Sunday, April 9, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt nine)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

Westport, a former colonial shipping center just west of Fairfield and east of Darien, was the least conservative of the Gold Coast towns, a center for “idea people”—writers, artists, and actors. J. D. Salinger rented a house in Westport at right around the same time as the Hymans—it had formerly belonged to F. Scott Fitzgerald—to use as a writing retreat while he finished The Catcher in the Rye. Formed in 1945, the Westport Artists Club already counted 148 members by the time the Hymans arrived, including cartoonists Helen Hokinson and Wood Cowan and sculptor James Fraser, who had designed the buffalo nickel. The Westport Country Playhouse, housed in an old cow barn and tannery, was founded in 1931 by former Broadway producers Lawrence Langner and Armina Marshall (also husband and wife) and attracted such actors as Bert Lahr, Ethel Barrymore, and Paul Robeson. Thornton Wilder played the stage manager in his play Our Town there in 1946 and returned for the lead role in The Skin of Our Teeth two years later.

Despite its wealth and sophistication, Westport was a close-knit community that could be nearly as insular, in its own way, as North Bennington. The Hymans would be criticized by their neighbors for their perceived unfriendliness and lack of interest in participating in town affairs. After another resident accidentally hit Laurence with her car while he was riding his bike, causing serious injuries that necessitated a lawsuit against her insurance company, Jackson and Hyman felt that the neighborhood turned against them. As it turned out, their fears that their neighbors were gossiping about them were not unfounded. Their stay in Westport would prove to be short-lived.

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