‘Afternoon In Linen’ by Shirley Jackson

Afternoon In Linen by Shirley Jackson, 1943

The magic trick:

Sneakily putting the reader in the position of supporting the story’s misanthropic point of view

Having watched the Shirley Jackson biopic starring Elizabeth Moss, Shirley, it’s especially easy to imagine this story taking place among the Bennington College academia community in Vermont.

The utter disdain Jackson felt for the adults around her, at least as the movie portrays it, is palpable here in this brief but vitriolic story.

It’s even more potent than the usual Shirley misanthropy too, because “Afternoon In Linen” puts the fury in the character of a 10-year-old child.

Brilliantly, Harriet’s disdain for her grandmother isn’t played as a tantrum or even immature acting out. Instead the reader leaves the story seeing Harriet as a worthy hero.

As a result, without even realizing it, we’ve been forced to cheer on and feel our own misanthropy.

Very sneaky, Shirley!

And that’s quite a trick on Jackson’s part.

The selection:

“Recite one of your poems for Mrs. Kator, Harriet.”

The little girl looked at her grandmother, at the sweet smile, and at Mrs. Kator, leaning forward, and at Howard, sitting with his mouth open and a great delight growing in his eyes. “Don’t know any,” she said.

“Harriet,” her grandmother said, “even if you don’t remember any of your poems, you have some written down, I’m sure Mrs. Kator won’t mind if you rad them to her.”

The huge merriment that had been gradually taking hold of Howard suddenly overwhelmed him. “Poems,” he said, doubling up with laughter on the couch. “Harriet writes poems.” He’ll tell all the kids on the block, the little girl thought.

“I do believe Howard’s jealous,” Mrs. Kator said.

“Aw,” Howard said. “I wouldn’t write a poem. Bet you couldn’t make me write a poem if you tried.”

“You couldn’t make me, either,” the little girl said. “That’s all a lie about the poems.”

There was a long silence.

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