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Monday, 6 April 2015

Great Fictional Characters: Eleanor Vance

Continuing with the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2015

On first impressions, there is little to admire about Eleanor Vance, the central character in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. She's weak, hopelessly naïve and behaves like a petulant child trapped in a thirty-two year old's body. But it's not entirely her fault, which is why I have sympathy for her. As we are told:

“She could not remember ever being truly happy in her adult life; her years with her mother had been built up devotedly around small guilts and small reproaches, constant weariness, and unending despair. Without ever wanting to become reserved and shy, she had spent so long alone, with no one to love, that it was difficult for her to talk, even casually, to another person without self-consciousness and an awkward inability to find words.”  

So far, so boring- but not for long. 
Arguably the most frightening scene in the entire film version.

Her first brave act after the death of her mother is to steal a car and join three strangers in a haunted house. She throws off reality and imagines a new Eleanor, one who has an apartment of her own, and is vivacious and fun. I cheered for this Eleanor, even as I cringed at her awkwardness. Who hasn't ever pretended to be someone they're not, someone more interesting and exciting?

"I would never have expected it of myself, she thought, laughing still; everything is different, I am a new person, very far from home."

But, alas, it's not to be. Eleanor soon feels rejected by Theodora and Luke, and patronised by Dr. Montague, and so sinks back inside herself. The only connection that strengthens is the one she has with Hill House, the only place she feels she belongs. Even here, I was swept up in Eleanor's mind, rationalising (as she does) her mixed feelings about the world she has created within the house's walls. As she descends into a sort of madness, her fear of the house becomes love. Instead of seeing it as she first did, "vile" and "diseased", she regards it as home, a place of comfort. So much so that, when told to leave, she takes drastic action in order to remain.

Although Eleanor begins as a pathetic character who lets others make decisions for her (her mother, her sister, Dr Montague) by the end, she appears to know what she wants and has the guts to pursue it. The tragedy, I feel, is that Hill House has simply become the last in a long line of puppet-masters, and that Eleanor's final act of rebellion is nothing more than her bowing to the will of someone (or something) stronger than her.

“Hill House itself, not sane, stood against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”  


  1. I haven't read or seen The Haunting of Hill House. But that's what's so great about A to Z as you can learn so much about stories you have missed.

    1. It really is awesome! It's been a firm favourite of mine for over 15 years. I've never read anything quite like it! It took me three years to track it down (it was out of print back then and this was before the internet made everything easier) and I actually squeed at a bookseller in Indonesia who had it on his stall. Needless to say, I got ripped off as I could hardly haggle the price after that... but it was so worth it : )

  2. I also haven't read or seen it, but what a fun way to dissect a character. Hmm. Maybe "dissect" is the wrong word in the context of horror ;) Either way, the A to Z thing is so educational!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it : ) I popped over to your blog to say hello but I couldn't leave a comment. I can't write with any kind of noise (other than birdsong) so you have my sympathies! Enjoying your posts so far : )


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