“‘The very nicest thing about being a writer is that you can afford to indulge yourself endlessly with oddness, and nobody can really do anything about it, as long as you keep writing and kind of using it up, as it were. All you have to do…is keep writing. So long as you write it away regularly nothing can really hurt you.’”
-Shirley Jackson, quoted in Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, 389.
Shirley Jackson, Mary Shelley, and Daphne du Maurier reside at the summit of horror. Few writers, male or female, were able to create such compelling portraits of unease that drew from the foibles and cruelties of humanity. The macabre was cultivated in the minuscule, to show us all how vulnerable we are to enacting or becoming victim to it. These women defied cultural and societal norms in order to create visions of unease and panic, drawn from and dashing the conformity to which their gender in their various eras cursed them.
Shirley Jackson’s work relentlessly explored and thrived upon female interiority and its tremulous relationship to the external world. She was a woman who believed in the ability of superstition to keep psychic disturbance at bay, if only for a short while. A woman who translated all of her frustrations at being a woman, a wife, and a mother who couldn’t quite subsume herself into these traditional roles into visions of horror. She metamorphosed the grief that she felt at her ostensible shortcomings into a vision of panic and supernatural destruction, writ large upon the female psyche. Her most powerful and haunting metaphor, that of the malignant house that fed off the female psyche until it’s destruction, was one inextricably linked to mid-century constructions of womanhood. And this was where Jackson really shone, in her ability to transfer common anxieties and unease onto a supernatural landscape that rendered it both unspeakable and highly relatable. As her biographer, Ruth Franklin explores all the contours of Jackson’s rebellions and her conventions and thus creates an all-encompassing account of a complicated woman whose work was fueled by the world around her.
Similarly, the work of du Maurier and Shelley rendered the danger of the supernatural more human and thus, more threatening. In their lives, they pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in terms of femininity while at the same time reconfiguring the whole of horror fiction and what it could accomplish. Their biographers, listed below, prove themselves to be more than up to the task of exploring the complicated and nuanced lives of these women and the dynamic work they produced, forcing us to acknowledge their works as unparalleled in their significance.
- Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
- Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier by Tatiana de Rosnay
- Mary Shelley: A Biography by Muriel Spark