Eleanor and Theodora return up the path to the House where they meet Luke. Introductions are made and they jovially discuss the Dudleys. Luke says Dr. Montague is inside gloating over his haunted house, a term which Theodora says no longer sounds as funny now that dark is falling.
Inside all four of them stand in the entrance hall; the house “steadied and located them, above them the hills slept watchfully” (41).
Dr. Montague smiles and welcomes them and they toast with martinis. Theodora makes a joke about spirits and Eleanor comments that it just doesn't seem real that they’re all here now.
The group is in a small room with a high ceiling. There is a fire in the fireplace but the room is not particularly comfortable; it is chilly and the chairs are rounded and slippery. Eleanor looks at the others. Theodora reminds her of a cat, Dr. Montague is rosy and bearded, and Luke is restless and bright. Eleanor feels happy to be part of this group.
They joke amongst each other, deliberately interchanging their identities and making up new ones. Luke is a bullfighter. Theodora is a lord’s daughter dressed in a poor girl’s clothes. Dr. Montague is a pilgrim and a wanderer. Eleanor is an artist’s model who lives a mad life.
Theodora wanders around the room that Dr. Montague explains will be their center of operations. Tomorrow, he says, will be when they explore the rest of the house together. It is time for dinner and Theodora despairs as to where the dining room might be. Dr. Montague had looked at a map and lists the ways to turn.
As they walk, the Doctor tells them more, saying that some rooms are inside other rooms with no windows. All is dark and silent as they walk. The doors are shut and Eleanor suggests propping them open.
Inside the dining room, there is light and delicious food, which surprises and pleases them. Eleanor asks why the Dudleys work here and Theodora jokes that she is the actual heir of the house and will wait until all the Sandersons, including Luke, die off in horrible ways.
After a moment, Eleanor asks why they are actually here, and Theodora quickly jumps in as well. She pesters the Doctor about what will happen. The Doctor replies that he knows a bit about the house and will tell them tomorrow; the house will be quiet tonight because there is a sort of pattern to these things. Luke responds that they ought to talk about it tonight. Eleanor adds that they’re not afraid.
Dr. Montague sighs and says what if he told them and they decided not to stay? The gates are locked and Hill House has a reputation for “insistent hospitality; it seemingly dislikes letting its guests get away” (48). Eight years ago, one guest tried to leave, but his horse bolted and he crashed into the big tree. Everyone says they will not run away, so the Doctor finally relents.
The mood is actually somewhat cozy now; dinner has settled them and they have begun to recognize each other’s mannerisms, voices, and laughter. The Doctor begins by saying he wasn’t sure how to tell them about the house, as writing about it would not do. He urges them to be cautious when they talk about things like “ghosts” or “apparitions” – to be precise in their language. He says that in reality they should be ignorant and receptive, but knows they will never consent to it.
Standing and moving by the fireplace, the Doctor seems to adopt a classroom pose. He begins with mentioning houses described in Leviticus and Hades, and the idea that some houses being perceived as unclean or forbidden or sacred is as old as man. Hill House has been unfit for human habitation for more than twenty years, but it is unknown if that is because of those who built it or if it was evil from the start. It is disturbed, leprous, sick; however, it is hard to label exactly what is wrong with it.
Dr. Montague first heard about Hill House a year ago from a former tenant who would only say it ought to be burned down. The Doctor spoke to others who never stayed longer than a few days and only gave vague reasons why. He looked into the newspaper records and learned of a scandal (Theodora is delighted to hear this) and how the local people have no doubts whatsoever of it being haunted. He decided to rent it, contacted Mrs. Sanderson, and sent out his invitations.
Dr. Montague gestures to the rest of them, mentioning that Theodora has some telepathic ability and Eleanor was involved in poltergeist phenomena. Eleanor cuts in with surprise, and the Doctor reminds her of the stones. She is a bit puzzled and says she thought the neighbors did it.
Theodora interjects and asks what is actually here. The Doctor replies that he cannot put a name to it and doesn't know. Eleanor interjects, fervently telling the Doctor that she did not know what was going on with the stones. Luke then interrupts her and states that they just want facts about the house.
The Doctor asks first if they plan to leave – should they pack up now? All of them say they are fine, even if they were scared earlier. Eleanor is surprised to hear herself say that she doesn’t think they could leave now even if they wanted to. Hastily, she adds that Mrs. Dudley would never forgive them.
