love love love this book. I love it so much that after reading an advance copy on my Kindle I ran out and bought the hard copy when it was released. I've always loved Shirley Jackson's fiction but her letters are extraordinary. Not only was she incredibly funny, but the letters shine a light on her struggles with work-life balance, hate mail, marriage, writer's block, and a number of other issues so many of us deal with every day.
Was this review helpful?
This was the best book I’ve read this year. This is also the best book I thought would have been published by now. I’m so happy to live in a time when there is more winsome Shirley Jackson uncovered.
Was this review helpful?
Shirley Jackson wrote brilliantly, including the classics "The Haunting of Hill House", "The Lottery" and "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" which have a special place in my library.  She also wrote many articles, poetry and gave lectures.  After reading this book I feel I know her much better, what made her tick.  Her collection of letters to Stanley, her parents, publishers and others gives readers more than just a glimpse about her life.  Her line drawings are witty and charming and I love the addition of photographs, too.

Typing only on manual typewriter "ernest" with little editing and rare capitalization her style was very unique.  She wanted her letters to be kept...and I am so glad they were saved and put together to create this book by her oldest son.  He definitely had no shortage of material!  Jackson admitted to sometimes writing just for money as she and Stanley and their children lived in lovely houses and had to pay rent.  They also moved often.  In fact, in many letters to her parents she requests and thanks them for their regular cheques.  I wonder what she would think of her popularity now! 

The daily life bits are fascinating, too, as Jackson included details on dental appointments, what she did for entertainment, grasshoppers a foot and a half long, marriage, children, storms, husband Stanley's jobs, cleaning, baking, her thoughts and dreams and letters to her publishers.  Her hyperbole and wit is legendary and it was wonderful to read so much more of it!  She enjoyed Henry James and P. G. Wodehouse.  Excellent taste in authors.

Her sudden death so young is very sad, not only for those around her but for those who enjoy her writing decades after her death.  If you enjoy epistolary writing and this author in general, you will surely be smitten with this book.

My sincere thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Random House and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this insightful book.
Was this review helpful?
My thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for an advanced copy of this collection of letters.

The Letters of Shirley Jackson, written by Shirley Jackson,  and edited by her son Laurence Jackson Hyman showcases some of the correspondance the famous author wrote to friend, family and fans over a 30 year period, covering her courtship with her husband, up until her early passing a 30 year period. Most are collected for the first time. 

Letters can give great insights into both the writer and to written. Public stands and statements might be further explained, or even denied in letters, true emotions might be shared between intimates. True love could be confessed, and a great love can be shown to have its problems. 

All this is present in Ms. Jackson's letters. Many might complain why these should be published. Many more might complain on the presentation of the letters. Her son decided to keep her style of all lower case, and little punctuation or editing. So it might take some time to get into the flow of the writing. However to understand her writing, it helps to understand the writer, and that is clearer in her own words, clearer even than most biographies can be. They are sad, her numerous medical problems overshadow most of the letters, but funny. Some letters are almost short story-like.

This is a very interesting collection, for fans of Ms. Jackson, or for those interested in writing, how a writer becomes inspired, and how sometimes that inspiration can effect their life.
Was this review helpful?
Thoughfully curated collection of Shirley Jackson's writings. I appreciated the extensive foreword and would recommend this book.
Was this review helpful?
“i am so lonely now that i am shocked when i remember being a child and a adolescent; i thought i was lonely then. -Shirley Jackson”

I took my time savoring this book of personal letters.  It was like spending time with Shirley in her own words.  If you enjoyed Life Among the Savages or Raising Demons, you will likely enjoy all the additional family anecdotes that are detailed in her letters.

This book gives a great insight into the life and mind of a creative person juxtaposed against a mid-century housewife.  I found her letter to Stanley particularly powerful.  I could feel her sadness and hurt over his infidelity.  

