Shirley Jackson, Charles

Before I start this review, I have a technical question. Does anyone know why advice to bloggers about maximising your site always say not to use something like “here” for a hyperlink but, rather, to add the link to the actual name of what is being linked to? In other words, to make the link so – Shirley Jackson’s Charlesrather than so – Shirley Jackson’s Charles can can be read here? I have done both but I have tended to prefer the “here” approach when I am making a link to the actual text of the item I am reviewing. Otherwise, the chances are – and this has happened – that the blog’s readers miss it because they will not know that the link under the title is the actual story and not just a link to an article about (or a source to buy) the story. My preference is to go for the unambiguous approach – but is there a really BIG reason why I shouldn’t? Enquiring minds – well mine anyhow – would love to know.

Anyhow, on to what will be a brief review of this week’s Library of America story. It’s by – well, if you’ve read the first para you’ll know by now – Shirley Jackson. Another American writer I’ve never heard of! Apparently she is best known for her “tales of psychological horror” (LOA introductory notes) but this one that they’ve presented to us, “Charles”, is an ordinary domestic life story. It was published in Mademoiselle magazine in 1948 and, again according to LOA, “is one of the first of her numerous semi-autobiographical stories of life as a 1940s housewife raising children who sometimes seemed one step outside her ability to control them”.

Well, that certainly seems to the the case in “Charles” because it is clear that the young protagonist of the story has it all over his parents. It’s a nice little story but rather predictable. I’d be surprised if any experienced reader didn’t “get” it some long time before the end. This spoils the story a little – although perhaps Jackson is playing a game with the reader, willing us to see what the parents clearly don’t? Whatever her intentions,  it nicely shows the wiliness of children and the gullibility of many parents. I think though, that to properly assess Ms Jackson, I should read one of her psychological tales rather than this little slice-of-life piece.

24 thoughts on “Shirley Jackson, Charles

  1. Possible answer to your techie question – I am guessing that the advice comes from sites and pages which are trying to help maximize the traffic to a website. In that case the reason is that the words “Shirley Jackson’s Charles” will lead the search engines to your site better than the word “here.” Even if you have “Shirley Jackson’s Charles” mentioned anyway – say it again. Also, links are sometimes more valuable to the search engine formulas and indexers than just words.

    Shirley Jackson wrote some semi-horror and other kinds of works. I’d put her in the same category as Flannery O’Connor. She has stories in a lot of high school anthologies here and her stories popped up in “best of year” anthologies in her day (died in the ’60s?) Her story “The Lottery” is probably her most famous – if you get a chance, read that one. Also, “The Haunting of Hill House” (made into a famous movie) is by her.

  2. We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson is one of my all time favourite books. It is written in an edgy style that really sucks you in. Merricat Blackwood is one of the most remarkable heroines in literature. I gave this book to my niece at Christmas and she loved it too. The Haunting of Hill House is a ghost story and one of scariest books I’ve ever read.

    It’s good see her books back in print. For years you couldn’t find them anywhere.

  3. The Lottery is indeed her most famous story, but again it’s not really a psychological tale – more of a quiet description of smalltown life which seamlessly transforms into a powerful allegory.
    Its fame is probably a by-product of the controversy it generated. It’s not among her most complex or subtle stories – which doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.
    She did write some pat, tamer stories for commercial magazines , her semi-autobiographical tales are generally less regarded, and not all of her short stories are equally successful, but her best ones rank among the very best ever.
    We Have Always Lived in The Castle and The Haunting of Hill House are her best novels, and true masterpieces. Think psychological horror in the sense of the Turn of the Screw, or indeed an unreligious Flannery O’Connor.

  4. Bekah: Thanks for the techie answer. I sort of felt that was the reason. I’m not sure that it is of enough value – given that in my case the words are usually reiterated elsewhere in my post – versus the ambiguity for my readers. And thanks for the Lotter recommendation

    Anne S: Wow, so you an Aussie know her? Now I feel really out of it – LOL. Seriously though, thanks for telling me of this book.

    Marco: Thanks for your input. What you say makes a lot of sense. I suppose the semi-autobiographical stories were guaranteed bread and butter. I can understand that. Why die for your art if you can make money entertaining people one way while you work on other things that are probably more dear to your heart? I will certainly keep an eye out for her.

