We Have Always Lived in a Castle – Shirley Jackson

For the first Jackson book, I chose We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Published 1962). Now I know that this is her last book but this was also the book that most captured my attention.

whaliacIn We Have Always Lived in a Castle, we meet Constance and Mary Katherine Blackwood, sisters who live seemingly peaceful lives in the large Blackwood Manor. The rest of the family with the exception of their father’s younger brother Julian died of arsenic poisoning one night. Julian narrowly escapes death but becomes an invalid living a painful life in the process. All the facts of the case point to Constance and it is implied through Mary Katherine or Merricat’s narration and uncle Julian’s ramblings that Constance although innocent has isolated herself from society choosing to live out her days in seclusion. She is content with Merricat running the errands. Merricat sounds like a typical teenager at first, however, you cannot help but sense that something is off about her. Her mannerisms are wild and untamed, plus she seems to constantly make up her mind to be kinder to uncle Julian. Their uneventful lives are most definitely interrupted by an unannounced visit from their estranged cousin, Charles Blackwood. His motives and indirect clashes with Merricat change their lives forever.

I couldn’t sympathise with Constance as she makes the least attempts at re-integrating into the society 6 years after her trial not to mention her attempts to protect Merricat. I was thoroughly exasperated by Merricat’s psychopathic nature and her  attempts to alienate herself and Constance from the society at large. However, the one point that never failed to surprise me was the depth of darkness and apathy displayed by the Blackwood sisters. The foreword did warn that the themes of isolation, fear and subsequent persecution reflect the anti-semitic feelings of Jackson’s own neighbors towards her and her family. But what bothered me was the manner in which Jackson chose to portray her feeling. Jackson’s penmanship is astounding, her characters were well thought out and the theme is quite disturbing. The only negative is the inadequate motive for the mass homicide, vaguely explained through Julian’s reminisces and Merricat’s musings. This made it hard to understand Constance’s reasons for protecting the identity of the murderer.


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