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me a free copy of this ebook in exchange for an unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
Accidentally submitted a review for another book--will update soon with the review for this one! Sorry!
Was this review helpful?
It was so fascinating to get this behind the scenes look at Jackson's life in her own voice. Any fans or scholars of Jackson will want to pick this up. It's quite long but it's easy to pick up and savor pieces over the long haul. This might not be approachable to someone unfamiliar with Jackson's work but it would still be enjoyable.
Was this review helpful?
Before reading this collection of Shirley Jackson’s letters, I had never read anything by the author. Having read this, I can now say I am a fan of her writing. If her letters were this interesting I can only imagine how amazing her other works must be. She turns mundane activities like going to the dentist and the nuances of her children’s lives into a compelling story. She could have written a grocery list and I probably would have been completely engrossed.

This book is a vast collection of letters that Shirley Jackson wrote over the course of nearly three decades from the time of her youth to six days before she passed away. Some of her earliest letters were to her future husband, Stanley, to her parents whom she consistently addressed as “mom and pop”, to her various agents and publishing friends, to fans, to her friends, and later, to her children as they got older. In her letters, Shirley chose to copy Stanley’s style and write in lowercase letters with little punctuation because she wasn’t a fan of the semicolon. Who is? 

I loved reading all her letters, but some that stand out to me were her letters to Stanley when they were young. She was very bold and did not shy away from discussing Stanley’s other girlfriends that he had while being committed to Shirley. 

Medicine seems like it was trial and error back then, at least for Shirley. In one letter she writes how she became sick with a throat infection and was told to drink hydrogen peroxide! It’s no shock that that made her much worse until she saw a specialist who told her that was “wrong wrong wrong.” Or, how when she was due to go into labour years later, another doctor told her to drink castor oil mixed with a drink she didn’t like because she would never want to have that drink again. So she mixed half a glass of castor oil with another half of cream soda. Yum. 

As her children grew up, I enjoyed reading her letters about them. She wrote a lot about how much money she was making from her short stories and books, which surprisingly was never enough. It made me wonder how much other authors of her caliber were making at the time. 

There was one letter Shirley wrote later in her life to her husband that made me feel sad for her that Stanley was belittling her and her achievements. Another letter she wrote to herself was equally heartbreaking. It seems that Stanley was against her writing about anything that didn’t bring in money. She had to coach herself to be strong. In her forties, Shirley started experiencing severe anxiety and agoraphobia that she eventually sought help for from a therapist.

This collection was a tome that I ended up taking my time with by reading about fifty pages a day, usually on the weekends. I am now excited to go back and read her other works now that I have a lot of insight into her writing process. 

I could go on and on about the letters of Shirley Jackson, but I’ll stop here and hope you end up reading this collection and loving it as much as I did! 

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for the digital ARC.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I could not make it through this book because the ebook I received was horribly designed and unreadable. Once I got to the letters, the pages were glitching and jumping around to different parts of the book as I was in the middle of a sentence. This happened multiple times. I had to keep backing out, finding the page I was at again, just to then have a glitch send me to another part of the book. Also, there are little * symbols next to certain words or people mentioned in the letters. When you click on the * to get more context, it brings you to a different page. When you try to back out of that page, it takes you out of the book entirely, then you have to scroll through all the pages, trying to find your place for the 100th time. By about the 100-page mark, I became so frustrated that I am giving up.

Additionally, I would have preferred to see Shirley's actual letters since the editor decided to transcribe them exactly as written. There might have been a problem with legibility, though, so that probably wasn't something they could do. However, even the transcribed version is hard to read. Shirley has the tendency to put 5-10 words together without putting spaces between them. It takes a minute to decipher what is being said. There was also a mysterious section in the ebook where words were overlapping, and the sentence was completely illegible. So, this book was such a hassle to read that it took all enjoyment out of the reading process.

Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite authors, but in the 100 pages I read, some things were brought up that made me feel a disconnect with her. I almost feel like if I read more, it would make me think less of her novels. In the introduction, it is stated that she wrote these letters with the intent of publishing them in the future. She even asked her parents to save the letters and send them back to her to get published. This aspect of Shirley I couldn't relate to and changed my opinion of her. I can't understand writing a heartfelt letter to a family member, not because you thought it was a nice gesture, but because you wanted it published. Maybe I'm just looking into things too much, but I didn't want my opinion of Shirley Jackson to be soured by what was mentioned in this book. This is another aspect of why I decided to DNF.

