Shirley Jackson’s Louisa, Please Come Home

Shirley Jackson's Louisa Please Come Home can be found in this collection, along with other short stories similar in tone.
Shirley Jackson’s Louisa Please Come Home can be found in this collection, along with other short stories similar in tone.

Disclaimer: If you attend Floyd Light Middle School, or any other school, especially if your teacher is called Mr William McDonald, and he has set an assignment on “Louisa, Please Come Home”, you should probably know that he does not agree with the following analysis. (I probably don’t agree with it either. I wrote it ages ago.)

In any case, if you’re brave enough to refer to my personal blog in an assignment, prepare for a condescending lecture and a bad mark.


Without meaning to, I keep reading short stories written by women who died young: Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, and now Shirley Jackson, who died age 48 in 1965 of heart failure. Jackson’s husband released Louisa, Please Come Home after her death. Before that, she was best known for The Lottery, which is still her best known short.

Shirley Jackson’s best fiction is troubling and creepy, but this story, though interesting, is neither scary or suspenseful. Instead, you’ll be left wondering what possessed the main character to do such a thing, and maybe you’ll start wondering if our view of the people closest to us is really the accurate version.

I’m sure this short story appeals to me partly because I’m interested in the idea that perhaps there is no ‘true self’ — that we learn to fill the roles imposed upon us. I explore this same idea in our YA short story app, Hilda Bewildered.

Continue reading “Shirley Jackson’s Louisa, Please Come Home”

Airships And Hot Air Balloons

Flight is highly symbolic in children’s literature. The airship, dirigible or hot air balloon is another means by which writers can take their characters into the sky, varying the topography and the view.

The title of the new Disney/Pixar movie “Up,” as well as its signature image of a house floating beneath thousands of tethered balloons, reminds us how frequently the theme of Lightness appears in children’s literature. From Mary Poppins to Peter Pan, from Tarzan swinging on vines to Harry Potter scooting on his broomstick, children’s stories seem to feature the quick, the lithe and the aerial. Maybe that’s not surprising. While adults seem earthbound, youngsters zoom by on skateboards or jump from heights as caped incarnations of Superman.

Jerry Griswold, Literary Antecedents To The Movie Up

  1. What do you know about airships?
  2. Have you seen airships before, in the sky or in certain types of stories?
  3. What does the presence of an airship add to the feel/mood/setting of a story?

What is an airship?

Airships are also called ‘blimps’ and are seen quite often at sporting events as advertising vessels. Airships are also called ‘dirigibles’.

In fiction, airships are a common sight in alternative superhero depictions of New York. You may recognise the airship from DC’s Batman series.

The GCPD Blimp from Batman

Hayao Miyazaki, Japan’s most internationally renowned animator of children’s films such as Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro seems to enjoy animating airships in his un-Japanese, European-esque worlds of films such as Castle In The Sky. Steampunk fiction is also a fan of the dirigible.

An airship crashes in Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service
An airship crashes in Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service

Airships were once a fairly common sight in Northern skies.

the boy who went magic

The Legacy Of The Hindenburg

The most famous real-life airship is The Hindenburg, which caught alight during an electrical storm while trying to land on May 3, 1937. Due to a limited supply of helium (mainly in America), hydrogen was used to give airships lift. Hydrogen is lighter than air but is highly flammable.

The Hindenburg was a massive airship — perhaps the airship equivalent of The Titanic — affordable only to the super rich, because a one-way ticket from Europe to America cost the equivalent of a car. Flight was brand new to humans, and it’s easy to forget that the passengers had never seen the world from a bird’s eye view before.

“Everybody looks up and they see this graceful, slow moving, big object, and that seems to be something people are just fascinated with.”

– Mark Kynett (Senior pilot, Goodyear Blimp) speaks on the documentary When Weather Changed History: The Hindenburg Disaster.

The fact that documentaries are still being made about this disaster shows that we are still fascinated by airships.

If the Hindenburg disaster had never happened, history would have played out differently. We would be living in a slightly different world as a result. No doubt a Hindenburg-type disaster would have happened at one point or another, but it’s fascinating to consider how the history might be slightly different. Airships are often used in fictional worlds which are basically real, but are slightly off-kilter. The presence of an airship helps to create such a setting.