  5. Re: techie qn, Beckah’s answer is spot on.

    I read a couple of Shirley Jackson’s novels last year — they were reissued by Penguin in the UK for the first time. I read (and reviewed) We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House, and loved them both. I have a collection of her short stories, too, but haven’t got around to reading it yet.

      • It was Kim’s reviews on Shirley Jackson that got me interested. I read ‘We have always lived in the castle’ a few months back and loved it. She’s a wonderful writer. I was a bit flummoxed to hear that the movie ‘The Haunting’ was based on a Jackson short story. It was so horrible!

  6. Dear Gums,

    I don’t know about maximizing, but my reporting service reports what people exit to by the title of the link. Because I am lazy and yet wish to include things that a lot of people visit–I put the entire substance of the link in the link title. Otherwise, I’d end up with an endless series of “heres” which I’d have to examine or actually visit individually in order to have any sense of what the link went to.

    Additionally, I find that depending on display, etc. “here” is often missed if one is reading quickly or scanning for the link that you knew you got to from location X. So, on the theory that bigger is better and more noticeable, I like to include the name of the place you’re going to get to by clicking on the link–or at least some sense of what you’ll find there.

    I think it’s really a matter of practicality more than anything else, because I don’t mind however anyone does it–either way works when I’m on other people’s sites.

    Thanks for the Link!



    • You’re welcome re the link – after all, I think you have me in your recent posts scroll (or did anyhow as I haven’t checked lately), And thanks for the comment. Makes sense. I think I will follow my current practice which is to do the recommended thing most of the time!

  7. Actually I’ve known of Shirley Jackson since childhood almost. I was in a small amateur theatrical group in a rural town in the 1960s, and we performed The Lottery at one time. I remember it vividly as I played Tessie the vicitm.

  8. Well, I’d use the link title rather than the “here” on the basis that I want my articles to be readable as normal text rather than as something that’s designed for the Internet. I think the days when people couldn’t recognise a link unless it was pointed out to them are long gone.

    I reviewed a collection of Shirley Jackson short stories here [acommonreader_org] and made the comment that she’s not “literary” as such but it a good story teller – as Stephen King perhaps who writes fantastic short stories

    • Thanks Tom for the response to the techie question. I agree that most people recognise a link EXCEPT perhaps in the situation where the link is to the content itself eg say to a Project Gutenberg text of Pride and prejudice rather than (say) a Wikipedia article about Pride and prejudice or a Bookdepository or Amazon link to a purchase option? How are reasers to know which type the link is? These are the only cases where I have tended to use the “here” approach because it gets rid of this particular ambiguity. Of course, “mousing” over the link and checking the bar at the bottom will give you a clue but still it’s not immediately clear what the link is until you do that and people have missed the fact that they can actually read the story to which I am referring. Am I worrying too much?

      Re your Shirley Jackson review – I will try to remember to check it when I return from the Top End where I am currently holidaying, but your summation makes sense from my little intro to her.

  9. Shirely Jackson is awesome. It is too bad that your first intro to her had to be with a tame and not very interesting sounding story. The Lottery gives me chills every time I read it. And The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best ghost stories I have ever read.

    As for your link question, what everyone else has said, and also, it is simpley better writing to include the link within the text and leaves where it goes a little less ambiguous. “You can read SJ’s story online at LOA” as opposed to” you can read the story here.” I took a web design class last year and the teacher would mark people down for ever “here” link found on the websites we did.

    • Thanks Stefanie for both comments. Clearly I need to check out Jackson again so I won’t write her off yet. As for link question, thanks for the extra confirmation of what I did rather understand were the arguments behind it. (Except that the reasons given are often to do with getting more hits and I’m still not sure about that except that perhaps it’s to do with more searchable words in your post vs “here”?). I’m one of those who thinks rules are made to be broken (LOL!) so I might just continue my current practice of using “here” occasionally. However, your sentence “You can read xxx online at LOA” is a lovely option. Ta.

  10. I don’t expect anyone to find my site via a search engine so I really don’t care about advice on how to get more hits – I’d be in competition with Amazon. There are lots and lots of factors which go into the indexing of sites to determine which ones come up. One of the factors is how many hits that site gets – so Amazon wins – Wikipedia wins – etc. But there are lots of factors including your own personal history which is kept by your browser.

