Thursday, January 5, 2017

Shirley Jackson, etc

Thumbed through the current issue of the London Review of Books (5 Jan 2017) and found a review of a biography of Shirley Jackson and noticed once again that unless one knew the writer, one couldn’t tell whether she is British or American – de facto Brexit in my opinion, or rather a more logical amalgamation than Britain and the EU.  Do we here in the U.S. ever feel antagonistic toward the Britains, well politically perhaps, but no more so than one would feel toward the opposing party here in the U.S.  The NYROB does the same thing.  Writers from Canada and Britain are reviewed or review books without any hint that this is at all strange. 

After reading the article I thought perhaps I’d try again to read one of her novels, but in looking at my Library of America collection, I couldn’t a Shirley Jackson – checked everywhere, maybe I only considered buying it in the past and while it may turn up later on I ordered it (again?) from Amazon.  The only thing I’d ever read by Jackson was “The Lottery,” and had an image of the book I’d read it in; which I did find – it was required reading in an introduction to literature class – a volume called A Quarto of Modern Literature, third edition.  Here also, British and American literature are interspersed.  I have little checks in red pencil indicating the things I’d read, presumably required reading. 

In looking through the poetry in this Quarto, every poem by Thomas Hardy was checked, 2 by Housman, 2 by Robinson, none by Masefield or De La Mare, 5 by Frost, 2 by Masters, Lindsay and Sandburg, one by St. Vincent Milllay, none by pound, Owen, or Lawrence.  Two by Yeats and Hopkins.  One by Aiken.  Every poem by T. S. Eliot.  One by Cummings and Jeffers.  None by Williams.  One by Stevens.  None by Hart Crane, MacLeish, Tate, Fearing, or Auden.  One by Spender None by MacNeice.  One by Dylan Thomas. 

It wasn’t surprising to see Eliot favored.  He still would be today.  Hardy and Frost might not be.  They certainly aren’t by me. 

One can tell a bit more about whoever taught this class to see that ever piece of fiction and drama is checked.  If one were looking for a focus in literature, the encouragement here would be in fiction and drama.  Poetry is more of a curiosity.

I can think of the Library of America as a more expanded Quarto although they wouldn’t publish Galsworthy, Conrad, Joyce or Kafka.  Ah, Kafka, I forgot there were a few non American/British in the Quarto, but in Kafka’s case only because the “Metamorphosis” was the most famous short story of the century. The ‘century’?  I went into college in September 1955 straight out of the Marine Corps and since the Quarto was an Introduction to Literature I suspect I took the class in my freshman year so barely half the century was completed when the professor made this comment (and which I duly noted in my copy of the Quarto).   

The LROB article on Jackson is by Madeleine Schwartz.  It seems that Jackson was criticized as an anti-feminist for her love of being a housewife.  Ruth Franklin, the writer of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, seeks to rehabilitate her (presumably as being feminist-friendly).  I think Jackson would have been happy to stay at home, writing her novels and stories, but the love of her life husband, Stanley Hyman, couldn’t write as well as she could, became a college professor some place and believed that since he was a Communist and Communists believed in free love that it was okay to have sex with his female students as long as he did it at least 100 miles from home.  Jackson at one point is quoted as saying that she would like to invite his female students to a party and then drown them all in the well – something a good feminist would appreciate hearing.  And she only talked about divorcing Stanley. 

Jackson died in her sleep at age 48.  “Franklin doesn’t speculate on the cause,” Schwartz tells us, “but some have suggested that Dexamyl, consumed in ‘unhealthy quantities’, may have played a part.  A few days later, one of Jackson’s friends received a letter from her.  She said she was going on a wonderful trip.”  Well, there you go.  Suicide increases ones authenticity as a feminist.  Then too she lived for a short while in Greenwich Village.  Greenwich Village, a bunch of really weird stories, bizarre behavior and suicide!  Why would the feminists castigate her for wanting to stay home with her kids and write novels and short stories?  Her unwillingness to divorce Stanley was probably her big anti-feminist sin.  I wonder if Stanley benefited from the writings of his more talented wife as Ted Hughes did after she died.


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