Friday, October 28, 2022

Quote of the Day (Shirley Jackson, on a Daughter Becoming a Teen)

“Last year I sent my daughter, an agreeable child who liked to play baseball and thought boys were silly, off to camp. I got back – and it only took two months – a creature who slept with curlers in her hair, bought perfume from the five-and-ten, and addressed me as nothing but ‘Mother, honestly!’

“By now she also calls me ‘Honestly, Mother!’ and ‘Mother, really’ and sometimes just plain ‘Mother.’ She worries constantly about her figure—usually with one hand in the refrigerator. She thinks any beardless adolescent who sings through his nose is ‘cute.’ She has perceived that in addition to being slightly behind the times in my dress and manner, I am hopelessly dated in my grasp of teenagers–especially of what ‘everyone else’ is allowed to do. This, incidentally, is a phrase I can't even write without feeling a little chill down my back. My daughter says it without difficulty. I tell her, ‘I don’t care what everyone else does…’ and ‘No daughter of mine is going to…’ and ‘When I was your age, I had…’ Neither of us listens to the other. She no longer thinks boys are silly.”—American horror and humor writer Shirley Jackson (1916-1965), “Motherly, Honestly!”, originally printed in Good Housekeeping, reprinted in Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings, edited by Laurence Hyman and Sarah Hyman DeWitt (2015)

It can be hard to believe that the author of such disturbing fiction as “The Lottery,” The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle could deliver slices of wry like the above passage to the same primary audience—American housewives and mothers—as Erma Bombeck would later do.

But these humorous essays on her family—whose tone could also be modulated to ironic short fiction like “Charles”—helped pay the bills for Shirley Jackson, as she raised the four children of herself and her husband, the literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman.

And they can still be appreciated by readers—even those who, in October, might be more tempted to seek out the macabre novels and short stories that make Jackson a crucial link between Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King.

For a brief description of the life and career of Jackson, see my blog post from six years ago, on the centennial of her birth.

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