I took an Austen seminar. Learned an appreciation for her, though I can't say I call myself a true fan. This is likely my favorite, if only because I...more I took an Austen seminar. Learned an appreciation for her, though I can't say I call myself a true fan. This is likely my favorite, if only because I took to the heroine everyone seems to hate-- because of her awkward, shy, timid, and quiet nature. Some interesting spins on art and the Cinderlla narrative. (less)
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood... I like my sister Constance... Everyone else in my family is dead." (1)
Although Shirley Jackson is now given...more "My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood... I like my sister Constance... Everyone else in my family is dead." (1)
Although Shirley Jackson is now given her just due as one of the most influential literary voices of the last one-hundred years, and is often described as a literary parent, of sorts, to major, even more modern voices such as Stephen King-- there has never been a voice quite like Jackson's. And her talents are on display, with beautiful, eerie force, and at their height in her last complete novel "We Have Always Lived in the Castle."
Yes, Mary Katherine Blackwood, known affectionately as Merricat, has always lived in the castle. The big, looming mansion on a solitary, secluded estate just outside of town. With a large, wandering fence spanning the outskirts of the property, locked at all times to keep the town out. Always, she has lived with her family away from the world, above. She would like to take this further, as she consistently fantasizes about how life would be "on the moon." When we first meet Mary Katherine, she informs us that her family, aside from her sister Constance, ailing Uncle Julian and her beloved cat Jonas has died. They were victims of a poisoning which happened-- curiously enough-- within their own home away from the world. Arsenic was laid in the family's sugar bowl, claiming the lives of all but Constance, Merricat and Uncle Julian. Constance, the maker of the evening's meal, has been spared any charge and the family continues to live freely, alone.
Merricat is simply put one of the most fascinating narrators (unreliable? Or nothing so simply categorized?) I've ever read. Her direct, often fantastical prose reads more like she is entering adolescence than leaving it (which, in reality, she is); and perhaps that adds even more to her power, that she will not be changed, or swayed, simply by growing up. Once, when Merricat is forced to venture into the town, the commoners, the hated for groceries, we are shown just how powerful her imagination is, and how much she relies on it to help her get through the experience: "I am walking on their bodies, I thought, we are having lunch in the garden and Uncle Julian is wearing his shawl." (10) In fact, the only way she is able to get through the experience of the town is to kill the various residents off-- in her mind.
Her life, so grounded in imagination, also relies on a form of magic, an almost individualized, nature-based witchcraft through which she lives out her own superstitions and rules for protection. Merricat shares many qualities with her beloved feline Jonas-- most notably the later half of her nickname, and that Merricat lives out part of this magical witchcraft by burying various things of meaning and for different meanings throughout the vast Blackwood property. She also takes things of value to different people-- a book of debts from her father, and later on his watch-- and places them elsewhere in nature, such as being nailed to a tree. When the unimaginably hated cousin, Charles Blackwood, first enters their home the sisters share with cat and uncle, it occurs when her father's book Merricat has nailed to the tree has fallen down. The younger Blackwood sister continues to draw on nature to use this magic to expel Charles' unwanted, transparent ways from the house, bringing water, leaves and twigs and branches into his bed. And, later on, quite possibly fire.
Charles' presence in the Blackwood home is, at the very least, problematic for several reasons. Though he is a relation, he is an outsider, who, Uncle Julian consistently reminds, is quite obviously only interested in the Blackwood fortune. Male and dominating (unlike Uncle Julian's male but wounded presence), Charles' mere presence in the house threatens everything-- and he directly threatens to end the life Merricat and Constance have made for themselves.
Just like her cat, Merricat has buried things around the property. Possessions of people she has loved. Part of Jackson's brilliance leaves the reader with constant speculation of what else, what people, Merricat may have had buried, as well. And why. Though everyone else in her family has died, Merricat barely mentions her feelings on this, or what she thinks of the memory of her parents, and the others. Perhaps the most telling glimpse into Merricat's psyche happens when she retreats one night to the family's summerhouse, which has not been used in years, and recreates a vision of her family sitting down at dinner. A vision which, quite glaringly, appears revised, the hyperbolic opposite of the way things likely, truly were. "'Mary Katherine should have anything she wants, my dear. Our most loved daughter must have anything she likes... Mary Katherine must never be punished. Must never be sent to bed without her dinner. Mary Katherine will never allow herself to do anything inviting punishment.'" (95-96) And so. Jackson leaves the reader to wonder what Mary Katherine has done to invite punishment that led her to be the way that she is, led her to do what she has done. (less)
"Breakfast at Tiffany's," the novella, unfortunately suffers from being less popular than the film it inspired. A film which, while having a good dea...more "Breakfast at Tiffany's," the novella, unfortunately suffers from being less popular than the film it inspired. A film which, while having a good deal of charm, made a romantic comedy out of something that was never intended to be one. Having said that, the novel is an incredibly solid work of poetic, flowing prose on reflection, memory and belonging, as only Truman Capote could write. The characters of the unnamed, undefined writer and his friend the young, hurt and constantly running Holly Golightly are instantly memorable. Holly may not always be likable, but never do we fail to understand the impression she makes on her friend, the writer. Some of Holly's speeches, about loving something wild and being left to look at the sky, are wonderful. I highly recommend this little gem. (less)
Yes, yes, I know. All time great poet, etc. etc. I've had to read this multiple times for many classes, and the blatant, almost proudly flamboyant se...more Yes, yes, I know. All time great poet, etc. etc. I've had to read this multiple times for many classes, and the blatant, almost proudly flamboyant sexism is something I won't excuse. (less)