The Haunting of Hill House 1959

February 22, 1999 The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House was a 1959 book by Shirley Jackson. Shirley Jackson was born December 14, 1914 in San Francisco. She had been reading and writing all her life. She moved to New York. She was a lonely person. She went to the University of Rochester and Syracuse University, where she took Creative Writing classes.

Shirley Jackson met Stanley Hymn, who was her mentor. There was problem in her marriage. He was Jewish and from New York. She wasn’t. They had four children.  She wrote in two styles: 1) Family novels and 2) Unexpected Evil in Life.

She is also famous for her short story The Lottery. Some critics love The Lottery and other critics hated it. People were offended by it.  Anyway, she did research on ghost stories before writing the Haunting of Hill House. There was a local house that was supposed to be haunted that had been burned down by the villagers.

Jackson suffered from depression. She was agoraphobic for three years and had panic attacks. She died when she was 65 years old of a heart attack. Her alcohol and prescription drug abuse contributed to her early death.

The Haunting of Hill House was made into a movie in 1963 and again in 1999. The 1963 movie is relatively close adaptation of the book. Did Jackson influence Scooby Doo, which came out in 1969? Eleanora is a daredevil driver and homeless girl similar to Daphne in Scooby-Doo. Theodora is the lighthearted assistant similar to Thelma. Dr. Montague is the occult scholar like Fred. Luke Sanderson is the one is supposed to inherit the house. He is similar to Shaggy (AKA Norville Rogers).

There are 12 letters sent people who had some supernatural experience. There were 4 responses and only 2 people showed up to the house.

     Characters: Eleanor lived with her sister and sister’s husband. She took care of her mother mostly and blamed herself for her mother’s death. She steals her sister’s car. She wanted to have a journey end in a lover’s meeting.  Eleanor is nervous about the trip because she hasn’t been out of the house in a long time. She is secluded or isolated.

She goes to the house on the hill or Hill House to meet Dr. Montague who is going to retire after his Hill House experiment. There are two servants there Mr. and Mrs. Dudley. Mrs. Dudley wears a clean apron and has a suspicious face. Everything must be on a schedule for her. She can’t keep all the rooms up though and refuses to wait on people. She leaves before dark.

Theodora is light and bubbly. She is flaky at times but witty other times. She is a psychic who believes in telepathy.

Luke is a liar and a thief. Luke is there as a part of the price for Dr. Montague. He is an asset to the Haunted House or views the Haunted House as an asset?

Arthur Parker is the friend of Mrs. Montague. He is a headmaster. He is a meat and potatoes man. Straight and narrow.

Mrs. Montague at the end thinks she knows. Eleanor, Theo and Luke don’t know, but she does. She wants to sleep in the nursery and experience the spirits. She is clueless really.

Plot: Eleanor doesn’t like the house from the start. There are strange passage ways and rooms with no windows. (Inspired by the Winchester Mystery House in California 1888-1922?) The house is built at an angle and is off just a little. The inhabitants are off a little as well. People are killed in the house. The guy who lived there had like four wives who all died under mysterious circumstances. One sister fell and one grew sick. Another committed suicide.

Eleanor or Nelly is reading the book Pamela one cold night. People are locked in rooms on this very cold night. There is a strange dog running around through the house. They have discussions on Ghosts vs Poltergeists. They mention Oscar Wilde’s famous story The Canterville Ghost. They talked about the weakness of the human mind. They walk into a rose garden and a blue room. “Help Eleanor come home,” is written in red on the wall. Is it blood? Eleanor is scared when she sees a child being hurt.

There is a mention of Heaven and Hell by Blake. Eleanor and Theo walk down a path with a luminous glow. They run. Arthur Parker and Mrs. Montague show up. In the nursery they witness automatic writing and the use of an Ouija board.

Luke sends Eleanor away even though she doesn’t want to go. Luke went to Paris. Dr. Montague left. The Hill House is still there. Whatever walked there, walked alone. Eleanor didn’t make it. Her car runs into a tree. Did she kill herself?

