Shirley Jackson Books To Read After You Finish Hulu’s Shirley

The new film Shirley is a (mostly) fictionalized portrayal of author Shirley Jackson’s (played by Elisabeth Moss) home life, which is infused by bits of storytelling inspired by her very own novels. In the movie, Jackson’s husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), a literary critic, invites a young couple to live with them and help take care of the house, as well as Jackson, who is in a deep depression and having trouble writing. While this setup isn’t the most ideal for Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman), or Jackson, who seems to loathe being around other people, the two couples end up finding a dreadful kind of harmony. 

Shirley, which is streaming on Hulu starting June 5, might just inspire you to read some of Jackson’s novels. Even if you read The Haunting of Hill House after bingeing the Netflix adaptation, there are still plenty more titles to get through. Jackson, who was known for her creepy tales and gorgeous, smart prose, published six novels and seven short story collections (some of which were published posthumously). 


Ready to get spooked? Here are six of the best ones.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is an eerie novel about two sisters, Mary Katherine and Constance Blackwood, who live in a house with their uncle, Julian. Aside from Julian, who suffers from dementia, the Blackwoods have no other family — because they’re all dead. Without giving too much away, it’s alluded that the Blackwood family died under very unusual circumstances. We Have Always Lived in the Castle tells the tale of an ominous, yet special bond between two sisters and a secret they keep.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

Before there was the Netflix show, there was the novel. The Haunting of Hill House is pretty different from the series, though, so even if you’ve watched it, you might want to read the book version, too. In The Haunting of Hill House, a professor of the occult, and his assistant Theodora recruit the aimless Eleanor to come help them observe the haunted Hill House. There, they encounter Luke, the heir of Hill House, along with house caretakers Mrs. and Mr. Dudley. At first, the crew camps inside the house, everything seemingly normal. As the days and nights go by, Hill House unleashes its nefarious spirits. One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Eleanor (in the series, Mrs. Dudley says it), who tells a young girl at diner, “Insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you’ll never see your cup of stars again.” Knowing how much Jackson’s freedom was controlled by society at the time (her husband played a major role in her oppression too, insisting that she give him half of her earnings from her books), it makes that quote and Eleanor’s character that much more powerful.

The Lottery and Other Stories (1949)

Although the short story “The Lottery” is one of Jackson’s most famous pieces of literary work (and chances are, you even read it in high school for English class), the book of short stories contains 23 others that will spook and delight, like “Like Mother Used to Make,” “Afternoon in Linen,” and “The Dummy.” For those who haven't read“The Lottery": The story examines a town’s annual rite in which one member of the community is chosen to be stoned to death.

The Road Through the Wall (1948) 

The Road Through the Wall, which is Jackson’s first novel, examines the hidden, hideous behavior coming from residents of the Pepper Street neighborhood. Jackson’s characters are bigoted, selfish, and apathetic to their surroundings. One day, something terrible happens (I won’t spoil it!), and the suburban neighborhood is forced to come to terms with their ugly complacency.

The Bird’s Nest (1954)

The book follows Elizabeth, who is a quietly passive 23-year-old working a boring job, and lives with her unstable aunt. The only thing she really has left is the money she inherited when her mother died. For the most part, Elizabeth lives a life with no agency. When she starts to experience severe headaches, she goes to several doctors and a psychiatrist to get a diagnosis, but what she eventually learns is that she has four separate personalities. The Bird’s Nest is a chilling and deeply unsettling story of a young woman trying to grapple with her past, present, and future — all while managing a severe mental illness.

Hangsaman (1951)

Hangsaman, which partially inspired Shirley, is about a college student named Natalie Waite who loses her mind. Hangsaman is surreal at times, and written as though someone woke up and scribbled down their dream (or nightmare) before forgetting it. All of Jackson’s female characters share similar traits, and that’s most likely because she bases them off of herself and her worst fears: not having purpose, or an identity. In Hangsaman, Natalie navigates mundane activities through the lens of someone who is intensely lonely and lost.
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