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Eleanor Vance is kind of the main character in The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. While I can’t really bring myself to recommend the book, Eleanor is a fascinating character.
Eleanor is a fairly young woman (I want to say she’s 30-ish) who’s never had the opportunity to be young. Her mother was peevishly ill for years yet ruled Eleanor with an iron fist. Whatever Mrs. Vance wanted, she was going to get. If it literally drove her daughter crazy, all the better.
Now that her mother has passed away, Eleanor is living with her sister and her young family. The sister is just as bad as the mother. I don’t know how Eleanor turned out to be so passive when she lived with two shrews, but I guess it was easier for her to submit than to fight. Anyway, the sister treats Eleanor like unpaid help. When Eleanor asks to borrow the car, which she helped pay for, the sister pitches an ungodly fit. Yet somehow mousy little Eleanor digs up the courage to do what she wants for a change. She defies her sister and takes the car off to Hill House.
|Julie Harris as Eleanor
Eleanor has been invited to haunted Hill House by a psychic researcher. I don’t remember the details exactly, but Eleanor has been the center of some poltergeist activity in the past. The researcher has invited people like her to the house to see if they can prompt it to show them what it’s capable of.
At Hill House, Eleanor is more truly free to be herself. She’s been such a lonely, meek soul for so long that it takes her just a little while to loosen up, but she does it. She becomes fast friends with the other people in the house. For a while, it seems that this working vacation, even though it’s in a haunted house, is just what Eleanor needed to break out of her shell.
But then… (Isn’t there always a “but then?”)
Eleanor is the “psychic” who reacts the strongest to the house. She starts hearing things and seeing things. She loses chunks of time. She even starts to wonder if she’s losing her mind. I had no idea what was real and what wasn’t. Things got freakier and freakier in the house until the shocking end. And it all seems to center around Eleanor.
As the reader, I wanted so badly for things to turn around for her. She’s had such a hard life, it’s nice to see her coming out of her shell and bantering with other people. I don’t relate to the overbearing family, but I definitely relate to her as the shy girl in a group. I was so proud of her as she started to gain confidence. I know what a hard battle that is, so I applauded the effort she was making. But the other people weren’t always nice to her. I was never entirely sure if they really changed or if Eleanor was in the grip of some form of paranoia. Either way, Eleanor’s life wasn’t carefree laughter and sunshine anymore. She felt so rejected and confused, my heart just broke for her. But she has surprising depths and in the end, we see what she’s capable of.
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