My Book World
New York: Farrar, 1948.
Jackson’s memoir about family life up through the birth of her fourth and final child is entertaining and timeless, though it is written in the 1940s. What contributes to this timelessness is Jackson’s grasp of the universal through developing the specific.
This is a woman’s story to tell, though it is for everyone to read. Jackson published many of these narratives in women’s magazines before releasing them in this book. She develops the universal by delving into the concrete. She never names her husband: it is always my husband this, my husband that, objectifying him as the head-in-the-clouds academic that he is, in the same manner in which she, as housewife, is objectified in this post-World War II period. She has pet names for her oldest three children: Laurie for Laurence (which he vehemently sluffs off at one point); Jannie for Joanne, and Sally for Sarah. It’s as if by naming them something more intimate, they cannot possibly belong to someone else, the world at large.
What saves her persona from being a martyr is that Jackson actually enjoys being a mother and wife while at the same time pursuing a serious career as a writer of fiction. She would be considered a permissive mother, but such a free household allows all her children to develop unfettered: Laurie is allowed to take on a boisterous, all-boy personality; Jannie develops as one who expresses herself as bluntly as Jackson herself does; and charming little Sally is a princess, who quotes fairy tales and talks in oblique sort of riddles when she is angry about something. To be sure, Jackson spars with her children (and her husband) on occasion, nudges them back and forth over the goal line, but she allows them simply to be. One would love to know how they developed as adults, and how their children fared.
This free and delightful yet sophisticated read is timeless and should be perused by everyone: women and men, old and young, especially those who think they know everything about raising children. They could learn a thing or two from the late Shirley Jackson.
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-11 Maryland