The Doctor calls for more brandy and says he will tell the story of Hill House. It was built eighty years ago by a man named Hugh Crain; it was to be a country home for children and grandchildren. Sadly, his young wife died minutes before she set eyes on the house when her carriage overturned in the driveway. Crain, sad and bitter, was left with two small daughters. The second Mrs. Crain died of a fall and the third died of consumption. The little girls lived in the house with a governess while their father was away in Europe with the third wife. After her death he vowed to close the house, stay abroad, and send the girls to a cousin.
The girls grew to adulthood and quarreled over the house. The house was empty for a few years, but when the younger sister prepared to marry, it was decided that the house would go to the elder. She came back to live here and lived in near seclusion. She did care for Hill House and saw it as her family home. This “Old Miss Crain” brought a young village girl to live there as her companion. The sisters were never amicable and continued to fight. The younger sister wanted some of the jewels, furniture, and antique dishes.
Old Miss Crain died of pneumonia in the house. Sordid stories of a doctor called too late, the companion not hearing because of a dalliance in the garden, swirled about. Most, though, concerned the vengefulness of the younger sister.
After the elder sister’s death, there was a lawsuit. The companion stated that the house was left to her, but the younger sister and husband maintained it was theirs. This unpleasantness went on for a long time. Once in court, the companion accused the younger sister of sneaking in and stealing things, but was nervous in her accusations. The younger sister accused the companion of neglect and the murder of her mistress. The companion finally won her case and the house was legally hers.
However, the sister was not satisfied. She continually persecuted the woman with threats and accusations. The village was surprisingly on the side of the sister and ostracized the companion. She eventually killed herself, the Doctor states. Eleanor interjects in shock, “She had to kill herself?” (58). He nods, and says she seemed to think there was no other way out of the persecution and had no weapons to fight back. She was hated to death, and was said to have hung herself in the tower turret. The house passed to the Sandersons, her cousins. When they showed up to look at the house the younger sister was there, screaming at them, and was carted off to the police. That was the end of her badgering, but she nursed her grievances until the end of her life. The one thing she maintained until the end, though, was that she had not come into the house and stolen anything. The Sandersons put the house up on the market to buy or rent and it has been there ever since.
Eleanor muses on the sad story of the two young girls living here and Luke marvels at this old house with everything untouched and unused. Eleanor adds that it is waiting, and the Doctor agrees. He says the house is evil and has enchained people and destroyed their lives. Tomorrow they will see it all.
They sit before the fire, all thinking. Eleanor looks at her red shoes and smiles at them. She thinks to herself that she has red shoes, sleeps on her left side, saves buttons, etc. The Doctor asks if they play bridge, which annoys Theodora. He and Luke decide to take up chess and Theodora sulks that she didn’t expect to play games.
The Doctor steps back in with a chess set and says they never ought to go anywhere in the house by themselves. When Eleanor asks what happens, he firmly says it was just his imagination.
Eleanor sits by Theodora, who complains about how at home there would be lights, people, and things to do. Eleanor apologetically says she does not need those things because she had to stay with Mother and could only play solitaire or listen to the radio; she didn’t even like reading because she had to read love stories to her Mother for two hours a day. Theodora takes her hand and apologizes for being selfish.
Theodora asks about Eleanor, who obediently tells her about selling the house, not getting much money, and coming to Hill House. She in turn asks about Theodora’s apartment, which Theodora describes. Eleanor asks if Theodore is married, and Theodora pauses, laughs quickly, and says no.
When Theodora asks about Eleanor’s apartment, she says it is small and she is working on furnishing it. She wants white curtains. She has a white cat, books, and records, and wants things just right. She once had a cup with stars on the bottom and wants to find it again.
The men finish up their game and decide to head to bed. They make their way through the dark halls and up the stairs. They tell each other the colors of their rooms and say goodnight.
Alone in her room, Eleanor marvels at how soft the bed is. Resting in it, she thinks about the others and knows that they saw she was scared. She hastily jumps up, locks her door, and pulls up the quilt.
She sleeps securely. Theodora sleeps next door with the light on. Luke sleeps with a flashlight next to his bed. The Doctor stays up late reading Pamela. The house “brooded, settling and stirring with a movement that was almost like a shudder” (67). Close to morning, a fine rain begins.