The Airships In Hilda Bewildered

The Hindenburg was thought to be infallible. The vessel was referred to as “Queen Of The Skies”. This connection to royalty is fascinating because the airship as metaphor for royalty and celebrity is a good one. When common people see celebrity it’s easy to forget that these are human beings who are really not infallible at all. Often, celebrities die younger than they should, in ‘fiery’ events which captures the media’s attention.

The metaphor of height differential and flight is common in fiction. Altitude is also reflected in English idioms. We say ‘rise to the occasion’ or ‘look up to’ someone. In this story, a Princess is aware of the world that surrounds her. She can’t understand why she has been born into royalty when the role could just as easily have been given to some other girl. This doesn’t exactly fill her with confidence, as she prepares to deliver her first significant speech as a princess who has recently come of age. In an attempt to elevate herself in her own mind, she imagines herself on an airship, looking down on the world. Common wisdom about calming nerves before a presentation or speech often includes metaphors of lightness and flying: We are often advised to fill our lungs with air by taking deep breaths. We attempt to ‘rise above it’, to ‘glide’ into a room. We may feel ‘light-headed’. All of this relates to the metaphor of the airship. Princess Hilda’s freckles, which she considers proof of her ordinariness (despite being covered in makeup for the cameras), are now lights on the landscape; freckles make the landscape beautiful and therefore she must be beautiful. Or so she tells herself. By looking down on the landscape from high above, she is also trying to regain perspective on her own place in the world; a speech to open winter (a season which will happen with or without her blessing)seems less significant when she looks down on the world from high above, and realises she is not the center of the universe. There is a whole world besides, and not everyone is listening.

This includes the commuters who dash home to their own houses after a working week. These people are not royalists. They are busy with their own lives, and pay her little heed. It helps the Princess to remember these people. To them, she is invisible.

Because Hilda starts her imaginary journey in an airship, this allows for a dramatic and obvious change in altitude  over the course of the story. After emerging from the underground, Hilda instructs the taxi driver to ‘take the low road’ into the woods, prompting further descent. The imaginary airship sequence is thereby complemented with the alternative trick of spiriting her mind away to a dark basement in an abandoned hotel at the bottom of the deep, dark woods. All the while, Princess Hilda imagines she is not a princess at all — she is just an ordinary girl — an ordinary girl with ‘real problems’ — no loving mother, not enough to eat, no warm clothes, who is on the run from the police, to boot.

The Long-Lost Home

In number six (and final) of the Incorrigible Children Of Ashton Place series, the main character is stuck in a Russian village but must make her way home to England. I’m guessing it involves a hot air balloon. Publication due end of 2017.

A miniature air balloon is also used in this episode of  Wallace and Gromit.

Is there an essential self?

Gabby Sidibe Beauty

In an interview on the Incredibly Interesting Authors podcast, creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams, dismisses the common advice to ‘just be yourself’ whenever you’re faced with a difficult situation in which you don’t feel confident. Instead, he advises to act like someone else. He argues that everyone acts all the time, according to how they think they are expected to perform.

  1. What do you think of this advice?
  2. Do you think you have an ‘essential self’?
  3. If so, when does this essential self come out? Are some people better at acting parts than others?
  4. How do you think you are at acting the role that is expected of you? Do you think that people who can act the part end up doing better overall than those who can’t/don’t?
  5. Does the expectation to act different parts according to circumstance vary from culture to culture?

We tell ourselves stories that can’t possibly be true, but believing those stories allows us to function. We know we’re not telling ourselves the whole truth, but it works so we embrace it.

– All Marketers Are Liars, Seth Godin, page 2

Color Symbolism in Hilda Bewildered


How does the colour of the sky throughout Hilda Bewildered give clues about the time of day, the plot sequence and the difference between Princess Hilda’s reality versus the imagined scenes?

Highlight below for some answers.

Golden — The story opens with a wintry dusk.

As nightfall comes, the sky looks green through the dining hall window.

The blue sky from Hilda’s imaginary airship is a cerulean, unlikely sort of blue. This is also the blue of the screens which appear throughout the story — the detectives’ computer screen, the view through the security cameras. Events behind a screen are not real for the viewer (even though real for the characters depicted), just as Hilda’s imaginary world of unnaturally blue sky is also one-removed from reality.

The sky of the grimy city is a browny yellow, to contrast with the golden colour surrounding the palace — an oasis of riches.

