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We Have Always Lived in the Castle (original 1962; edition 1984)

by Shirley Jackson

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2,6821432,211 (4.06)467
Member:ellenflorman
Title:We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Authors:Shirley Jackson
Info:Penguin Books (1984), Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:sisters, murder

Work details

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962)

Recently added byPigletto, LolaWalser, private library, JennyArch, proustitute, margarita.gakis, -sunny-, rudidorn
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    citygirl: Castle is much darker and Flavia is more adorable than creepy (Merricat is quite creepy), but if you're interested in unusual young protagonists, with a very particular world view, try these.
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» See also 467 mentions

English (141)  Italian (2)  All languages (143)
Showing 1-5 of 141 (next | show all)
You couldn't find a reliable narrator in this book for love or money, so eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine Blackwood - Merricat - seems as good a choice as any of the other characters (though it would be fascinating to have multiple perspectives; most of the facts emerge, but not the why of the facts).

Merricat and Constance and Uncle Julian live in the Blackwood house, the only survivors after the rest of the family died from arsenic poisoning. Constance, it emerges, was put on trial for the murder, but was acquitted, and the reader suspects from the beginning that Merricat is the true poisoner. The three of them live a tightly circumscribed but serene life together, happy except for Merricat's twice-weekly trips to the village.

Cousin Charles Blackwood arrives one day to interrupt their peace. His twin goals seem to be (1) to get his hands on the family fortune, which he is convinced is in the safe, by way of (2) marrying(?) "Connie." He and Merricat become enemies at once, but when none of Merricat's protections cause him to leave, she takes more drastic action (no, not poisoning).

The end of the short novel sees Merricat and Constance still living in the Blackwood house, even more isolated than they were before - just how they like it.

The reader is left with several questions: Why did Merricat poison her family? Was Constance merely agoraphobic and protective of her younger sister, or is there more to it than that? Is the family fortune really in the safe, or is it elsewhere? Do the villagers hate the Blackwoods as much as Merricat thinks they do? Why does Uncle Julian say that Merricat is dead? Nevertheless, this book is satisfying for its aura of creepiness (aided by its super-creepy cover design).

Quotes

"I really think I shall commence chapter forty-four," he said, patting his hands together. "I shall commence, I think, with a slight exaggeration and go on from there into an outright lie." (Uncle Julian, 62)

"Jonas is asleep in the lettuce," I said.
"There is nothing I like more than cat fur in my salad," Constance said amiably. (83)

I sat very quietly, listening to what she had almost said. (84)

...and I said aloud to Constance, "I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die."
Constance stirred, and the leaves rustled. "The way you did before?" she asked.
It had never been spoken of between us, not once in six years.
"Yes," I said after a minute. "the way I did before." (110)

"I put it in the sugar."
"I know. I knew then."
"You never used sugar."
"No."
"So I put it in the sugar."
Constance sighed. "Merricat," she said, "we'll never talk about it again. Never." (130) ( )
  JennyArch | Jul 18, 2014 |
From the first line I was really wrapped up in this book. What had happened that night that all the Blackwood's died save for Constance, Mary Katherine and Uncle Julian? Were they all crazy? was any of one them sane? What was going on with the people in the village?
This was a real intellectual thriller, in my opinion. No supernatural tricks here - just people being people and what they can and will do to each other. A fascinating read. ( )
  margarita.gakis | Jul 17, 2014 |
Simple-minded Mary Katherine and her agoraphobic sister Constance and their senile Uncle Julien have lived an isolated life in a large old house since the death (murder?) of the girls' parents. They are tormented and despised by the community, but are in a steady state until a cousin arrives to disturb the balance and move the plot along. This is a marvelous tale in which the three disturbed and possibly murderous individuals are the heroes and the sane cousin and "normal" townspeople are the cruel and unnatural antagonists. ( )
  gbelik | Jul 12, 2014 |
Shirley Jackson's final novel is short but powerful: We Have Always Lived in the Castle is full of suspense and highlights the intricacies of family and isolation in a small town. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
The remainder of the Blackwood family is odd, no doubt about it. Insular, hermit-like, sisters Constance and Mary Katherine and their elderly uncle Julian have withdrawn from society, with good reason, after the shocking death by poisoning of the rest of the family six years ago. Constance was acquitted of the murder, but the townsfolk still blame her, and she no longer leaves the house except to go into her garden. Mary Catherine (or Merricat, as she’s known within the family) runs the errands, reluctantly, but out of necessity and the desire to protect her sister. Whispers and stares follow Merricat when she comes into the village twice a week for necessities; children taunt her with a cruel nursery rhyme; certain bullying adults make a point of taunting her more directly. Merricat has her own way of dealing with this unpleasantness: she imagines virtually everyone she encounters as dead and takes pleasure in this internal vision of bodies strewn about the village or across her doorstep. Mary spends a lot of time alone and in her head, creating magical charms and engaging in secret rituals to protect herself and her sister from the world.

