Re-evaluating the Short Fiction of Shirley Jackson

The first two decades of the twenty-first century have seen a surge in interest in the strange and disturbing worlds created by Shirley Jackson (1916-1965). 2020 sees the release of Shirley, the fictionalised biopic based upon the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell (2014). In 2019 ‘Shirley Jackson’ became a recurring character in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Ari Aster’s Midsommar was released, a film owing not an inconsiderable debt to Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’. 2018 welcomed both Netflix’s loose adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House and Stacie Passon’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Throughout the last decade Penguin have reprinted Jackson’s novels and short story collections for mass market distribution. What, then, has happened to invite new interest in Jackson’s work? Alice Vincent has referred to our current ‘strange and fractured’ times as possessing a certain ‘Shirley Jackson energy’. There is also a growing body of academic criticism of Jackson’s work – most recently Shirley Jackson and Domesticity: Beyond the Haunted House (2020), a collection of essays edited by Jill E. Anderson and Melanie R. Anderson. A collection of Jackson’s letters will be released for the first time in Summer 2021, and the Shirley Jackson Awards continue to be a marker of excellence in fantastika fiction. While ‘The Lottery’ remains her most widely recognised work, her vast body of short stories have received relatively little critical attention.

Joan Wylie Hall’s Shirley Jackson: A Study of the Short Fiction (1993) is a foundational text in the field of Jackson studies, illuminating the importance of Jackson’s short form and its enduring influence. Yet, Wylie Hall’s work was published before the re-release of the bulk of Jackson’s short fiction. Since then, much of the criticism has orientated itself around Jackson’s longer works. In the midst of a disquieting time imbued with ‘Shirley Jackson energy’, and approaching the 30th anniversary of Wylie Hall’s collection, Dark Tales: Re-evaluating the Short Fiction of Shirley Jackson (TBC) aims to provide a coherent and comprehensive overview of Jackson’s short stories, with particular attention paid to their relevance in the present day and the changing state of Jackson criticism.

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