Point of View: It is mostly from Eleanor’s point of view, but sometimes we get a glimpse into other’s point of view as well.

Setting: It is a realistic setting. The house was built in the late 1800s. The book was written in 1959. The house was not able to be lived in. Outside of Hillsdale. There is beautiful scenery. But then the land decays as it approaches Hill House. The Gate is tall and is padlocked. The house is very much the Gothic Manor. There are signs on the trees that say “Dare” and “Evil.” The house is at an odd angel. It is dark and oppressive and ominous. (Page 67, 75, 81).

Foreshadowing: Phrases on page 44: Mrs. Dudley won’t stay after dark. Page 67: Dr. Montague’s horse bolted and killed someone who was trying to leave. There were two girls upstairs who screamed and Luke and the Doctor didn’t hear.

Symbols: The house is an evil unknown. It plays on the characters and gets into their heads. The Angles of the house create a sense of uneasiness. It also reflects Eleanor’s unstableness. The Animals on the Nursery look like a deer head on the wall. The Oleander is a poisonous plant. There is something secretive in them and drawn to deadly games.

There is blood on the floor that is later not there. What happened to it? Cold spot in front of the nursery. Suicide took place in the tower, which couldn’t be seen in front of the house. The cold spot equals death. Cold can be emotional or physical.

One view is Eleanor gave herself over to the evil power. Another is that it is all in her mind. Yet another view is that the mind creates these physical manifestations.

Being straightforward made Eleanor feel live. She had leave by herself. Eleanor felt like stealing a car because she knew she’d never bring it back.

Hugh Crain built the house. He wrote a book to a daughter—a graphic book. One of them lived in the house after the father died and remained a recluse. The driveway circles the house and kept her and keeps them prisoner. Hugh’s distorted view is reflected in the house and its architecture.

The way the mind works forces them to face their particular fears. Eleanor is afraid of being alone. Theodora is afraid of not being the center of attention. Mrs. Montague is having an affair of Arthur. The house leads us to ask: are some people just born bad?

Several things happen at the brook. Eleanor seems more paranoid after the visit to the brook. Theodora and Luke are friends and leave out Luke. Page 214: Heard “Eleanor” as she held tight to her spot. “Don’t let me go.” “Stay.” Is it the spirit in the house or in her mind? Luke and Theo are calling her. She twisted it into something else.

The theme is not can be explained. The world view comparison between James and Doyle and Jackson. Dr. Montague is trying to explain everything. The scientific method or explanation is thrown out in the end.  The objective riddle by Shirley Jackson was about a wife who was abused by her degrading husband and his work is worth noting for its characterizations.

In The Haunting Mrs. Montague is comic relief. She takes herself seriously, but is completely crazy. Theodora is sarcastic and cruel at the end. The ghosts seem to be separating all of them. Divide and conquer.

Did Eleanor commit suicide or did the ghost drive her to it? How does the movie differ from the book in its portrayal?

 March 2, 1999 The Haunting 1963 Movie


The director of The Haunting movie was Robert Wise. He chose black and white. Certain things are always missing from the movie. Watch for what they cut out.

The narrator says, “Hill House, 90 years ago….  Anyone that has ever walked there has walked alone.” Hugh Crain’s wife died on the way there. The horse and carriage ran into a tree.  The daughter Abigail died. The second wife fell down the stairs.  Hugh Crain died in England—he drowned. It is an interesting morph of Abigail from young to old. There is a young companion to take care of Abigail. The old woman died and the young companion inherited the house. The companion then hung herself. There was a distant relative named Mrs. Sansborn who inherited it. Mr. Markway is his name in the movie.  Wife disappears and it is suggested that Luke go to Hill House.

Eleanor begs for the car. There is silly, happy music playing. She yells at her sister to get out. She gets to get the car from the parking garage in a big city. She is happy to go where she is wanted.  They do a voice over of her thoughts.

Hill House is big with huge metal gates. “What do you want?” an Irish voice says. It is Mrs. Dudley. Dudley nearly runs her over while driving in the gate. A foreshadow of her death?

