Unseen Shirley Jackson story to be published

Adventure on a Bad Night, in which a shopping trip unpicks layers of prejudice, was written in 1944 and rediscovered by the son of a writer fascinated by ‘the possibility of evil’

A “lost” story by Shirley Jackson, in which the author of The Haunting of Hill House shows a microcosm of the racism and sexism in US society through a dissatisfied woman’s trip to a corner shop, is being published for the first time.

Adventure on a Bad Night follows Vivien as she goes out for an evening walk, leaving her husband George, and the monotony of her life, behind for a moment. “If she left right away she could stay out in the air for 20 minutes or so … before the night started being tomorrow morning, with breakfast and dusting and the telephone.” While out, she meets a pregnant immigrant who is being verbally abused by a shop clerk after asking for help. “I know that kind,” the clerk tells Vivien. “You think they can’t understand a word, but you say to them ‘Sure I’ll do it for you’ and they understand right off. All I do is yell at them till they go away.”

Andrew Gulli, who is publishing the story for the first time on Thursday in the Strand magazine, said it showed “why Jackson’s works have been re-evaluated and have been so popular these past few years”. Jackson died in 1965 at the age of 48, leaving behind novels including We Have Always Lived in the Castle and short stories including The Lottery. The Haunting of Hill House is described by Stephen King as one of “only two great novels of the supernatural in the last 100 years”, with Jackson’s writing heralded today by authors from Neil Gaiman to Joyce Carol Oates.

the recent TV adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House
“Great novel” … the recent TV adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House Photograph: Steve Dietl/Netflix/Allstar

“She had the unique talent to say so much with so little and could create a microcosm of the problems of society, and personal responsibility in a very humble setting, be it a small town, a convenience store, the den of a suburban home,” Gulli said. “During this challenging time, we need this message from Jackson about shared humanity and how heroes who fight prejudice and ignorance can make a difference.”

Jackson’s son, Laurence Hyman, said he found the story “among many others haphazardly stuffed into 52 cartons at the Library of Congress”. All of Jackson’s papers were donated to the library by her husband Stanley a few years after her death.

Hyman believes the unpublished piece was written in 1944. “My mother at that point was developing her ‘noirish’ voice, and was writing many short stories that were by then being published in magazines like the New Yorker and the New Republic,” he said. “It obviously takes place in New York during the war years because there is reference – though crossed out by Shirley – to ration books. The story is interesting; it drips with tension from the first sentence onward, and ends with a beginning.”

Hyman said that when his mother died in 1965, she was “at the top of her game”, but over the next 30 years her popularity faded – she was out of print in the UK until 2009. Hyman took over running her estate in the 1990s and returned her books to shelves, with the remake of The Haunting (“a rather poor movie”) helping to kickstart her reputation in 1999. More recently, Netflix has been streaming its own adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, and Hyman and his sister have assembled two collections of Jackson’s stories and articles, Just an Ordinary Day and Let Me Tell You, with a book of her collected letters out next summer.

‘I think my mother would be pleased with all the attention to her work’ … Elisabeth Moss in Shirley.
‘I think my mother would be pleased with all the attention to her work’ … Elisabeth Moss in Shirley. Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy Stock Photo

“Much is happening – movies, stage adaptations, episodic TV adaptations, a touring ballet, even the movie fictionalising her [the 2020 film Shirley],” said Hyman. “I think my mother would be very pleased with all the attention to her work, and I’m sure she would find the relevance of her work today pretty unsettling. She would most likely view all this with wry amusement. She would have no shortage of toss-off gags to contribute.”

Hyman said his mother “never liked personal publicity or having her picture taken, but she certainly did like having her work read, and, better yet, understood. She would be shocked to realise how hauntingly relevant her work is today. The ‘possibility of evil’ she saw, even on a sunny spring day, is indeed still with us, more than ever.”

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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