Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In The Haunting of Hill House, a house not only sets the stage but also plays a major role in the book. Hill House stands overlooking the rural town of Hillsdale. It has stood so for eighty years. While the house appears well built and sturdy, it is “not sane.” Something walks its floors, something non-human, something malignant. In one elegant opening paragraph, Jackson lets her readers know that Hill House is a central character in the book. Its supernatural powers overwhelm the vulnerable human characters, especially Eleanor Vance.
When Eleanor Vance is invited to join a group of psychic investigators who propose to “go and live in Hill House and see what happened there,” she feels for the first time in her life that she will be part of something special. Like Natalie Waite of Hangsaman and Elizabeth Richmond of The Bird’s Nest, Eleanor is introverted and introspective to a morbid degree. She lives a fantasy life that is far richer than her real life, in which she spent most of her years nursing and hating her invalid mother.
The rest of the group that meets at Hill House consists of Dr. Montague, the only professional scientist; Theodora, a sophisticated New Yorker with proven extrasensory perception; and Luke Sanderson, the ne’er-do-well nephew of the owner of Hill House. Joining the cast of characters are Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, the grotesque grounds-and housekeepers, and Mrs. Montague and her friend Arthur, who provide comic relief.
(The entire section is 619 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Dr. John Montague, a scholar of the occult, has leased Hill House, a Gothic-style mansion in New England, to analyze the supernatural manifestations reported in the mansion’s history. Out of twelve potential assistants, only two, Eleanor Vance and Theodora (she only uses her first name), join him for his study.
Eleanor steals the car she shares with her sister and brother-in-law to drive to Hill House. She stops at a diner to get coffee and pie, and she talks with the waitress. Eleanor finally arrives at the mansion, but the gates are locked and double-chained. She honks, getting the attention of Mr. Dudley, a Hill House caretaker. He tries to stop her from honking, but she begins to argue, and he lets her in. She is afraid of the house upon first seeing it, but goes in anyway and meets Mrs. Dudley, another caretaker. Mrs. Dudley tells her the rules of the house and shows her to her room. Eleanor puts her luggage away, and then Theodora, or Theo, arrives.
Eleanor and Theo chat and take a walk. They get spooked and go back to the house. In the meantime, Luke, the nephew of the owner of Hill House, and Dr. Montague had arrived. They get a drink and talk, then find the dining room. After they eat, they retire to the sitting room and discuss Hill House’s history. Afterward, the women talk while the men play chess. Eleanor finds herself telling lies, but is not sure why she is doing so.
Eleanor wakes the next morning to find Theo bathing. After bathing, too, Eleanor joins Theo and goes downstairs to find breakfast. The men tell them that they had earlier left the doors open to dining room, but that the doors later shut by themselves. The group wanders through the house. Eleanor finds that the library smells of death, and she cannot enter it; no one else notices the smell. The group eats lunch, rests, and visits the nursery, where Dr. Montague discovers a cold spot in the room.
Now nighttime, Eleanor is wakened by loud banging on her bedroom door. Terrified, she flees to Theo’s room—which is attached—and they huddle together. The room becomes icy cold. The banging finally drives Eleanor to yell and demand that the banging stop, and it does. Something then tries to force its way into the room. Moments later, the two women hear the men in the hallway. The men had not heard the banging because they were chasing what appeared to be a dog that had run through the house and led them outside.
Eleanor wakes up happy. They go to breakfast, and everyone is excited about the past night’s events. Luke discovers that someone has written a pleading or threatening message to Eleanor in chalk on the hallway wall. Each guest writes a report of what they experienced. The women go upstairs, and Theo discovers her room splashed with blood, coating all of...
(The entire section is 1144 words.)