She sees the house with its Medieval Towers, etc. It is huge and spread out. Evil is patiently waiting for me she thought. Mrs. Dudley answers the door and says nothing. She is tall and thin and homely. We see a statue of a cherubim praying. It startles Eleanor when she sees it in the mirror.  Mrs. Dudley leaves before the dark speech.

Theodora comes in through a series of connecting rooms. Mrs. Dudley launches into a repetitive speech as Theodora and Eleanor keep talking to each other. They have an instant connection and friendship. They explore. They can’t open doors. There is coldness and a chill in certain places. Nobody heard the moan but Eleanor (Nell). The house is calling me she thinks.

Dr. Markway appears. He says the door that he opened closed on its own. There is a Ghosts versus Ghoul discussion. There is a purple parlor, but the angles are off. There is a big distortion.  Markway goes into a broom closet and it is funny. One of ladies of the house was a witch. Luke appears and Theo talks about her ESP. There is a mention of the House of Hades. Atmospheric pressure and underground rivers are to blame the Mayor says.

Nell interrupts to say that the neighbors threw the rocks at her house when she was little. Theo guesses or knows somehow that Nell wasn’t upset when her Mom died. She tells Nell that she hasn’t a ghost of a chance.

Theo places Luke at cards. She wins. Nell screams because she thought she was being watched. She has forms to fill out. They discuss telekinesis. Nell was thinking of changing her hair. Theo says she could fix it. Was that too friendly of a conversation? The camera angel looks down on Nell. Then to the floor and pulls back.

Eleanor gets up and says, “All right, mother.” There was a pounding. Theo and Nell hear it as well. It is at the other end of the hall. Both of them act very afraid. Then the noise quits. There are weird camera angles.  They go to the end of the hall and find it very cold. Both of the girls are very afraid.  Markway comes up and the girls are laughing in relief. Markway then chases a dog from the inside of the house to the outside.  Eleanor talks about taking care of her mother all her life.

There is writing in chalk—not in blood or lipstick. It says, “Help, Eleanor. Come home.” Eleanor blamed Theo for it. Theo suggests that she wrote it herself. She says the house did it.

There is a beautiful conservatory and garden. There are big statutes of Hugh Crain and his family. There is a companion statue that looks like Eleanor.  Luke puts the moves on Theo. Theo tells him to keep his hands to himself.

Nell dances and the door flies open. Nell can’t go into the library. It smells. The stairs are where a woman hanged herself. The stairs are shaky and feel like they are about to fall. Nell faints thinking about the suicide tower. Nell has a breakdown. Markway wants to send Nell home.

Later, Theo and Nell are in the same room. Nell paints her toes and drinks brandy. Nell tells lies while she is drinking. She says she has an apartment of her own. Nell doesn’t want to leave Hill House, but Theo thinks she should. They talk about the cold spot in front of the nursery. Is Nell in love with Markway? Nell gets upset and is mad at Theo for suggesting it. Theo says, “I don’t think you killed your Mom.”

Nell goes to bed, but hears crying and laughing coming from the other room. She faces the design in the room. Thinks she hears a ghost hurting a child. Nell yells for it to stop. She wakes up and realizes she was sleeping on the edge of the bed. Whose hand had she been holding?

She sees Markway and a harp playing itself. “Journey’s end when lovers meet,” Nell said as the harp played. Nell says she refused to answer her mother’s knocking and she died, so she blames herself.

Hugh Crain’s memoirs are strange, blunt and dark. Theo keeps reading Nell’s mind, which pisses her off. Theo mentions Tristan and Iseult and how Nell loves Markway. Mrs. Markway shows up. The papers will have a field day she says. Grace says she will join the Ghost Hunt. She foolishly says she will stay in the nursery. Nell begs her not to.

Eleanor is arguing with herself about staying or leaving. Nell and Theo are trying to sleep downstairs. Luke comes downstairs to drink. The door slams loudly behind him. They hear pounding . It stops. The door bulges and moves as if it was breathing.