As the taxi moves into the forest the sky turns blacker and blacker as Hilda finds her way into her mental cave (and eventually to a basement in an abandoned hotel in the middle of a dark forest).

But on the final page the sky is back to dusky yellow, because The Other Hilda is wholly imagined: It is still sunset and Hilda has yet to make her speech. As she makes the speech she imagines she is talking to tussock rather than to a daunting crowd of people. From the stage, though, she sees nothing but bright lights.



Death green, Life green
Death green, Life green


Brainstorm some ideas/themes which are commonly symbolised by the colour green in storytelling and in pop-culture.

There are many different shades of green. Do different shades of green suggest different meanings?

Do a Google image search for green movie posters (by going to advanced search and setting the colour to green). After looking at a large number of green movie posters, what kinds of stories are associated with green?


Princess Hilda’s ring is emerald green. What does the colour green symbolise in Hilda Bewildered?

Highlight the text below for some answers.

THE FOREST: This is common in myths/legends/fairytales. This is connected to the female principle/The Great Mother. Vegetable life thrives in a forest, free from any control or cultivation. Princess Hilda’s life is so regimented she craves freedom. Foliage excludes sunlight, so the forest is considered in opposition to the sun’s power. The forest symbolises the unconscious. Jung said that the sylvan terrors that figure so prominently in children’s tales symbolise the perilous aspects of the unconscious. Houses and cultivated lands are safe areas but the forest harbours all sorts of dangers and demons, enemies and diseases. (Zimmer). The forest in this tale contrasts with the manicured garden at the Royal Palace: subdued, ordered, selected, enclosed.

LIFE AND DEATH: Green is the colour of life; it is also the colour of death (of gangrenous corpses). Death is represented by black through the greenish shades up to a typically bright green colour, after which it symbolises life. Giving a speech in front of many people feels like a life and death situation for the princess. Life and death are opposites, as are the princess and her alter ego. A forest is full of life, but for an ill-equipped girl, it also means danger and death.

THE MIDDLE PLACE: Green takes the middle place in the everyday scale of colours. Green is an intermediate, transitional colour spanning between the two groups of ‘advancing’ colours and ‘retreating colours’.  (This is because it is mixed from blue, a retreating colour, and yellow, an advancing one.) The Other Hilda lives in the shadows of society (a retreating character) but she would like to advance socially – she just has no idea how to go about it. This is impossible for a girl in her position with her plain looks.

Green can also be associated with the ghostly/uncanny, with peace, growth, branching out, turning over a new leaf, imagination.

How Appearances Deceive

Hilda Bewildered Pre-reading Questions

  1. What does the publication of this kind of article hope to achieve? Before and after images of women transformed by impressive (makeup only) makeovers by Russian hair and makeup artist Vadim Andreev. Does it work?
  2. Can you think of a time when you were judged (wrongly) on your appearance?
  3. What were the consequences?
  4. How did the mismatch between appearance and reality come about?
  5. Have you ever been surprised after getting to know someone better?
  6. Can you think of any classic tales whose plots rely on the deception of appearances?
  7. In stories which feature deceptive appearances, what sorts of messages is the reader supposed to consider/take away?
  8. Is everyone a fraud to some degree?
  9. Do we have an essential self, which has different personae overlaid depending on the situation, or are we simply a series of altered selves, with no ‘core essence’?
  10. Are some people better at acting a part than others?
  11. Do you think you’re good at acting a part that’s expected of you?
  12. What about your family? Friends?
  13. ‘Reality TV’ is often criticised for being contrived and sometimes outright fictional. Why, when we know this deep down, is the genre so popular? Or do viewers not realise the extent of the editing? Is reality TV more real than most critics think it is?

Post-reading Discussion

In Hilda Bewildered, list the ways in which outside appearances do not match what’s inside or underneath.

Highlight below for some answers:

The taxi that Hilda gets into looks like a Citroen from the 1960s, but once inside, the dashboard indicates that this is an ordinary modern vehicle.

The Princess is dressed up by many people, photographed, preened and published in magazines, yet underneath her boots she has a hole in her sock.

When giving her speech, Princess Hilda looks confident on the outside but underneath she is terrified of giving a speech in front of a large audience.

The Other Hilda looks as if she has dressed down as a ‘gypsy’ to fit in at the pre-speech masquerade party but this is not the gentry dressing down; this is who she really is.

