Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson by Judy Oppenheimer

A biography of Shirley Jackson, author of the short story “The Lottery,” and one of my favorite authors.

I was inspired to read this thanks to an email I got from Chaucerian Girl. She expressed an appreciation for Private Demons, Judy Oppenheimer’s biography of the woman I believe to be one of the greatest American writers of the mid-20th century.

I am not a big biography reader–real people rarely interest me as much as fictional ones–but I devoured this story of a woman as complex as she was fierce. Jackson was born to a social climbing mother who wished for a much prettier daughter than homely, overweight Shirley, married to a philandering intellectual, wrote extensively, and raised four children (as chronicled in Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons) before dying of heart failure at the age of 48.

Jackson was a rebel, a homemaker, a depressive, a comedian, a leader, an agoraphobic, brave, fearful–sometimes all at the same time. Oppenheimer stresses a connection between Jackson’s penchant for fractured protagonists and the contradictions in her personality. Without stretching things too much, Oppenheimer draws parallels between Jackson’s life and fiction that provide a compelling portrait of a fascinating woman.

5 thoughts on “Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson by Judy Oppenheimer”

  1. I am SO GLAD you read this book! It’s my favorite biography that I’ve read many times since I first bought it in 89…I’ve got it over here with me!

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