Dr. Markway runs upstairs to see if his wife is okay. The Pan statue is where the noise was coming from. Nell runs out of the house. It sounds like the house is destroying itself.  She goes up to the nursery, but finds Grace Markway gone. Nell is disappearing into the house. Nell says, “You and I killed her, didn’t we Hugh Crain.”

Nell dances through the halls and goes through the library. There is no cold spot there any longer. She feels like she has broken the spell. She refuses to come down the stairs. Eventually, she reaches the top of the stairs at the tower and leans over the edge. She starts to fall, but Markway pulls her back.

Does Nell see a ghost? She screams. Mrs. Markway is upstairs above them where the trapdoor is. She has to leave now. She confesses that she made up the apartment. She really has nowhere to live. Nell only wants to get Mrs. Markway back now that the house has taken her.

Nell goes down the driveway. Luke is in the car with her. Theo told her to go and be happy. They said their goodbyes. Luke gets out at the gate. Nell drives off alone. The Ghost takes control of the car. She tells it to stop it! Why don’t they stop it? She sees ghosts and wrecks.

The other see from the house and run to see. Nell is dead. Grace shows up. Did Grace kill her or did Eleanor kill herself. Markway says the house in haunted and now Eleanor has to walk alone.

March 2, 1999 The Haunting Book and Movie

There are significant changes to the plot, character and theme. The film uses techniques to set up suspense and showing the house.

Changes are: the doctor’s wife saw a ghost in the movie. They changed the name from Montague to Markway (Marquay). In the book Mrs. M wants to do the job right. In the movie she wants him to come home and away from the nonsense. There is the obvious absence of Arthur from the movie. Jackson doesn’t like the character. He is there as a contrast or as a foil.

The characters pair up differently at one point. In the movie Eleanor likes the doctor and she sense he returns the feelings. The book had her leaning on Luke instead. She is just desperate to belong. Theo and Nell were more competitive for Luke’s attention. The original two sisters in the House are gone from the movie. Theo and Nell double for the two sisters in the book. In the book the sisters were knocking to get attention and Nell’s mother was knocking to get her attention.

The windows of the house look like they are watching people. There are two windows as there are two eyes. The house is always dark and in the shadows. In the book, the rooms of the house were ugly. In the movie they were decorated in flowery wallpaper. There were no open spaces. There were closed drapes and darkness within. The house is very Victorian in that it was full of things and made everyone very claustrophobic. It works against the Gothic conventions.

There are statues of The Innocents and Statues in The Haunting.

Nell sees herself in the mirror and jumps. The last voice says, “We walk alone.” In the book the narrator says that. In the movie, Nell says it. In the movie it is Hugh Crain who wants her. In the book, it is her mother. In the book she is looking for sisterly or motherly attention. In the movie she is looking for male attention.

In the film there was objective narration. In the novel we have a sort of voice over and we get to know the characters through their thoughts. In the movie Theo says she has ESP and reads Nell’s thoughts for us. Nell calls Theo a monster. The Implication is that Theo is a lesbian. Theo has no attraction to Luke, but maybe some to Nell.

Maybe Theo develops feelings for Eleanor and feels jealous over Markway’s (Marque) attention. The book has scenes out of doors. Someone is chasing them. In the movie it is all in doors. There is more concentration on the house itself. The blood is cut out, but there are references to the rabbits and cats. The house is toying with them. Something else has control of the car it seems. It wasn’t suicide.



About carilynn27

Reading and writing and writing about reading are my passion. I've been keeping a journal since I was 14. I also write fiction and poetry. I published my first collection of short stories, "Radiant Darkness" in 2000. I followed that up with my first collection of poetry in 2001 called "Journey without a Map." In 2008, I published "Persephone's Echo" another collection of poetry. Since then I've also published Emotional Espionage, The Way The Story Ended, My Perfect Drug and Out There. I have my BA in English from The Ohio State University at Mansfield and my MA in English Lit from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I also have my Post BA Certificate in Women's Studies. I am the mother of two beautiful children. :-)
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