Out in the world, The Other Hilda looks plain and unremarkable, yet she is an expert pick-pocket. Her social invisibility is deceptive.

The burgers at Best Backstreet Burgers look fantastic in the pictures but inside there is a rat.

Princess Hilda is covered in make up, presenting a completely different skin to the world, but underneath, her skin is real (conveyed by the freckles).

The cakes at the pre-speech masquerade party look wonderful, but after they’ve been eaten, the crumbs and the crumpled serviette and the glove look as dishevelled as at any post-cake do.

The castle looks opulent to the outsider but Princess Hilda sees it as a kind of prison. The windows are latticed. She is surrounded by people. 

The ‘Tropical Palace’ is completely at odds with its environs. For one, it is winter, and the hotel is located in the middle of some dark forest rather than beside a beach on a tropical island. Although decked out in kitschy splendour, this is no ‘Palace’ in the traditional sense. The dark exterior is at odds with the fluorescence of the interior decor.


In stories such as Snow White, in which a wicked step-mother is able to dress up as a harmless peddler selling apples, the message to readers is often ‘don’t take anything at face value’.

In this story, I hope the reader will go further than that, and consider the nature of modern celebrity — its constraints and limitations as well as its privilege. I would like the reader to wonder whether there really are two Hildas, and in the process of deciding whose story this is, I hope they will notice that there really isn’t anything to separate them, apart from accident of birth.


Some people have lead extraordinary lives by living fraudulently. Many are living fraudulent lives as we speak, and many may never be found out. Others have been busted, and their true stories have been told. The following movies are suitable for older viewers.

The Great Hip-Hop Hoax is a movie-length documentary which tells the tale of two young men from Scotland who in the early 2000s wanted to be rappers. After rapping in their natural Scottish accents they were laughed out of the room, and quickly realised that by putting on an American accent and saying they were from California they were being taken seriously. The boys were so good at acting American that they were signed by Sony and were earning a big income. After some time, the fraud started to affect their relationship and mental health. Sony merged with BMG and their act lost backers. Everything fell apart. One guy got married, moved back to Scotland and had a couple of kids. The other remains in London, still hoping to live the dream, this time as himself.

Catfish is another movie-length documentary, this time about a couple of young men, one who meets an attractive woman on the Internet. After ‘dating’ online, things start to seem too good to be true, so the young man and his friend go on a road trip to meet the virtual love interest. Is this a real documentary, or is it fake? Might it fall somewhere between the extremes of ‘real’ versus ‘fake’? Morgan Spurlock called it the best fakeumentary he’d ever seen. If the entire story is made up, then this is a fake documentary about a fake story, which is kind of meta in its own way, and says something about the human capacity to suspend disbelief.

The Imposter is the movie length documentary film about a man who managed to convince the family of a missing American boy that he was their missing son. He managed this feat even though he looked nothing like the missing boy, was 6 years older than him and spoke English with a strong French accent.


Do you know the feeling of imposter syndrome?

How common do you think it is?

I’ve felt the head of a man with his skull partially removed (squishy) and I’ve seen a man with burns so bad to his face that, if the poor bastard survived he faced living his new life looking like Lord Voldemort. I want to tell people that I’ve seen people die; not always quickly and peacefully. That I, as a bloody 23 year old with minimal life experience myself, have had to hold the hand of distraught husbands, wives, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers and try to think of something comforting to say.

from a nurse

Do you have imposter syndrome? from The Hairpin is a collection of people’s experiences with this feeling.


Marilyn Monroe – iconic make-up look tutorial on Youtube

The pizza spoof

The burger spoof
The burger spoof

At Beauty Redefined, they take the issue seriously.

About the ‘ugly’ work of Lynda Barry. The characters have spots and the drawings are not ‘pretty’.

The Mothers Of Hilda Bewildered

Is the ‘mother’ in Hilda Bewildered good or evil?

There are two mothers in Hilda Bewildered. First is the Queen, the mother of Princess Hilda. Then there is the ‘mother’ at the Tropical Hotel — an equally cold character whose motivations are not immediately clear.

Readers are trained by traditional fairytales to regard this mother as evil because of her appearance: Her features are masculine, she dresses in black. Her hooked nose is reminiscent of witches’ noses, as is her grey, unadulterated hair. That she is depicted knitting, in a grandmotherly type pose, is an irony which serves to highlight her un-grandmotherly nature.

