The Haunting of Hill House

by Shirley Jackson

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Summary

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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 her clothing. Another message appears, this time on Eleanor’s bedroom wall and this time written in blood. Theo and Eleanor begin to share a room. Later, Eleanor mentions “surrendering” to the house. Everyone hears her, and they begin to keep an eye on her.

The third night in the house, Eleanor is awake in bed. She is holding Theo’s hand, all the while hearing a child crying and screaming. Eleanor feels extremely cold. She squeezes Theo’s hand while yelling for the noise to stop; the noise stops. She then discovers that Theo had been asleep in her own bed. Eleanor panics: “’God God,’ Eleanor said, flinging herself out...

(This entire section contains 1144 words.)

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of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, ’God God—whose hand was I holding?’”

The next morning, Eleanor and Luke talk, but Eleanor is convinced he is humoring her and that he does not care about her. That evening, Eleanor and Theo fight over Luke, and Eleanor leaves. Theo runs after her, and they begin talking. Farther down the pathway, Eleanor sees a family at a picnic. Theo, however, sees something else, and she refuses to share what she sees. The two quickly run back to Hill House.

Eleanor lies in the grass the next day and thinks she is finally happy. Mrs. Montague arrives with Arthur Parker, her driver (Mrs. Montague dislikes driving). She insists on staying in the nursery because it is the “most haunted” room in the house. She berates Dr. Montague and the others, telling them they are wrong and that she is an expert.

The banging and icy coldness appear again while the guests try to sleep. Eleanor and Theo huddle together, and Eleanor finally cannot take the noise anymore. The noise immediately stops, and the two gather with the men for drinks. The next morning, Mrs. Montague announces that she had heard nothing the night before, and Arthur says he heard only a branch tapping on his window.

After breakfast, Eleanor announces she will follow Theo home. Theo tries to joke and then put her off, but Eleanor says she will follow her regardless. Theo says Eleanor will change her mind and want her own apartment, not knowing Eleanor had lied about having her own place.

Eleanor, Theo, and Luke go for a walk together, but get separated when Eleanor continues ahead. While separated, Eleanor hears something calling her name and a wind whips up. She rushes back and finds Theo and Luke; they are embarrassed for abandoning her.

It is evening, and Eleanor is in the parlor. She finds that she can “hear” the house, and she realizes she knows where everyone is and what they are doing. The only room she cannot sense is the library. She closes her eyes and hears someone humming and walking past her, but when she opens her eyes, everyone is seated. No one else had heard the humming.

It is now nighttime, and Eleanor is seized by an urge to go exploring. She knocks at doors and runs through the house, waking people. They think they are hearing a supernatural attack, but Theo realizes Eleanor is missing and raises the alarm. Everyone begins searching for her, but she runs and hides. Luke almost catches her, but she slips into the library. She climbs to the top of the library tower. The group finds her, and Luke has to climb and rescue her because the stairs have become partially detached from the wall.

In the morning, the rest of the group tries to force Eleanor to leave the house. They pack her bags and bring her car around. She gets in the car, and they all say good-bye. She argues that she cannot leave, but they tell her she must. She begins to drive away, then drives into the large tree in the circular drive, committing suicide.

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