Overall, the glitches were unbearable, I had no enjoyment while reading, and I felt some negativity surrounding some of the content of the book. If you are a fan of Shirley Jackson and can get your hand on a physical copy, I say go for it. The digital version is not suitable for the way the book is set up. I cannot give a star rating for book content, but for reader experience, it was a 1-star.
Was this review helpful?
“dear mrs. white, if you don’t like my peaches, don’t shake my tree. sincerely, shirley jackson”.   July 24, 1957.

I am a Shirley Jackson fan. I remember watching The Lottery when I was in grade school.  It was the early 1970s, and I was just happy that the nuns were not showing another religious film strip. That is my only memory of it, but I remember the name: Shirley Jackson. As an adult, I have watched The Haunting (1963) many times, always marveling how that banging was the most frightening thing I had ever experienced in a movie. It was then that I sought out The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and read my very first purely horrific novel (I realized part of me was Eleanor!). In The Letters of Shirley Jackson (edited by her eldest son Laurence Jackson Hymen), I was treated to an inside look of her as she wrote these and many of her other books and articles. I read every single letter, afraid I would miss something. Because, as her son states, she enjoyed writing these as much—at times more—as writing fiction. It shows.

The Letters of Shirley Jackson contains 300 letters sent to 20 people spanning 27 years (1938-1965). Some of the recipients include her parents, children, friends, agents, publishers, and fans. Many of these letters read like her fiction, “blurring the boundary between reality and fiction” (Introduction written by Bernice M. Murphy). The letters are, as her son Laurence Jackson Hyman, “The self-reported account of a short and extremely creative life.” However, the content of these letters does not reveal the real life she experienced with her husband, Stanley Hyman. Instead of recounting his affairs, demeaning comments, and lack of involvement with the family, we read about his attentiveness, support, and engagement with the children and home. 
We learn a lot about Shirley Jackson, much of it sad. She suffered from severe anxiety and agoraphobia, at times unable to leave her home for months. She used prescribed drugs to help her until 1963, when she finally chose to start psychoanalysis. She had several periods of ill-health, suffering a coronary event in 1956, two bouts of colitis in 1960 and 1961, pneumonia in 1965, and then her death August 8, 1965 from another coronary event. She drank a lot and had an unhealthy relationship with her body and food, which did not help any of the above. 

The most heart-wrenching letters are the ones that she did not send. Shirley received a letter from her mother in which she criticizes her daughter’s appearance, says her husband and children are ashamed of her, and that she is ungrateful and thoughtless. Shirley wrote a letter (September 25, 1962) in which she takes her mother to task for her comments, asking when will she “realize that i am a grown up”, and stating “i have just had enough of the unending comments on my appearance and my faults.” Another was to her husband, Stanley (November 1962?) where she predicts he’ll start a fight so that he can, “…arrange to go off to new york in december in a state of domestic warfare, justifying you in whatever big city plans you can make.” The last letter is the one to herself (1963) where she writes, “it is now clear to me—after a year spent hoping and endeavoring to make sense from an impossible situation—that stanley intends at all costs to obstruct my serious writing in any way he can. he is perfectly happy with my money-writing (magazines) happy to think that after so much work i have at last achieved a point where i can make a great deal of money, which he cannot, by simply writing…he will not allow me to write anything in which I feel that i am doing more than only writing for money.”

She closes the letter with the repeated phrases of: “i will be not afraid. i will do what I am set to do and nothing else. i will not.”   

Although I received the electronic book free, I have pre-ordered the hard copy of the book. I want to savor it as a written testimony on paper; just like she wrote it. It would also allow me easy access to and from the copious endnotes. 

I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read and review this book.
Was this review helpful?
I adore Shirley Jackson. The woman is a genius. I am always thrilled to see a new celebration of her incredible wit, and this did not disappoint.
Was this review helpful?
Fans of Shirley Jackson will love this! In 'The Letters Of Shirley Jackson', we get to see a personal side to her through letters. Reading this, I feel more connected to her and her writing! It is always interesting to see a writer's process.
Was this review helpful?
illuminating letters from a great writer. The perfect accompaniment to a deeper understanding of her work.
Was this review helpful?