When the mother locks Hilda in the ‘closet suite’, this is an obvious trespass upon Hilda’s freedom, but when the police arrive we see that this imprisonment is partly for Hilda’s protection. Is it cruel to lock Hilda up for a few days if the alternative is being locked up for life?

When the mother says, ‘Take this cursed jewel, far, far into the wild. Fling it into the deep,” what is she advising? If the ring is a symbol of beauty, given to some and not others by accident of birth, she is telling her daughter to let go of the beauty ideal. There are two ways to deal with the beauty ideal when you’re far from that: You can reject it outright (as the mother has done) or you can reinterpret beauty itself, taking it for yourself by changing the way you think about the world. This is what Hilda intends to do. She imagines herself as beautiful even though by luck of birth she does not conform to the generally accepted beauty standards. In the image-conscious, celebrity-focussed world of this story, nobody is about to endow Hilda with any worth; she must either reject it altogether or find it from within.

If the reader interprets the mother as the “witch” or “evil-stepmother” analog of traditional fairytales, what does that say about:

  1. How readers of picturebooks are trained to correlate beauty with goodness in picturebooks and illustrated stories
  2. How we prejudge characters we meet in real life
  3. The importance of “beauty privilege”
  4. The false dichotomy between “good” and “evil” mothers



The mother at the Tropical Hotel as Threshold Guardian

Threshold Guardian entry at TV Tropes

In The Writer’s Journey: Mythic structure for storytellers & screenwriters, Christopher Vogler describes the ‘threshold guardian’.

In stories, Threshold Guardians take on a fantastic array of forms. They may be border guards, sentinels, night watchmen, lookouts, examiners, or anyone whose function is to temporarily block the way of the hero and test her powers. The energy of the Threshold Guardian may not be embodied as a character, but may be found as a prop, architectural feature, animal, or force of nature that blocks and tests the hero. Learning how to deal with Threshold Guradians is one of the major tests of the Hero’s Journey.

Threshold Guardians are not the big, bad enemies but can be likened to a fox at the hole of a bear’s cave, who keeps animals from wandering into the cave while a bear is hibernating, kicking up a fuss if there’s trouble, alerting the bear to danger.

When a hero encounters a Threshold Guardians, she can either power on forward or retreat. The Threshold Guardian tests a hero’s resolve to enter a new world.

Vogler explains that the main function of the Threshold Guardian is to test the hero. Often in stories, the hero ‘gets into the skin’ of the Threshold Guardian, quite literally by, say, dressing up as guards to get past the guards.

Threshold Guardians are not threatening enemies but useful Allies, and ‘early indicators that new power or success is coming. Threshold Guardians who appear to be attacking may in fact be doing the hero a huge favor’.

Discuss: Goodies and Baddies

In traditional hero stories there are ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ (better known to adults as heroes and adversaries). The activities of the heroes are sanctioned by society whereas the activities of the adversaries are considered wrong. Apart from pickpockets/thieves, the following groups tend to be depicted as adversaries in stories, because their ways of making a living undermine our perceptions of how decent society works. For example:

  • Smugglers
  • Pirates
  • Gypsies
  • Prostitutes
  • Highwaymen

What are some examples of stories you’ve enjoyed featuring each kind of adversary?

Are the adversaries in these stories threatening to the wellbeing of the hero, or to the ‘ideal society’?

Do your examples condemn the adversaries, or do they encourage analysis?

Are the adversaries presented as innately wicked, or as complex/downtrodden members of society, whose circumstances lead them to less savoury lifestyles?


An antihero is a hero who lacks the attributes society accepts as moral and good. An antihero is a leading character in a story. The story is set up so that the audience cheers him on, though we are probably encouraged to question our own values at some point in the story.

Who are your favourite antiheroes?

What about female antiheroes? Can you think of any?

Of your favourite antiheroes, do any of them embody a sort of wish-fulfilment? For example, Walter White of Breaking Bad embodies the wish of ordinary men to become kingpin by putting his underappreciated knowledge/skills to full use.


There are a few clues in the illustrations of Hilda Bewildered which hint at the princess’ inspiration for a criminal anti-hero. What are they?

Discuss: Should Students Be Required To Speak In Class?


A high school teacher argued in The Atlantic that students should be required to speak in class, because speaking up is a requirement of a successful adult life.

(This response argues that a student who doesn’t speak in class isn’t necessarily an introvert.)

