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I Lock My Door Upon Myself

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  640 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Originally published in 1990, I Lock My Door Upon Myself is the story of Calla, a beautiful, flame-haired, willful girl living in rural upstate New York in the early years of the 20th century. At 17, Calla is married off to a coarse local farmer. Her chance encounter with an itinerant black water-dowser leads to a passionate, obsessive, and doomed love affair, from which s ...more
Paperback, 108 pages
Published September 1st 2002 by Ontario Review Press (first published December 1st 1990)
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Demetra Stavridou In the Greek edition, it's the painting “I lock the door upon myself” by the Belgian symbolist painter Fernand Khnopff. You may want to check it out.

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Average rating 3.71  · 
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Timothy Urges
Mar 28, 2019 rated it liked it
If this is a dream it is not my dream for how should I know the language in which to dream it.

Passion and penance.
Feb 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-fiction
I believe it was Gore Vidal who once said that the three saddest words in American literature were "Joyce Carol Oates." Although he is always interesting, Vidal is not always right, and fortunately wasn't in this instance. Admittedly, Joyce Carol Oates has no hesitation in tackling somber subjects, making her upstate New York feel at times like Agamemnon's Mycenae.

I Lock My Door Upon Myself is the story of Calla Honeystone, a gaunt, wild redhead who marries an older farmer. She gives birth to th
Michael Hurley
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a haunting novella which, while most of the action takes place in the early 20th century, has a gothic feel appropriate to its setting in the Chautauqua region in western New York State. It's told by the grand daughter of a woman about whom the narrator would have very little direct information other than the fact of Calla's 55 year exile in her married family's home following the climactic event with which the story opens. She could have created many stories from the fragmentary informa ...more
F Ilth
Jan 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sad and pretty little book about a masculine and eccentric woman in early twentieth century america (upstate new york) who in the midst of a marriage done for routine and not out of passion, falls in love with a black man who is a water dowser.

The prose is lyrical and engaging and the book reads very quickly. This is only the second thing I've read by Oates. She has been so prolific I never know what to read by her. I read this because I happened to find it at a thrift store, maybe that is ho
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Another in my Summer of Miserable Victorian Women (the first being a reread of Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly). This one is terse, intriguing, and, like all JCO's novella length work, probably one of the best examples of her enormous talent. Shorter books, Dr. Oates, shorter. Go back to the prose poems, please. Seriously, please. This was one book I could actually finish.
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is probably the most haunting, and possibly deeply honest, novel (novella) about a woman that I have ever read.

Never will I hesitate again to read Joyce Carol Oates. Never.
Michael Beblowski
Jan 29, 2013 rated it liked it
This marks the summer of my re-evaluation of Joyce Carol Oates, an author I once selected during Junior year as the subject of an analytical final essay for high school Honors' English, but as an adult I dismissed her as "the academically accredited V. C. Andrews." Intimidatingly prolific and tinged with gothic horror genre and feminist politics, Joyce Carol Oates, perpetual summer semester author-in-residence at Skidmore College, has an upstate New York following. Gore Vidal once said that "the ...more
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Haunting and evocative. Its dust jacket illustration is of the Belgian symbolist Fernand Khnopff's painting "I Lock My Door upon Myself" (image: )
which is in turn based on Christina Rossetti's poem "Who shall deliver me?"
I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?

(It is curious to me, though, that the trajectory of the book is somewhat different from that of the poem.)

I want to quote t
Sep 19, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A feminist melodrama having much in common with Thomas Hardy. The long, rhythmic sentences are interesting, but the characters here are two dimensional--no skin on the bones, nothing distinctive, merely utilitarian.
Charles Bechtel
Oct 03, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book. I shall confess upfront that I have difficulties reading books by Joyce Carol Oates, beginning with “Them” back in the Seventies. Not sure why, but I rarely get past the midpoints. I finished this book, as I did “Them” and “Bellefleur,” but at least six others I passed on in frustration.

Regarding this book, I have four distinct bones worth picking. (some spoilers.)

1) Because it is the shortest to write about, my complaint lies in the whole of “C
Jason Pettus
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
As I mentioned earlier this summer, I recently moved into a community co-op here in Chicago, and one of the things I'm doing while here is helping one of my housemates edit and publish their latest book of poetry. In it is several pieces inspired by two Joyce Carol Oates books; and so since I've never read Oates myself but have always been curious about her, I thought this would be the perfect excuse to read the two in particular he name-checks in his manuscript, then move my way forward from th ...more
Mar 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in one sitting which is extremely rare for me. There were a couple quotes that really stuck out to me in the book, one relating to the judgment of motherhood and the other related to the passing of time.
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Poetic and impressionistic fable, quite short, somehow demanded too much of me and didn’t resonate.
Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Great novella. Not as strong as some of her others. I liked the tone of the story telling and the character development.
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although there is nothing original about the plot or the characters, the writing is very beautiful in a poetic, lyrical prose and dramatic narrative! Definitely a talented writer!
Imani Love
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novellas
Like so many of her stories, Joyce Carol Oates reminds me what a skill it is to be a story teller— how relentless one must be, how unashamed.

