Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:
Soon after she began writing The Bird’s Nest, in late 1952 or early 1953, Jackson began to feel “a sudden and unusual general fear . . . applied to all things: security, work, general health.” She started drinking heavily, more than ever before. Like the fictional Elizabeth, she began to suffer from headaches that often came on very suddenly. She felt extreme hunger and exhaustion, but also a total loss of interest in either eating or sleeping. More than anything else, she felt irresistibly tempted to give up writing the book, convinced she could find no other relief from her “symptoms,” as she called them. After finishing a very rough draft of the first two sections, she took a break from the novel over the summer, writing some lighter stories and enjoying the success of Savages. But once she went back to it, after the move to 66 Main Street, the trouble started up again, worse than before.
Jackson called it “nervous hysteria”: she had crying jags, fits of temper, nightmares, “extravagant worries.” Some of it, she thought, could be explained by her anxiety over whether she and Hyman could afford the new house, as well as the stress of moving. There was also the news, that fall, of the sudden death of Dylan Thomas. After an alcoholic binge in New York, where he had come for another reading tour arranged by John Malcolm Brinnin, the poet died at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village. After their encounter more than threeyears earlier, Shirley had not seen him again, but he continued to figure powerfully in her imagination. “A Visit,” dedicated to him, had recently appeared in print.