I’ve been reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the last novel Shirley Jackson wrote before her death in 1965, and thought I had remembered someone saying her agoraphobia was the thing that inspired her to write so much about creepy houses. (Have you read The Haunting of Hill House? Go read it if you haven’t, preferably late at night and under the covers, with a flashlight.) So I toddled on over to Jackson’s Wikipedia page where I made the most thrilling discovery: Shirley Jackson was, without a doubt, Flannery O’Connor’s mystical alter ego. Look at these pictures! The hair, the glasses, the deeply held personal conviction against smiling.
Why would O’Connor need a mystical alter ego, you might ask, when she already wrote so much weird shit? I don’t know. But here are some other thoughts and facts that prove their strange relationship beyond a shadow of a doubt.
• Joyce Carol Oates has written extensively about both women. About O’Connor, she said “There is no mysticism in her work that is only spiritual; it is physical as well.” But of Jackson, whose stories were mainly “ghost stories,” she wrote, “Jackson’s ‘hauntedness’ is in her troubled protagonist, not in the actual house.” Then she got into a Twitter fight with the ghost of Sylvia Plath.
• Flannery famously loved peacocks. Jackson once wrote a novel called The Bird’s Nest.
• O’Connor’s Catholic faith might have precluded her from writing too much, or too openly, about her fascination with witchcraft. But an alter ego could go down that road with impunity, so O’Connor invented SHIRLEY JACKSON. “Shirley” is an Old English name that means something like “bright clearing,” which is obviously the place she would go to do witchcraft-y things with her cauldron. And Jackson means Jack’s son. JACK THE RIPPER? You decide.
• Both women died in the month of August, one year apart from each other, or else at the same time. Flannery went first, on August 3rd year.
• They were both Abraham Lincoln’s secretary
• “I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.” –Jackson, explaining The Lottery
• “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.” –O’Connor
• Even though Jackson married (ED. NOTE OR DID SHE), she wrote under her maiden name (her husband’s last name was Hyman, so there’s that). O’Connor never married because she thought men were bullshit.
• They both wrote strange and difficult stories—both were masters of the short story form, although they worked in other genres—and saw them not as scary for fear’s sake, but as a sort of faithfulness to the times in which they lived
• An anagram for Shirley Jackson is “Cajoler Shy Inks,” and she cajoled the shy ink out of O’Connor’s pen. OR it could be “Hijack Lyres Son,” which, when you think about it, makes so much sense.
• Both writers used foreshadowing masterfully, especially since the settings for their stories were so often the stuff of bucolic American life. Jackson has some of the best opening paragraphs in literary history (“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more”). O’Connor was subtler— “The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida” may not sound immediately ominous, but that shit got scary real fast. The grandmother didn’t want to go; they should have listened to the grandmother.
• They had the same opinions about everything, especially that bitch Carson McCullers. O’Connor owns the McCullers parody site Yourheartisalonelyhunter.tumblr.com.
• Jackson’s husband wrote a pamphlet of literary criticism on O’Connor in 1966 and revealed, among other things, that she had a pet quail named Amelia Earhart. Earhart famously turned into a quail after her 1937 disappearing act.