“Time was running shorter, tightening around our house, crushing me.”: Space and Time in the Female Gothic of Shirley Jackson

Harriet Barton


Shirley Jackson has enjoyed some commercial acclaim of late – Netflix’s re-imagining of The Haunting of Hill House (2018) and Stacie Passon’s adaptation of We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018) found cause to retell Jackson’s two most widely known novels over half a century after their initial publication. Jackson’s timelessness is undoubtedly thanks to her strong feminist themes, female characters and memorable gothic prose. She walks the line between female mental illness and the possibility of malign, supernatural forces in their domestic worlds. In her three ‘house novels’ – The Sundial (1958), The Haunting of Hill House (1959), and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) – Jackson centralises the domestic sphere to raise questions about women’s power and patriarchal tradition in the atomic age. This paper explores how Jackson uses both the ‘space’ of the house as an oppressive and liberating reality for the fifties housewife and ‘time’ to consider progress and haunted legacies for her women. It argues that ultimately, many of the supernatural elements in Jackson are manifestations of her women’s tormented psychologies as they come to terms with their place in a changing world. Who do these women want to be? Is it regressive to enjoy the small pleasures of domesticity, or is this very enjoyment a source of strength? Ultimately, this is a personal realisation for Jackson. By the time she reaches Castle her resolve is clear, confident, and final: like her characters, she is happy to be both the powerful witch and the unassuming housewife.  


Mid-century; Gothic; Horror; Feminism; Shirley Jackson; Southern Gothic; Supernatural

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