I've finished Chapter One and there is so much here to love. Shirley Jackson introduces the main character, Eleanor, and sets up the "house party" at Hill House. This is somewhat reminiscent of a classic Christie or other British "country house mystery," but, as is always the case with Jackson, it is slightly bent. Just ever so delicately askew.
Dr. Montague is the device which brings the characters together. He is a scholar, who has an interest in proving the existence of the paranormal. I get the impression that his peers likely find him to be a bit of a crackpot. He has leased Hill House for the summer, with the goal of putting together a group to live there in order to experience the supernatural manifestations. I love this:
"It was his intention, at first, to follow the example of the anonymous Lady who went to stay at Ballechin House and ran a summer-long house party for skeptics and believers, with croquet and ghost-watching as the outstanding attractions, but skeptics, believers, and good croquet players are harder to come by today..."
One of things about Shirley Jackson is that her books are psychologically terrifying and simultaneously funny. Because that line is funny.
Moving onto Eleanor's trip to Hill House, Jackson reveals so much about Eleanor by allowing us into Eleanor's head. She hates her sister only sightly more than she hates her dead mother. She has spent her life being oppressed by her family, in the name of familial duty and affection. She is a dreamer, and her dreams are the only thing that keep her from going completely off her head. And when she was 12, some years earlier, she was the object, or perhaps the cause, of a paranormal manifestation which caused stones to rain upon and inside of her home for three days, one month after the death of her father.
Her trip from home to Hill House is wonderfully described. She feels free for, probably, the first time in her life, behind the wheel of her car, alone and entirely in charge of her own destination. She has been told by letter, quite dramatically, not to ask for directions to Hill House in Hilldale, the nearest town. The townspeople, the letter describes, are quite hostile to Hill House. Stubbornly, Eleanor decides to stop for coffee in Hilldale and has a disturbing encounter with a local man:
“People leave this town,” he said. “They don’t come here.”
Chapter One ends with her first glimpse of Hill House, after an interaction with the groundskeeper, Dudley, where he has frankly attempted to dissuade her from coming through the gate:
"The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once."