Study Guide

Dr. John Montague in The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

Dr. John Montague

Dr. Montague is the guy who got this party started. An anthropologist by trade, he wants desperately to prove the existence of the paranormal scientifically. To that end, he invites a couple of assistants to live with him in Hill House for a summer and engage in the most scientific of all human endeavors: the sleepover party.

Dr. Montague is the guide or mentor character of the novel: the Yoda of Hill House. He instructs his assistants on the history of Hill House and lets them in on the secrets of its architecture. He also informs them of the significance of certain paranormal events and is an all-around smart guy.

Fatherly Knowledge

Montague also becomes a father figure for the ragtag group that comes to Hill House. He even goes so far as to think of the others as "children" (5.100). He teaches them like a father would—but in a subtle way, he also tries to control them, as if he were the head of the family.

When Eleanor goes to Hill House, she follows Montague's instructions to the letter, "as though he had been guiding her from some spot far away, moving her car with controls in his hands" (1.66). He organizes the guests' daily schedule (with the help of Mrs. Dudley, of course). And when he decides it's time for Eleanor to leave Hill House, well, she gets the boot.

To be fair, it doesn't seem like Dr. Montague attempts to gain this control to benefit himself, and he might not even realize he has it. But in the end, his inability to understand what Eleanor is going through in Hill House, combined with his fatherly control, makes for a very tragic ending to the story.

Victorian Values

We catch another glimpse at Dr. Montague's controlling character in those books he's always bringing up. Yes, that Pamela novel he keeps reading is an actual book (3.215). Its full title is Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded. It was written in 1740 by Samuel Richardson, and it tells the story of a servant girl who rejects the sexual advances of her master until he marries her properly. Hence the subtitle: her virtue is "rewarded" with a man—and a rich one at that. Never mind that the dude is a creep.

Dr. Montague also mentions that he's going to read two other novels by Richardson, Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (4.237) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (5.100). Both novels center on the themes of proper morality and virtue. It was Richardson's thing.

On the other hand, Dr. Montague dislikes writers such as Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and Tobias Smollett (3.216-219), as well as fictional characters like Don Juan (4.113). Fielding, Sterne, and Smollett wrote novels that presented the opposite of view of morality and virtue as Richardson. Their view of sexuality was a lot freer—some might even say lascivious. Dr. Montague thinks that their works are "unfit for very young children" (3.216), and let's not forget that he refers to his three assistants as children throughout in the novel. Our good doctor even offers to read Pamela to the guests should any of them have trouble sleeping (3.215).

Dr. Montague seems to have a thing for sexual control, especially if it's female sexuality he's controlling. This creates a connection between Montague and the novel's other prominent father figure, Hugh Crain. Remember Crain's scary-as-all-get-out bedtime story (6.24)? The one he wrote for his daughter to teach them proper womanly conduct? Well, Dr. Montague's reading of Richardson's novels shows a connection to this type of controlling figure.

Sure, Montague goes about things in a lighthearted way, and he does refer to Crain's project as "not at all a healthy work for a man" (6.44), but it's hard to miss the fact that, despite his protests, there's something controlling and moralistic about the doctor himself. Does this cause problems between him and Eleanor, who has a lot of issues with family and control?

The Name Game

Like Theodora, Dr. Montague's name tells us a lot about his character. Theodora lacks a family name to signify her independence from the family structure, but Dr. Montague is known almost exclusively by his family name. This really adds to the feeling that he's a father figure in the story: it's as if his identity is exclusively a part of his role in a family. We rarely get a glimpse at his individual name, John.

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