Study Guide

The Haunting of Hill House Chapter 1

By Shirley Jackson

Chapter 1

  • The novel starts with the warning that whatever walks through Hill House "walk[s] alone" (1.1). On the big ole list of Gothic conventions, we can check off ominous opening right away.
  • Then we get an introduction to one Dr. John Montague. Dr. Montague wants to find evidence for supernatural manifestations and secures the supposedly haunted Hill House for a summer of ghost hunting.
  • Montague wants to base his investigation on the Victorian model of inviting guests to stay in a haunted house and see what happens. Unfortunately, Victorians are in short supply by the mid-20th century, so he must resort to hiring assistants.
  • Montague contacts several potential assistants, but only two come. A third assistant presents himself as a representative of Hill House's current owners.
  • Eleanor Vance is one of the two contacts who decided to come. She is thirty-two years old, having spent the better part of her young adult life caring for her invalid mother.
  • Eleanor came to Montague's attention because of an incident from her childhood. After her father died, a shower of rocks fell on her family's home for unexplained reasons. For equally unexplained reasons, the rocks just stopped falling one day.
  • Eleanor leaps at the opportunity to try something new. Her brother-in-law, however, questions whether or not Dr. Montague is on the up-and-up, while her sister wonders just what kind of experiments this professor really has in mind (wink, wink).
  • Theodora is assistant number two. She came to Dr. Montague's attention because the laboratory's records showed she could blindly guess as many as nineteen out of twenty Zener cards, meaning she either has psychic potential, or that Bill Murray administered the tests.
  • Finally, there is Luke Sanderson, the family representative. He's also a liar and a thief. Mrs. Sanderson's lawyer persuades Montague to take on Luke so that the family is present during the experiment. Luke finds the whole scenario amusing, Mrs. Sanderson is grateful her nephew will be out of trouble, and Montague is glad to have Hill House. Win-win-win.
  • After the introductions, we return to Eleanor's story. She's currently fighting with her sister, Carrie, and her brother-in-law.
  • Eleanor wants the car to go to Hill House, but Carrie and her husband come up with a bunch of excuses why she can't use it. No matter that the car is half Eleanor's anyway; they won't budge.
  • So, Eleanor decides to up and take the car. It is, after all, half hers, so it's only half-stealing really.
  • Eleanor takes a taxi to the car garage and bumps into an old lady, which makes her spill her food on the ground.
  • Eleanor agrees to pay for the food, but the old lady says she can't take her money due to the fact that she didn't exactly pay for the food in the first place. Eleanor agrees to pay the taxi to take the old lady home.
  • Eleanor is on the road again for the first time. On her way to Hill House, she keeps passing houses and imagining what her life would be like in them.
  • Eleanor stops for lunch at a country restaurant. There, she watches a little girl insist on her cup of stars to drink milk from. The mother tries to convince her to drink from another glass, but the girl will have nothing to do with a cup that has no stars.
  • Eleanor thinks the girl brave for fighting the urge to be like everyone else.
  • Then Eleanor's back on the road, following Dr. Montague's instructions to the letter… well, most of the letters. Despite Montague's warnings not to, Eleanor stops at Hillsdale. She tells herself she won't mention Hill House to the locals so as not to completely disregard the good doctor's instructions.
  • Hillsdale is the type of town that "manage[s], even in the sunlight, to be dark and ugly" (1.67).
  • In a diner, Eleanor orders a cup of joe and a doughnut. She tries to chit up the chat with the waitress, talking about house hunting and the local scene, but the waitress seems less than interested in the subject of Hillsdale—or a tip for that matter. Seriously bad service.
  • A man pays his bill, and on his way out, he tells Eleanor that "'[p]eople leave this town'" rather than come there (1.91).
  • Eleanor pays her bill, and the waitress offhandedly wishes her luck in finding her house.
  • The road to Hill House is a mess of potholes and rocks. Eleanor realizes her sister and brother-in-law must know she's gone by now, and, as if on cue, she bangs the underside of the car up pretty badly.
  • Finally, Eleanor arrives at Hill House, but the gate is locked. She lays on the horn a bit, and a man eventually comes to the gate.
  • Eleanor asks to be let in, but this guy makes things difficult for her. He tells her she can't come in, because she's not expected. When Eleanor says she is expected, the dude informs her she's the first to arrive, so she can't be expected by anybody, because no one is there to expect her. Ah, okay, whatever: word play.
  • Eleanor eventually demands that the guy open the gate. As she drives in, the guy blocks her car to warn her that she'll be sorry he admitted her. Okay, dude.
  • Eleanor realizes this guy must be Dudley, the caretaker Montague's letter mentioned. Eleanor tries to assure him that she has confidence he and his wife will make the guests' stay a comfy one.
  • Dudley tells her he doesn't stay at the house after dark.
  • Going up the long driveway to the house, Eleanor occasionally catches glances of Hill House and its Gothic architecture. She's sure the place will come with a secret passage or chamber to go with the gargoyles hanging on its roof.
  • Eleanor comes face to face with Hill House and realizes that the "house [is] vile" (1.131). The urge to flee is immediate.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...