Can’t Haunt if No One is Paying Attention

There’s nothing that peeves me more than erasure of queerness from characters in literature. And there is one specific show that I’m glaring at right now and this has everything to do with an assigned reading I had in my Horror Fiction course.

So, Shirley Jackson is an amazing author and writer and storyteller, and I can tell you all right now, that even if you’re not into horror, you should read The Haunting of Hill House. Trust me. I was unsettled after watching Scary Movie 3, and I’m not a huge fan of horror, but this book is just so very queer and has nothing to do with the spooky ghosts in it, and everything to do with anxiety and loneliness and pure longing.

Yes, I’m biased towards anything that has a hint of gayness. No, this book doesn’t have a hint of gayness, it has a pile of gayness hardened into a brick and thrown at your face. It also doesn’t have the One Gay™, no it has two women who are attracted to each other, at the same time! The book’s narrator, Eleanor, loves Theodora, one of the other characters that journeys with her to Hill House. If you doubt me, here’s one quote: “Nothing irrevocable had yet been spoken, but there was only the barest margin of safety left them; each of them moving delicately along the outskirts of an open question, and, once spoken, such a question – as “Do you love me?” – could never be answered or forgotten.” Oh yeah, and this took place right after Theodora grew jealous that Eleanor was talking to the rakish Luke (who Eleanor isn’t very into at all) and the two of them stormed out of the house, arguing like a married couple. Here’s another: “Theodora had abandoned any attempt at a chair and had put herself down on the hearthrug, cross-legged and drowsy. Eleanor, wanting to sit on the hearthrug beside her, had not thought of it in time and had condemned herself to one of the slippery chairs, unwilling now to attract attention by moving and getting herself awkwardly down onto the floor.” And a few pages later: “In the light of the fire Theodora’s face was stiff and sulky; she likes attention, Eleanor thought wisely and, without thinking moved and sat on the floor beside Theodora.” Just gals palling around. Nothing to see here.

So here is where the crappy thing that peeves me comes in. After finishing this gay, gay, homo book, I immediately started watching the new Netflix show. And guess what, Theodora is as gay as ever, but all three of them, Eleanor and Luke included, are now… siblings. Yay. So what, you might say, that means that they didn’t do it solely to get Eleanor with Luke. Well, the book was about Eleanor’s queerness and personhood, Theodora is just the hot lesbian that she can’t take her eyes off. Yet, there is no commentary that, at least, I found that has anything to do with Eleanor’s queerness. Just Theodora’s. And I know why too. Theo is an artist and is confident and untethered to anyone. She’s a catlike grace. A free spirit who likes sarcasm and playing games with people. She’s a hot queer woman. Eleanor is messy and anxious and sometimes quick to anger and mistrust. She’s not a sexy mystery, she’s a human whose head we inhabit for two hundred pages. So yes, when asked about queers in this book, Theodora is visible to us, and Eleanor is hidden behind the veil of her own narrative, which, if you read the book, is the saddest part of all.

One comment

  1. Have you seen the 1999 film of the same story, The Haunting? There’s an earlier version, too, with Shirley McClaine. Both cater to the plot of the original tale (so I’m surmising from your post, as I haven’t read Shirley Jackson’s story) and feature Theo’s queerness along with the tension between her and Nel. The 1999 movie has Catherine Zeta-Jones as Theo.

    The sibling route in the streaming series was interesting, but I understand why they did it to showcase the family’s struggle with grief. Like you said, they kept Theo queer and that was wonderful to see!


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