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Vintage Treasures: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Sunday, July 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

We Have Always Lived in the Castle-small We Have Always Lived in the Castle back-small

It’s been at least 25 years since I read Shirley Jackson’s classic We Have Always Lived in the Castle. But it’s the kind of book that sticks in your mind.

I won’t say much about the plot, other than that it deals with the three surviving members of the Blackwood family: Merricat, a practicing witch, her elder sister Constance, who has not left their home for six years, and their deranged Uncle Julian. All three live in a large house, far from the neighboring village. Not so very long ago there were seven members of the family — until someone put a fatal dose of arsenic in the sugar bowl one night. Constance was acquitted of the murders and returned home, where her sister Merricat protects her from the sneers and curiosity of the townspeople. Their days pass in quiet isolation… until a new danger appears, in the shape of their mysterious cousin Charles.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of the most famous examples of “Southern Gothic,” and one of works that made Shirley Jackson famous. It was published three years before her death. There have been over a dozen editions, but my favorite is the 1963 paperback above, with the gorgeous and spooky cover by William Teason. You can usually find copies available online for under $10.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published in hardcover by The Viking Press in 1962, and reprinted in paperback by Popular Library in October 1963. The paperback is 173 pages, priced at sixty cents.

11 Comments »

  1. Fantastic book. I tend to think The Haunting of Hill House is more of a shocker book than this one, comparitavely, but We Have Always Lived in the Castle definitely has a slow creepiness to it I’ve rarely seen done as well in other fiction.

    I actually had the paperback version of the cover above, but unfortunately I accidentally sold it a few years ago. Dumb me.

    Comment by Ty Johnston - July 19, 2015 3:25 pm

  2. I don’t think I’ve read it in 25 years either. Thanks for bringing it up. It’s a splendidly haunting story with a mesmerizing narrator.

    I think I’ll pick it up and give it a read during my vacation from Black Gate.

    Comment by Fletcher Vredenburgh - July 19, 2015 3:25 pm

  3. > I actually had the paperback version of the cover above, but unfortunately I accidentally sold it a few years ago.

    Aargh. How do you accidentally sell something?

    Comment by John ONeill - July 19, 2015 5:58 pm

  4. > It’s a splendidly haunting story with a mesmerizing narrator.

    I started reading it again today, and realized I remembered even less of it than I thought.

    > I think I’ll pick it up and give it a read during my vacation from Black Gate.

    Love to hear your thoughts if you have time to do a review.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 19, 2015 5:59 pm

  5. Glad to.

    Comment by Fletcher Vredenburgh - July 20, 2015 12:45 am

  6. Has anyone ever notice the similarity in plot with this, and the 1968 B horror movie Spider Baby?

    Comment by theblackhatclub - July 20, 2015 2:23 am

  7. > Aargh. How do you accidentally sell something?

    It accidentally got mixed in with a box of books sold to a used books tore. Believe me, I’ve kicked myself more than once for that few bucks.

    Comment by Ty Johnston - July 20, 2015 7:58 am

  8. > Has anyone ever notice the similarity in plot with this, and the 1968 B horror movie Spider Baby?

    I’m sorry to say I’m not familiar with “Spider Baby.” Anyone else?

    Comment by John ONeill - July 20, 2015 10:37 am

  9. > It accidentally got mixed in with a box of books sold to a used books tore.

    Ouch!

    Ah well… at least someone else got to enjoy it!

    Comment by John ONeill - July 20, 2015 10:38 am

  10. I read this for the first time a couple of years ago in an anthology. I think it was the two volume anthology that Peter Straub edited for New American Library.

    For my money, Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is her absolutely best one. I still use that story in teaching my introductory ethics courses.

    Comment by James McGlothlin - July 20, 2015 11:14 am

  11. […] O’Neill posted a short piece on this book earlier this summer. It provided the impetus to discover if the book held up for me, […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson - September 15, 2015 10:50 am


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