How ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ earns its status as a classic horror novel

Written By Kylie Thomas, Co-Features/A&E Editor

While it has just passed the wonderful time of year known as “spooky season,” I happened to spend the last week and a half leading up to Halloween doing something I haven’t done any other “spooky season.” I read a horror novel titled “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson. (Well, horror may not be the correct genre but I’ll get to that a bit later.) I can easily say (in a fairly spoiler-free format) that by looking further into this text, you’ll enjoy the novel 10 times more.

Now, I don’t normally read horror novels. In fact, for the longest time, I refused to view any piece of horror media. But after taking two different horror/gothic literature classes, I quickly realized that I may have a taste for horror media that had gone years and years undiscovered due to my terrible anxiety. So here I am a year later, reading a gothic horror novel and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The first thing you need to know about “The Haunting of Hill House” is it isn’t your basic horror novel but it was a pioneer for the horror and gothic genres. This makes it an older story so you have to think of everything being in the context of around the year 1959. With that being said, the plot itself feels timeless. The problems that arise and the characterization these characters go through are still relatable to an audience in modern times. That’s one of the things that makes this novel so successful.

The basic plot of the novel follows a woman, Eleanor, who is in her thirties and has only ever taken care of her sick mother. She has no life, no job, and she even lives with her sister. Her life takes a turn whenever she’s invited by Dr. John Montague to explore the supernatural occurrences and the effect of supernatural occurrences on the psyche in Hill House along with two other guests. Throughout the stay, they experience different unexplainable events, most of which involve Eleanor.

Now I know what you’re thinking, why is a researcher inviting an average woman to come to study supernatural events? That’s because Eleanor is not an average woman. Both her and another guest, Theodora, have had instances with supernatural powers in the past. Eleanor has apparently made rocks rain down on her home and Theodora can read minds and has a strong intuition. So as you can probably tell it makes for a crazy story.

While it seems to have all the marks of the horror genre, I’ll explain why it’s not your basic horror novel and why you need to analyze what you’re reading. So the most terrifying thing about “The Haunting of Hill House” is that nothing is ever explained. You never physically see any ghosts or find out what’s haunting the house. Instead, you get to follow the downward spiral of Eleanor’s mental health and sit in the anxiety of the unknown.

A lot of people dislike the novel for this reason. They discredit it as a horror novel because they say that there’s nothing scary about it since you never see any ghosts. However, I believe quite the contrary.

The fact that you don’t ever see what’s causing havoc, makes the novel a psychological trip. There are even hints throughout the book that lead the reader to believe this all may be happening because of Eleanor. For instance, there’s a point where there is banging happening on Eleanor and Theodora’s door. The banging constantly increases and it isn’t until Eleanor tells it to stop that it stops. But you have to analyze the book further than the basic plot to connect the dots that this whole haunting may just be Eleanor.

Another aspect that makes the novel so psychologically taxing is the characterization of Eleanor. At the beginning of the novel, she is so fixed in her anxious ways. She’s constantly worried about her looks and actions compared to others and has no confidence to do anything. But as the supernatural events start to increase and the house calls out to Eleanor, that anxiousness fades away. Instead, she is now confident in herself while now hating the others. She changes into practically a completely different person and becomes obsessive over this house. It’s scary to think about how a person can just change at the flip of a switch while you never truly know what’s causing them to change.

While it may not be your typical horror story, “The Haunting of Hill House” provides a terrifying insight into the human psyche and human experience. It focuses on the parts of ourselves that are hidden deep down and that we are so afraid to let out. While there’s no actual spirit or horror character in this novel, it is an interesting view that the true horror is inside us all. But in order to see that theme and so many others, you’ll just have to give the book a read below the surface of the plot.