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The three faces of Eleanor: 11/30/18
This essay will compare and contrast three road narrative travelers all named Eleanor. Two of them happen to be the same character, rendered differently through adaptation (Eleanor Vance of The Haunting of Hill House). The final one will be Eleanor West of the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire.
Besides Hill House itself, Eleanor Vance, is the standalone protagonist of The Haunting of Hill House. The use of her image combined with the roofline for the recent Netflix adaptation is a perfect visual metaphor for how linked she and the house are.
Although the relationship of the visitors to Hill House to each other and to the House change between book and television series, Eleanor's is nearly stable.
In Shirley Jackson's novel, Eleanor has come to Hill House to escape her sister after years of sharing the duty of caring for their ailing mother. She has access to her sister's car but very little agency over herself and her life, becoming her sister's caregiver and housekeeper, bound at home by her sister's whims. Taking the car and driving it hours away to Hill House is her final act of self determination and defiance.
During her stay at Hill House, book Eleanor repeats that she "has no mother." We know that she had a mother but it wasn't good relationship in recent years. It might not have ever been good. For book Eleanor, her status as "motherless" should give her the protection of orphan magic.
But her introduction to Hill House shows that she isn't an orphan; she is privileged. She has driven herself to a rumored haunted house (uhoria) via a blue highway. The privileged traveler on a blue highway should be the set up for a standard lark of a road trip story. The inclusion of a uhoric destination, is what makes this novel horror. But it is her arrogance at trying to invoke orphan status that sets her up as the House's prey.
In the Netflix version, it's obvious from the very beginning, before the first second of the show by the cover art of the series. The top half shows Hill House and four children standing before it. They are without their parents, a sign of how the summer at the house will tear apart the family. Then there's a rip as if Eleanor's portrait has been torn in half, and the bottom half placed below the family photo. That turns the dormers of the house into Eleanor's eyes and a tear runs down her cheek from the direction of the Red Room (and source of house flooding / and the uhoria). The over all message is that Eleanor and the House are one and the same.
Through the horror of uhoria, Eleanor haunts herself for the remainder of the series. She is the first ghost shown on screen. She is the first ghost to haunt a house that in the novel was ghostless. It's through her own haunting that Hill House lures her "home" to reunite her with her mother (the first to die in the TV series). In both cases, then, Eleanor is rendered motherless to drive the narrative forward.
But more broadly, Eleanor and Hill House are linked. Of all the visitors, it is Eleanor that the house wants most. The house in both version is also demonstrated to be a uhoric space — a place out of time.
What if, there is more to Eleanor's story that just a miserable life, the painful death of her mother, being lured to an evil house, and finally dying at the house? What if "death" at Hill House is "her door" as Seanan McGuire would put it?
Let me be blunt and say that nowhere have I read where Seanan McGuire has said she has Eleanor West is at all inspired by Eleanor Vance. This is just me seeing connections having read and watched the two authors back to back.
Eleanor West in the Wayward Children series is elderly but very much alive. She gives her age in Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018) as 97. Given that not much time has passed since the first book, Every Heart a Doorway (2016), one can estimate that Eleanor West was born in 1919 or thereabouts. In 1959 when Jackson's story was published, again assuming a contemporary setting, Eleanor would have been about forty, the age when adults do often have to care for ailing parents or see their parents die.
So what if Eleanor West's death, either by car or by hanging (the Netflix version) was her door to whatever utopia that's not quite the mundane United States with lingering aspects of the worlds where the children have gone. What if her school is a Hill House that has found its purpose. What if this is the redemption of Hill House?