In the third chapter, Eleanor and Theodora meet their host, Dr. Montague, and Luke Sanderson, the eventual heir of Hill House. Dr. Montague is a paternal figure, bearded and gently authoritative. He and Luke are not as vivid presences as the two women, however, and readers have very little entry into their thoughts and motivations. Generally, it seems as if they are what they seem – Dr. Montague is a scholar and is used to being in charge, and Luke is a charming albeit roguish young man here for the adventure.
Jackson does give readers a lot to ponder with the history of Hill House and its ill-fated inhabitants. Via Dr. Montague’s narration to his guests, some possible interpretations of the house’s flummoxing structure and disturbing atmosphere arise. First, there is Hugh Crain, a wealthy but depressed and bitter man. Later in the text, readers garner more information about him: he deliberately tried to make Hill House strange and unique, he gloried in his own power and paternalism (evidenced by the marble statue), and he had perhaps an inappropriate fixation on his daughters, his youngest in particular, in terms of their religiosity and purity (evidenced by the book he made for Sophia that creepily uses lurid and graphic imagery to enforce a puritanical zeal for rectitude). Hugh Crain, a “morbid, obsessive patriarch” in the words of Christina Sylka, seems to have created a house that oppresses women: his three wives die, his daughters feud and obsess over the house, Old Miss Crain’s companion hangs herself, and Eleanor will also fall prey to its grim power. Scholar Richard Pascal notes the house during its formative period was “primarily the domain of an unbalanced and powerful male figure, an emanation of his bizarre psyche.” Later, after finding the strange book that is a “form of psychological ravishment” and “fearmongering,” in which father promises daughter they will be together in eternal bliss, Theodora labels Crain a “dirty old man” (126).
Even more powerful than the paternal, though, is the maternal nature of the house. Mothers figure prominently in the text both in their presence and absence. While Eleanor’s experience is the most complex, even Luke bemoans never having a mother and the two young Crain girls grew up without one as well. Further analyses will delve further into what is happening with Eleanor and her mother fixation, but even as early as this point in the novel it is clear to see that the house has an almost suffocating maternal embrace. Dr. Montague warns of its “insistent hospitality” (48) and in its dark, close, warm, and silent environs there is almost a womblike feeling.
The oppressive paternal and maternal forces at work in the house created, Pascal writes, “two adored but psychologically abused Crain children who grew up to be quarrelsome, selfish adults, each of whom insisted having the family mansion all to herself… that is why the nature of the haunt that stalks Eleanor and Theodora in the night [Chapter 4] seems both parental and childish.”
Jackson creates parallels between Eleanor and both the elder sister and the companion. When Dr. Montague narrates how the younger sister married first, readers are reminded how Carrie Vance married and had her own family, leaving Eleanor with the task of caring for their mother. Eleanor is what older generations would label a “spinster,” just as Old Miss Crain was. Most of Eleanor’s fantasies up to this point center on her having her own home to decorate and care for as she pleases; there is no man, no child. Eleanor also seems to identify with the companion, whose death she will come close to mimicking later on.
After the Doctor provides his background information about the house and the characters settle in for relaxation and games, Eleanor’s particular personality quirks/flaws begin to manifest themselves. She is very critical of Theodora’s boredom and selfishness (though that’s not off-base; Theodora is selfish). She is fixated on defining herself – who she is, what she likes, etc. – but she vacillates wildly and quickly between admiring herself and reverting to self-criticism (she is proud of her red shoes, but then despises how dirty her fingernails are). She realizes, “People like answering questions about themselves” (63), but exhibits disconcerting responses to those questions and even to the others’ more open-ended comments. When Theodora complains about there being nothing to do at Hill House, Eleanor goes on a relatively lengthy musing about what life was like taking care of her mother, but then wonders “even if I wanted to tell; why am I talking?” (62). This propensity to say things she does not mean or her inability to understand why she is saying them will be a repeated issue for Eleanor throughout the text. Even more egregiously, Eleanor flat-out lies to Theodora about her life outside Hill House. She concocts her ideal life for Theodora, detailing her apartment, curtains, books, records, and white cat. She takes the little girl’s cup of stars and makes it her own, saying she once had one and is looking for one again. These lies are understandable given the lackluster nature of Eleanor’s life to this point, and perhaps she is merely embarrassed in front of Theodora; however, these lies are compounded by other lies, obfuscations, and strange ruminations as Eleanor continues to reside in Hill House.