And this writer argues that speaking up in class isn’t necessarily a very good indicator of learning engagement, and that being called upon to answer questions in front of an audience can actively turn students off learning:

I hated speaking in front of people then, and I hate doing it now. In between, I hated being called on when my hand wasn’t raised, which some teachers did to try to encourage more participation. But all it succeeded in doing was to make me fear those classes and to be so busy worrying that I wasn’t learning. I hated oral presentations. I hated having to be the spokesperson for group work. I hated anything that caused me to be the center of attention for more than a couple of people at a time.

Which point of view do you agree with the most?



Hilda Bewildered is the story of a girl who is about to give her first big speech. Her audience is huge because she happens to be a princess who has come of age. As you read the story, take note of how she manages her fear.

  1. What is something you’re afraid of?
  2. How do you manage your fear?
  3. Are there things you would like to do, but don’t because you’re afraid?
  4. Which of your fears are based on real and present danger, and which are irrational?
  5. In contrast, can you think of some things you perhaps should logically be afraid of, but aren’t?


TED Talk Radio, episode entitled ‘Fear’ features a speaker talking about the way in which fear is a kind of subconscious storytelling. When we’re afraid of something we tell ourselves stories about all the bad things which may happen. See What Fear Can Teach Us.

In Hilda Bewildered, the Princess feels the fear of public speaking, but manages it by concocting a tale in which she is an invisible version of herself. The story about The Other Hilda replaces all the usual fears people have before speaking before large crowds.

The Role Of Glamour… If only!

The following are notes from a podcast from Zocalo Public Square: Why Do We Need Glamour? The speaker is Virginia Postrel, who has also delivered a TED Talk. Her book is called The Power Of Glamour.


What is glamour?


The word ‘glamour’ gets sprinkled around on magazine covers: shiny furniture, jewel tones, satin dresses. This conveys the mistaken idea that glamour is a kind of style. In fact, glamour is neither a style nor a personal characteristic (because cars/cities/ideas can be glamorous also) and it changes with the audience. The best way to think about glamour is to start by thinking about humour. Glamour is in the same category: There is an audience and an object. Somehow in the interaction of audience and object, a specific emotion occurs. In the case of humour, the emotion is amusement/laughter. In the case of glamour the emotion is projection and longing: If only… (I could do that thing/be with that person/be on that beach/relax and have a hot stone massage…)

Glamour is a form of non-verbal persuasion. It can be a deliberately constructed form of rhetoric, and it is sometimes something that simply emerges (much like humour can either be constructed by a comedian or emerge naturally in normal discourse). Glamour can be deliberately crafted but whether it works or not doesn’t depend on the efforts of the person creating it — it depends on the audience.


How does glamour work?

Glamour takes our inchoate (not fully formed, rudimentary) longings: to be respected/loved/comfortable/wealthy etc and focuses them on an object.

Glamour can have unexpected consequences and take unexpected forms but it always says something about who we are and what we want. We’re told that we can fulfil that desire.

Glamour is a psychological process. We see something we know is ridiculous — a trip to a special place/electing the right president/pursuing the right career — something will make us have the perfect life, yet we choose it anyway.

This is not just about women. How many Air Jordans have been sold? (Not to women…) The superhero is the epitome of glamour. (Not Batman — Batman works better as an icon than as a symbol of glamour, but other superheroes embody glamour and appeal to boys and men.)


One of the best encapsulations of glamour can be found in the book Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House. A lot of movie stars are not particularly glamorous, but you see the epitome of glamour in Home and Garden magazines.


Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House Cover

From the acclaimed author and columnist: a laugh-out-loud journey into the world of real estate—the true story of one woman’s “imperfect life lived among imperfect houses” and her quest for the four perfect walls to call home.

After an itinerant suburban childhood and countless moves as a grown-up—from New York City to Lincoln, Nebraska; from the Midwest to the West Coast and back—Meghan Daum was living in Los Angeles, single and in her mid-thirties, and devoting obscene amounts of time not to her writing career or her dating life but to the pursuit of property: scouring Craigslist, visiting open houses, fantasizing about finding the right place for the right price. Finally, near the height of the real estate bubble, she succumbed, depleting her life’s savings to buy a 900-square-foot bungalow, with a garage that “bore a close resemblance to the ruins of Pompeii” and plumbing that “dated back to the Coolidge administration.”

