Authors: Susan Hill

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Enclosure, 1961

Do Me a Favour, 1963

Gentleman and Ladies, 1968

A Change for the Better, 1969

I’m the King of the Castle, 1970

Strange Meeting, 1971

The Bird of Night, 1972

In the Springtime of the Year, 1974

The Woman in Black, 1983

Air and Angels, 1991

The Mist in the Mirror, 1992

Mrs. de Winter, 1993

The Service of Clouds, 1999

Short Fiction:

The Albatross, and Other Stories, 1971

The Custodian, 1972

A Bit of Singing and Dancing, and Other Stories, 1973

Radio Plays:

The Cold Country, and Other Plays for Radio, 1975

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Go Away, Bad Dreams!, 1984

Can It Be True?, 1988

The Glass Angels, 1991

Beware, Beware, 1993

King of Kings, 1993

Backyard Bedtime, 2001

Stuart at the Fun House, 2001

Stuart at the Library, 2001

Stuart Hides Out, 2001

Stuart Sets Sail, 2001

Nonfiction:

The Magic Apple Tree, 1982

The Lighting of the Lamps, 1986

Family, 1989 (autobiography)

Edited Texts:

Contemporary Women’s Short Stories: An Anthology, 1995

The Walker Book of Ghost Stories, 2000

Biography

Susan Elizabeth Hill is a critically acclaimed English novelist and short-story writer whose production first reached its peak in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Her simply drawn novels examine the lives of small, sometimes eccentric people, who look for life and warmth in their often icy and sterile lives.{$I[AN]9810001214}{$I[A]Hill, Susan}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Hill, Susan}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Hill, Susan}{$I[tim]1942;Hill, Susan}

Born in 1942 to R. H. and Doris Hill in Scarborough, a working-class town on the east coast of England, Hill attended grammar school in Scarborough and Coventry and graduated with honors in English from King’s College, University of London, in 1963. Following her graduation, Hill reviewed books for the Coventry Evening Telegraph until 1969, when she became a full-time writer, reviewer, and broadcaster. In 1975, she married the Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells. They had a daughter and lived in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and Oxfordshire.

Between 1961 and 1975, Hill published eight novels, three books of short stories, and one collection of radio plays. Her work was recognized by her receiving the Somerset Maugham Award (1971), the Whitbread Literary Award (1972), and the Rhys Memorial Prize (1972). In the late 1970’s, she decided that she would write no more novels. She considered the novel on which she was working inferior to her previous work, and she was enjoying marriage and motherhood. She considered giving up writing altogether for a while but remained active as a broadcaster and critic. Eventually, she returned to writing with a book exploring life in the Oxfordshire countryside and an autobiographical work entitled Family. In 1983, she returned to fiction with a thriller, The Woman in Black. She also focused on writing children’s books and book reviews. Hill returned to adult novels in the 1990’s with Air and Angels, a romance; The Mist in the Mirror, a gothic mystery; Mrs. de Winter, a sequel to Daphne du Maurier’s best-seller Rebecca (1938); and The Service of Clouds.

Hill’s novels are deceptively simple; they examine human emotions, especially “the need for human compassion.” Virginia Stirling, protagonist of The Enclosure, feels her love cooling for her theater-director husband, and she pulls selfishly away from him. In Gentleman and Ladies the spinster Alida Thorne selfishly commits her mother to a rest home. The older woman thrives there, but when Alida brings her home for a holiday, she declines and dies. A similar situation occurs in A Change for the Better, in which Deirdre Fount attempts to free herself from her mother and the small drapery shop they run. She finally decides to take her son on holiday; her son, however, wants to go with his own friends, not with her. Thus Deirdre, who has rejected her mother for her son, is herself rejected. In I’m the King of the Castle, Charles Kingshaw cannot find love and acceptance in the family of Hooper, a man Charles’s mother wants to marry. Hooper’s son Edmund, fearing that he will lose his position as “king of the castle,” terrorizes Charles. With his mother concentrating on her marriage schemes, Charles escapes from an intolerable situation by drowning himself.

In the later novels Hill’s characters seem to have more success finding love and compassion. In Strange Meeting, John Hilliard meets David Barton on the battlefield of World War I, and a deep friendship develops. Upon Barton’s death there, an isolated Hilliard takes up Barton’s avocations. Barton’s family even takes him in, and the emotionally cold Hilliard gradually adopts Barton’s optimism and openness. In one of Hill’s best novels, The Bird of Night, Harvey Lawson finds intimacy in his relationship with the brilliant poet Francis Croft, who is dependent on him. When Francis goes insane and dies, Harvey cannot recover the happiness that their love had produced. Ruth grieves over her husband in In the Springtime of the Yearand does not gain solace through her uncaring relatives, but when she returns to the woods where her husband was killed, she finds renewal and compassion as she watches a small group of children burying a dead bird. The stories in A Bit of Singing and Dancing, and Other Stories continue with Hill’s prevailing theme–love, its loss, and the grief that follows.

Hill’s The Woman in Black is the frightening story of the spirit of a young woman which is denied rest because of the situation revolving around her death and the death of her young child. With the film version of The Woman in Black and the long-running stage production in London’s West End, Hill’s name and works became known to a much wider audience.

Events and emotions in Hill’s tales are developed through the use of “images of ice, winter, sterility, and detachment.” Hill’s concern with emerging from isolation and gaining human warmth has led her to a style of characterization that has gained critical praise. The elderly and frail characters, often women, strive in their own ways to find summer warmth, productivity, and closeness to others, but they usually fail. Death battles against life, lovelessness against love, fear against hope. Hill’s characters live in a depressing, polarized world.

BibliographyCampbell, Ann Gibaldi. “Susan Hill.” In British Short-Fiction Writers, 1945-1980, edited by Dean Baldwin. Vol. 139 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1994. An examination of Hill’s life and short fiction.Cole, Catherine Wells. “Susan Hill.” In British Novelists Since 1960, edited by Jay L. Halio and Graham Martin. Vol. 14 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1983. Covers Hill’s career up to In the Springtime of the Year.Hill, Susan. “Novel and Unwelcome Coincidences.” Spectator, January 18, 1992. Provides insight into the sources of Hill’s works.Jackson, Rosemary. “Cold Enclosures: The Fiction of Susan Hill.” In Twentieth-Century Women Novelists, edited by Thomas F. Staley. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1982. An extensive critical study.Muir, Kenneth. “Susan Hill’s Fiction.” In The Uses of Fiction: Essays on the Modern Novel in Honour of Arnold Kettle, edited by Douglas Jefferson and Graham Martin. Milton Keynes, England: The Open University Press, 1982. Muir assesses the achievement of Hill’s fiction up to her hiatus from writing. Discusses her narrative method, characterization, and themes.Schubert, Maria. “Susan Hill Focusing on Outsiders and Losers.” In English Language and Literature: Positions and Dispositions, edited by James Hogg, Karl Hubmayer, and Dorothea Steiner. Salzburg: University of Salzburg Press, 1990. Schubert discusses the ways in which Hill’s marginalized, often female characters illuminate the main themes of her fiction, especially in Gentleman and Ladies, A Change for the Better, and I’m the King of the Castle.
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