One day, despite all Mary’s efforts, their cousin Charles appears at their doorstep. He is a disruption and a threat to their future peace, and Mary resolves to make him go away. Her attempts to rid them and their house of Charles’ presence end in catastrophe and set the stage for the disquieting and eerie finale.

I imagine volumes can be (and have been) written about this short book’s themes, subtext and symbolism; Mary Catherine’s and Constance’s respective pathologies; and the archetypes represented by each character, major and minor. I have no intention of delving into that morass of scholarship and analysis. All I want to say is this: Shirley Jackson has never failed to astonish me with the quiet terror and creeping unease she imbues in every page, every paragraph, of everything she wrote. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is no different. ( )
3 vote avanta7 | May 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 141 (next | show all)
Of the precocious children and adolescents of mid-twentieth-century American fiction ... none is more memorable than eighteen-year-old "Merricat" of Shirley Jackson's masterpiece of Gothic suspense We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).
 

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shirley Jacksonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Franzén, TorkelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Pascal Covici
First words
My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
Quotations
Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The quiet, isolated life of the Blackwoods--eighteen-year-old Merricat; her older sister, Constance, who may have poisoned their parents six years ago; and their wheelchair-bound uncle--is disrupted by the arrival of a cousin pursuing the family fortune.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143039970, Paperback)

Visitors call seldom at Blackwood House. Taking tea at the scene of a multiple poisoning, with a suspected murderess as one's host, is a perilous business. For a start, the talk tends to turn to arsenic. "It happened in this very room, and we still have our dinner in here every night," explains Uncle Julian, continually rehearsing the details of the fatal family meal. "My sister made these this morning," says Merricat, politely proffering a plate of rum cakes, fresh from the poisoner's kitchen. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson's 1962 novel, is full of a macabre and sinister humor, and Merricat herself, its amiable narrator, is one of the great unhinged heroines of literature. "What place would be better for us than this?" she asks, of the neat, secluded realm she shares with her uncle and with her beloved older sister, Constance. "Who wants us, outside? The world is full of terrible people." Merricat has developed an idiosyncratic system of rules and protective magic, burying talismanic objects beneath the family estate, nailing them to trees, ritually revisiting them. She has made "a powerful taut web which never loosened, but held fast to guard us" against the distrust and hostility of neighboring villagers.

Or so she believes. But at last the magic fails. A stranger arrives--cousin Charles, with his eye on the Blackwood fortune. He disturbs the sisters' careful habits, installing himself at the head of the family table, unearthing Merricat's treasures, talking privately to Constance about "normal lives" and "boy friends." Unable to drive him away by either polite or occult means, Merricat adopts more desperate methods. The result is crisis and tragedy, the revelation of a terrible secret, the convergence of the villagers upon the house, and a spectacular unleashing of collective spite.

The sisters are propelled further into seclusion and solipsism, abandoning "time and the orderly pattern of our old days" in favor of an ever-narrowing circuit of ritual and shadow. They have themselves become talismans, to be alternately demonized and propitiated, darkly, with gifts. Jackson's novel emerges less as a study in eccentricity and more--like some of her other fictions--as a powerful critique of the anxious, ruthless processes involved in the maintenance of normality itself. "Poor strangers," says Merricat contentedly at last, studying trespassers from the darkness behind the barricaded Blackwood windows. "They have so much to be afraid of." --Sarah Waters

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:42 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate.

(summary from another edition)

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