From her mother’s decorating manias to her own “hidden room” dreams, Daum explores the perils and pleasures of believing that only a house can make you whole. With delicious wit and a keen eye for the absurd, she has given us a pitch-perfect, irresistible tale of playing a lifelong game of house.


Why is glamour important?

 You can shape your career and therefore your life with it. In the early 90s a bunch of people went to law school because they watched LA Law. The same thing happened with CSI and forensic science.

Glamour can affect how a country is run. Barack Obama is god’s gift to glamour. This guy is really glamorous. He was young and good looking and graceful and eloquent but people projected onto him their hopes and dreams and what they wanted for the country. The fact that he didn’t have a long record in public life (like Hilary Clinton) made him alluring. He is self-contained nad has a kind of mystery about him. Obama is a Rorschach Test.


Three elements that make Glamour work:

1. Promise of Escape and Transformation.

Glamour takes our discontent and focuses it. It is a form of escapism, but not escapist in terms of distraction but escapist in terms of amplifying desire and focusing it on something in particular.

They are either around travel or around fashion/transportation/something you can inhabit. We all know its horrible to fly on a plane but when we see a picture we picture ourselves as the airplane. There’s still this image of glamour. Transportation vehicles are like clothing — they can be inhabited, and take us out of the everyday.


One of the stereotypical touchstone ways of using glamour in advertising is to sell beauty products. Fire and Ice was created by REvlon in the 50s (and then again in the 90s.) If you get this red nail polish you will unleash the secret siren in yourself. You will have this  moment where you feel yourself to be a different sort of person. It allows you to imagine yourself in this different life — not necessarily a life you want to be in al lthe time but which speaks to a side of you which needs to be sometimes fulfilled.

But this is just as glamorous: The Container Store. This is the most glamorous store in America, because what Americans really want is not so much luxury but a respite from all that stuff, and some sense of having control of their lives. You go in the container store and you see all the shelves and boxes and you can imagine your life will be perfect. These fit in your own house. You get that same sense of projection and longing with the promise of escape and transformation as you get when looking at a magazine with a diamond ring in it. Glamour is not only the things we think of stereotypically as glamorous but these king of things, which produce that same sensation of escaping and transforming.


2. Grace

Glamour is an illusion. The word originally meant a spell to make people think that whatever was in front of them was better than it actually was.

In its modern metaphorical sense glamour still has this element of magic and illusion. We often use the word ‘magic’ in conjunction with this concept eg ‘the magic of the movies’. the illusion is that glamour always hides things. It hides flaws/distractions/costs/disadvantages/effort.

Effortless glamour is a very common phrases. The sense that things just flow along without difficulty is an essential element of glamour. Glamour exemplifies nonchalance — all the practice and exertion which makes something possible is hidden.

The two different types of grace:

Theatrical Grace: Grace which actually exists in the moment. When Fred and Ginger dance they actually are graceful. However they didn’t actually meet up in some park and start dancing like that. There were hours and hours of practice, bloody feet, people helping out behind the scenes and so on. In the golden age of Hollywood a lot of the costumes were either too tight or too heavy for the actresses to sit down so Jean Harlow has to lean on a leaning board in between takes because her dress which looks so fantastic on screen has a hidden flaw, which is that you can’t actually sit down in it or it will tear.

Darkroom Grace: This is grace that is never actually there in the first place. YOu hide things on the image. The Gibson Girl. Whenever you look through a catalogue of interior furnishings somehow all those lamps light up without a cord, and they are not run on batteries. Eitehr the cords have been hidden by the stylist or they’ve just been deleted in Photoshop. Sometimes even the supports for the tables are taken away. Today’s critics of over shopping sometimes think these things started with Photoshop, but it’s older than that. In the Golden Age of Hollywood there were retouched and unretouched versions of actresses.

Glamour is neither transparent nor opaque: It’s translucent. It allows us to see a tantalizing, intriguing amount but lets us fill things in from our imaginations, directed by our own longings.

Glamour is often associated with physical distance — often literally distant — Shanghai perfume, because Shanghai was very glamorous in the 1920s. Ralph Lauren has said that he’d never been to aFrica, but if he had he would probably never have designed the clothes he had. His clothes were about an imagined destination rather than the true destination.