“I Lock the Door Upon Myself” stores the secrets and yearnings of womanhood in 98 pages. A little novella I look forward to passing around the hands of the women in my circle.

Purchased on impulse at The Strand on a sticky day in June.
Stephen Gallup
Seems odd that, to me, the most interesting aspect of this odd story is the fact that it's an imagined construction by the narrator, who's a granddaughter of the main character. This reaction may be due to some very unusual characters being in my own family tree, about whom I have often wondered (and even considered writing).

But this unusual character -- Calla, someone who never fit in, either in her parents' household as a child growing up or in the home of the man to whom she was married -- is
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short JCO novel about the life of the narrators grandmother. Under 100 pages, this gives glimpses into an inter-racial romance between "Calla" and "Tyrell" and the rumours ensuing around their affair.

An ill-fated romance, however, based in a small town called Shaheen in up-state New York. Calla is married to a glutinous and seemingly heartless man, George, so she falls for Tyrell, a black man, bestowing love to her, and the town's rumour mill begins.

I have been on a mission to read as many Joy
Sheila Burke
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
As is to be expected from JCO, this book is brooding and inward-looking. It is the finely wrought tale of a wild child who grows up in the backcountry, bucks all tradition with her fiercely independent and manic, eccentric ways, gets married to an utterly silent farmer, bears him some children, then falls madly in love with an African dowser. Her lover is a mystic and a sage, and they become a spectacle for all the many busy bodies in this parochial Update New York farm community to scoff at and ...more
Jan 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
1st reading 03/05 ****: Oates novella based on C. Rossetti's poem and (Froher?) painting. Story of strange Calla and her husband farmer and her lover, Terrelle the water diviner. Written in small sections and run on sentences, fast-paced, could not put it down. Somewhat confusing/ weird?

2nd reading 02/06 ***: Buzzed through it in about two hours. This time I was reading more for relationships, and those are pretty messed up. The details are there but not arresting. its merits lie in its short ch
Sep 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
As usual, Ms Oates has blown me away with one of her novellas. I still need to read the rest of her Wonderland Quartet, but there are more short books of hers that I have to work through first. I may just have to renew my library copy and read it again a few more times... at 98 pages, it won't take too long. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Ethan Frome, except the denouement was a little more tragic, and the ending (the follow-up with the main character) was in some ways, well... not happier, ...more
Apr 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Joyce Carol Oates fans
Rating: four and one-half stars.

“I Lock My Door upon Myself”, is a captivating novella by Joyce Carol Oates. She is a master at depicting unusual characters housed within a chilling tale. Once again, she does not let us down. Praise to Ms. Oates for a wonderful, intriguing work.

P.S.: An exceprt from Christina Rosesetti’s, “Who Shall Deliver Me”:

I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?
Myself, arch-traitor to myself.

Jan 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What an astounding story, and what fabulous writing! Oates outdid herself with this one.

A married woman in the South has an interracial affair and suffers the consequences, as does her lover. That's all I'm going to reveal about the plot.

However, the writing moves along at a very fast pace; I found it impossible to put down. Set aside a block of hours in which to read through the novel - I suspect you won't be able to put it down either!
Apr 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
In 98 pp, Oates manages yet again to create a memorable character. The novella is poetic, yet still character driven. She uses a peripheral narrator, which makes the story so rich; the narrator must guess at much of her grandmother's story. A satisfying read, and a good novella to study for craftsmanship.
Lorena Drapeau
Jan 28, 2010 rated it liked it
according to my book journal i really liked this book. i have recently tried to read some oates and have not liked any of the books i've picked up. makes me wonder if her books are better read with an ample supply of teenage angst...
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
Read it in one day... That in and of itself says a lot. This book was not what I expected and was devastating and poetic. It left me thoughtful, but not paralyzed like some novels/ novellas having similar themes have done. I sigh with emotion.
Aug 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Devastating in its brevity!
Dec 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
I want to recommend this to P. But I want to make sure it's as good as I remember it before doing so. Sad but not as harsh as JCO can be.
Dec 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Great book! I read it in one day and couldn't stop - it's sort of Allende ish - really magical story.
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure ...more

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