The Daemon Lover: Man? Devil? Or Imaginary Friend?

I started listening to the short stories of Shirley Jackson for Shirley Jackson Reading Week. The first story, The Intoxicated, I don’t have much to say about: teenagers be morbid! The Daemon Lover though. What is going on there?

In The Daemon Lover, the protagonist is preparing for her wedding day, choosing just what to wear- nothing “too young” because she’s a granny of 34 years old. She waits and waits and waits, but he never arrives. She decides to go hunting for him using the vague clues he’s left about himself. She believes his name is James Harris, though no one she asks has heard of him. Her search becomes more and more desperate, ending in her stalking an empty apartment for weeks after.

I have a lot of questions. Did she sleep with this guy and that’s why she’s anxious to marry him? Or is she afraid of becoming a spinster? Is James Harris even real?

Right from the beginning, I knew this guy wasn’t going to show up. I used to date a guy who wouldn’t show up when he said he would and this made me livid. It’s so disrespectful. (If I was me now, I would dump his ass so fast!) So, I can’t imagine the emotions of someone waiting for a guy to show up on her wedding day and he never shows. If he even exists, that is.

Is James Harris real? The Daemon Lover shares a name with a Scottish ballad, also known as James Harris. In this tale, a woman is tempted away from her family by her former lover, who turns out to be the devil. So, did the lover in Jackson’s story use this alias as a joke? Is he a heartless cad? Maybe he really was the devil. Or it could be that the lady has concocted this fantasy of being swept off her feet by a stranger to add some spice to her life.

In Shirley Jackson’s time, a spinster of 34 was an object of ridicule or pity. No one takes the lady seriously during her search. She’s laughed at or told whatever they think she wants to hear to be rid of her. It bothered me how callously the people treat her. Of course, I don’t know what kind of picture she made. Did she have the look of a madwoman about her?

cat lady
Excuse me, have you seen James Harris?

To someone living now, her reaction seems a bit much. I would have given up after visiting his friends' apartment. At that time maybe people expected a woman to freak out like this, what with women having hysteria and Wondering Womb and whatnot. A woman needs a man to keep her senses intact by ironing his clothes and making sandwiches. What did Shirley Jackson think about single women, really? This isn’t her only single lady: Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House, and Aunt Fanny from The Sundial comes to mind. They both have some issues and neither is a free wheeling bachelorette.  

You tell em, Bachelorette Lady!

The Daemon Lover says a lot about unmarried women in 1948. You got to get married before you dry up or lose your mind! She also seems quite naive for a 34 year old. I had a hard time seeing someone of that age falling for this scam. Maybe it was wishful thinking on her part. What was she going to do if she found him?

It’s interesting that you can come up with any conclusion that you like for The Daemon Lover. If you’ve read it, what did you think?


  1. Maybe she's got a Miss Havisham thing going on.

  2. I've not read that short story. It sounds oddly fascinating though. I guess being 34 and unmarried is a real sin in those days. Can you even imagine?

  3. I haven't read it but I just read Shirley Jackson's book Hangsaman, which also seemed to be dealing with gender norms and society yet was totally incomprehensible to me. UNLOCK YOUR SECRETS SHIRLEY JACKSON.

    1. I never know what she is getting at, what she thinks. She's a mystery!

  4. Man, this sounds so crazy! I've never read any Shirley Jackson but I'm keen to pick something up now... I love weird books. :P Great review!

    1. Shirley Jackson is the weirdest! You'll love her!


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