"Most women do not creep by daylight": Defining Female Madness in Shirley Jackson’s The Bird’s Nest, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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This study examines the image of female madness as defined by Shirley Jackson in her three last novels: The Bird’s Nest (1954), The Haunting of Hill House (1959), and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). By looking at how the three main characters behave differently from the characters around them and how this behaviour is categorised, an image of literary madness is constructed as being a combination of childish and violent behaviour to which women are more inclined to succumb. This image of madness is subsequently compared to ‘classical’ and ‘popular’ depictions and opinions on madness and questioned in connection to modern (philosophical) definitions of mental illness. The results of this study show that Jackson on the one hand perpetuates old-fashioned ideas about madness through her choice of story content and female main characters, yet on the other hand she criticises this madness. However, this duality appears consistent throughout the three novels and creates a unified definition of madness in and of itself.
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