Another way glamour establishes mystery is often something in the past that we imagine went on. The silhouette is a glamorous trope. We can’t see a man’s face. Mad Men, for instance, is set in the imaginary 1960s where everything is hyped and his a very specific setting. No one is schlubby — everyone is dressed perfectly. [The 1950s and 1960s are particularly well-utilised in fiction for conveying the glamour of the perfect home with the aproned wife and blonde, blue-eyed children, even though this was a very unusual and temporary time in history.]

mad men silhouette

A future can also provide a glamorous setting: The final frontier. Star Trek fans find the setting glamorous. One of the things it represents is the glamour of an ideal workplace. People can picture themselves as themselves being valued for their contributions in a perfect meritocracy. But glamorous ideas of the future were very prevalent in the 20th C up to the 1970s. Modernity and the future were intertwined and glamour was one way people figured out what this whole modern thing was about. They got their ideas from advertisements and movies, not from manifestos, though there were plenty of those. What is this glamorous future that we’re all headed toward? What is glamour in the present that may be removed from me? What do rich people have now that will someday be available to me? (American fridges eventually became available to British people.)

The difference between glamour and charisma

These terms are often conflated.

Glamour is a response to a stimulus and depends on the longing of the audience. There is always mystery. When we get to know somebody, their glamour disappears, along with the mystery.

Charisma is a personal characteristic like intelligence. A house cannot be charismatic. Nor can a city be charismatic. A person owns that, and is often much  more open. It does not require any mystery. You might know everything about Bill Clinton and still find him charismatic. Charismatic inspires loyalty. You want to be liked by the charismatic person. You cannot perceive charisma in a still photograph. One of the results of that is that when a charismatic person dies, the charisma dies with them. Andrew Jackson (seventh president of the US) is an example like this. Joan of Arc, on the other hand, has glamour. Regardless of what she was really like, her story lives on. The audience projects all sorts of things onto her.

The formula for creating glamour

  • bring out the best
  • conceal the worst
  • leave something to the imagination

But good luck with this, because it really depends on the imagination and longing of the audience.



What do you most want for your next birthday/Christmas/gift-giving occasion? According to the definition above, would you say this desired item includes an element of glamour? (Find an advertisement for that product — it might help you out.)

I recently had a birthday and bought an Apple Mac. Apple is very good at selling glamour, especially by pitching itself in opposition to the nerdy and staid and functional PC.


Do you resist glamour or embrace it?

I had been resisting this purchase, I’ll admit, partly because it’s such a cliche. I thought they were a bit overpriced [though I’ve revised that opinion now] and I was determined to avoid the cliche of glamour and ‘go in manual’ by building my own PC. In the end, the hardware — especially the screen — convinced me that I was better off just buying an Apple Mac.

Do you think your parents have a different idea of glamour? Where do your parents get their glamour fix? What about your grandparents?

My mother loves to change the furniture around in her house, and prioritises the purchase of new furniture. My father likes to work in the garden, creating the kind of space  you’d find in a Homes and Gardens magazine. They both like to visit open homes in their spare time, and twice they have made (what seemed to me like) impulse purchases of new houses after visiting an open day on the weekend. They especially like to visit houses which have not yet been finished — they might have the foundation down and the wooden frame up, but they like to step inside and imagine what the house could be, and how they would decorate it.

I have different interests — a brief tour of our house would tell you that we are functional people. The TV is positioned for best viewing (no reflection from window) rather than for best aesthetics. You’ll find cords everywhere, because we preference fast Internet and easy accessibility of gadgets over hiding tech equipment away. Rather than furnish our living room with expensive chairs (which we got rid of), we watch TV on a mattress which can be moved away to play Kinect games.

Do you and your friends agree on what’s glamorous and what’s not? Which words do you use to describe the idea of glamour?

My friends definitely enjoy dressing up more than I do, and will look forward to occasions which require makeup and high heels. I have a more unusual take — if I can’t go somewhere in either gumboots, jandals or sneakers, I tend to feel inconvenienced! I do share a love of Pinterest with many of my friends, however, and I suspect the huge success of Pinterest can be found in its imaginary glamour. Without even going to the shop to buy containers and labels, you can imagine you’ve reorganised your life. Until you turn away from the screen, this is a very cathartic feeling. Even just organising pins onto boards gives the user a sense of purpose.



See also: It’s Like They Know Us Tumblr, featuring glamorous stock photos and sarcastic captions