by sof sears, natalie waite, & shirley jackson

        contextualizing hangsaman

18-year-old Paula Jean Welden was last seen wearing a red coat on the evening of December 1st, 1946. She was a freshman at Bennington College, in Bennington, Vermont. She told friends she was going for a walk up on the Long Trail, a popular hiking route in the area. She was never seen again.

Intertextuality: references within one text that gesture at, allude to, another. The dialogue that blooms from citation, implicit or explicit, from one story’s edges bleeding into another. Shirley Jackson lived in Bennington at the time, and her husband worked as a professor at the college. She was rumored to have been inspired by Welden’s disappearance, and the unresolvedness of it, in writing her 1953
novel Hangsaman. There is no hard proof, necessarily, that this is the case—in fact, she sort of denied it. But this subtext lingers, impressed into the novel with her elusive hand, bloodtracks marking the pages. Paula is all over it, is threaded through the narrative’s disjunction and resistance to closure; Paula is there in the way that all missing girls subvert and simultaneously propel narrative—we expect Natalie to disappear, too, because we know this plotline well. When she doesn’t—when she seems, against all expectations, to make it out of the woods intact, out of a stranger’s car intact, we briefly glimpse what could’ve been, should’ve been, of Paula, too.