    Anyway, my sites are for me and my family and book-buds and I send them the link – no Googling necessary. (g) Once in a great while a long lost relative will find my the genealogy section by putting their last name (or an ancestor’s name) into Yahoo or Google – they send me an email and we chat. But my family names are really unusual so that’s going to happen. It wouldn’t happen if the names were Smith or Jones or Brown.

    What I’m meaning to say with this is that I don’t care what some web-expert has to say about getting more hits – I’ll get my own hits and do my site the way I want to. So there! 😛


    • And that’s fair enough Bekah too. It’s all about why you are doing it isn’t it? Part of the reason I’m doing this blog is to learn about Web 2.0 and other internet technologies – how they work, why they work – for some contract jobs I’ve been getting since retirement. The more I understand and keep up the better. As for hits, it’s fun getting hits and receiving comments from people (and commenting back to them – your site as I recollect isn’t easy to subscribe to. At least not one the few occasions that I’ve tried?) but my main reason for blogging, besides the learning bit, is the keep track in an organised way of my reading. I find blogging provides a better discipline for me in terms of writing my thoughts than keeping a reading journal.

  11. Regarding linkage, I personally rebel on my private sites against the web mafia rules we are forced to comply with at work regarding linking, accessibility, readability and all that. Funny, how on the work website you can’t find what you’re looking for, but on my private sites the navigation is easy. Admittedly they’re not as complex as the work site.

    • LOL Anne. Love that. For me, I’m happy to rebel if I know what I’m rebelling against. The points people have made here make sense in terms of it being more elegant not to use “here” but I’m not sure anyone has fully explained why not using “here” will increase web traffic? Well, they have in the sense that spelling it out as in Shirley Jackson’s Charles provides keywords for the search engines BUT if I’ve already done that elsewhere in the post then that problem is solved. Navigation is a whole new ballgame. Some sites are truly hopeless aren’t they?

  12. I’m not real happy with some parts of Apple’s iWeb. The comments part is a mess – I hope they improve it with the next version.

    A link with Shirley Jackson is better than just the word because a link will count two or more points while the word counts for one (something like that) – and the value of the place you’re linking has an impact, too – I’m only linking internally so no extra count but sites which link to book reviews or Amazon and so forth get a little boost from that. – So I understand, anyway. And then there’s the whole “tags” thing, too – to add points. It’s too complicated for me to pay attention to and I don’t care anyway. (lol)

    Meanwhile, I started blogging my reading because I had absolutely no luck with a journal. I tried that way for years. But when I started keeping track of what I read online I did it. I don’t do nice little reviews like you do – (you do such a good job!). I just do a couple sentences or so, a rating, etc. Reminders for myself. I like doing it because I can see what I’ve read at the end a year or so. I’ve been playing with my little web-sites since ’97 or so – back from Geocities with HTML from scratch. I don’t know what I’m doing now – it’s all wysisyg. I’m a dinosaur .

    • I wouldn’t call you a dinosaur at all the way you have been getting around the net for as long as you have! We started on the internet very early – back in 1991 or 2 using AOL and compuserv as I recollect – but I didn’t get into any of the blog and photo things like you did until pretty recently (except of course for Facebook but even that was relatively recent). I think you’re right about Apple iWeb though. We did have a go at using it for photos around 2006 (I think) but I found it a bit clunky. I haven’t tried it again but am sorry I can’t interact with your site the way I can with other blog platforms. They all vary though don’t they.

  13. You can get the RSS feed and you can add comments in my blog, but it doesn’t notify me if there’s a comment! This is a tiny little fix and I don’t know why they don’t do it. So for instance I go back now and see that you commented back in April but I didn’t see it. I fixed it now – no, Homer and Langley is not 2624 pages and I even left a comment back. Thanks. (gads)
    then go to Reading


    • Thanks Bekah. However, I don’t think RSS works with Entourage – at least I couldn”t get it to work and last I checked it apparently is not possible. Maybe that’s changed? I can put you in Google Reader but because I now subscribe to most blogs via email I tend not to go to Google Reader so often. And then there’s the issue re follow up to comments… Apple should get its act together.

      LOL re the 2624 pages!

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