Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle

1995 was my Shirley Jackson year. I read six books by Jackson and two about her. Previously I'd only known her through "Charles" and "The Lottery"--school fare.

I have my doubts that --at least since adulthood--I've ever read as much by a single author in the same year as I did with Jackson. '95 would have been the 30th anniversary of her death; perhaps a publisher's marketing push was behind my absorption in all things Jacksonian.

I remember first reading about Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons in the late, much mourned A Common Reader (and ordering them as quickly as possible); I bought an omnibus of her novels that year from QPBC. I remember the delight in stumbling upon old copies of her work on the shelves at the main branch of the public library that had somehow evaded making their presence known via the new electronic catalog.

I loaned Life Among the Savages to an English major friend down the street and was told on its return that she much preferred the Erma Bombeck style to anything this literary. Slap. I made no more overtures to share my love of Jackson after that.

I thought I had reread Jackson over the years, but this reading must have been in little snatches here and there, nothing complete, for other than spotting The Road Through the Wall on my 1998 list, they all show as Jackson-free years.

So I'm particularly glad that I chose We Have Always Loved in the Castle as my fourth read for the 15/15/15 project. It has been a pleasure to reaquaint myself with Merrikat and Constance and their dear uncle Julian.

"A family gathering for the evening meal," Uncle Julian said, caressing his words. "Never supposing it was to be our last."

"Arsenic in the sugar," Mrs. Wright said, carried away, hopelessly lost to all decorum.

"I used that sugar." Uncle Julian shook his finger at her. "I used that sugar myself, on my blackberries. Luckily," and he smiled blandly, "fate intervened. Some of us, that day, she led inexorably through the gates of death. Some of us, innocent and unsuspecting, took, unwillingly, that one last step to oblivion. Some of us took very little sugar."

"I never touch berries," Constance said; she looked directly at Mrs. Wright and said soberly, "I rarely take sugar on anything. Even now."

"It counted strongly against her at the trial," Uncle Julian said. "That she used no sugar, I mean. But my niece has never cared for berries. Even as a child it was her custom to refuse berries."


  1. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the first time over 30 years ago. Each time I read it I am deliciously frightened@

  2. Anonymous6:03 PM

    I am still awaiting my Shirley Jackson year, but I crave its arrival. :-) Your post has only whetted my appetite.

  3. Anonymous6:45 PM

    I've never seen that cover...the No Trespassing sign gives it a bit of a cartoonish feel.

  4. I love Shirley Jackson. Were the biographies worth reading?

  5. I think my Shirley Jackson year was maybe '89 or '90.
    Possibly '91. It was after I read Oppenheimer's biography of her. Castle is my favorite novel of hers, and second favorite is Hangsaman.

    I probably would've recoiled in horror at that person's comment about Bombeck and Jackson. Maybe not. Definitely a WTF? look.

  6. Jackson is such a gem. I read this one for the first time a couple years ago and like it quite a lot. One of these days I'll get around to the biographies.

  7. I thought I'd read this. But the bits you quote don't ring a bell, so I'll have to turn up my old copy and see if I just wasn't paying attention to the bits you were.

  8. I loved this novella years ago. You've made me want to re-read it ASAP! I also remember an odd but enjoyable movie based on it.

  9. I love that phrase, "my Shirley Jackson year!" Mine was back in 1974-75. I've never read a biography of her, though.

    Your review is great! I'm definitely going to have to reread Jackson's books soon!


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