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AMERICAN/SOUTHERN GOTHIC > Opening thread for WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson

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message 1: by Traveller (last edited Dec 07, 2015 06:08AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Hi everyone.
Opening thread for discussion of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Members can clock in here with pre-reading thoughts and with initial impressions.
Discussion officially opens 8 December, but you can start posting initial thoughts, just no spoilers, please!

Have fun!


Linda Abhors the New GR Design | 269 comments I just read it for the first time in October. Will try to jump in without spoiling. I hate spoiling!


message 3: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
I want to put out a warning not to read past page 2 of the introduction by Lethem, or perhaps save the entire introduction until later.

Perhaps I can post a more general introduction, poached off Wikipedia, that will spoil less of that "viriginal initial approach" that we are trying to go for in our discussions here at 'On Paths'.

Shirley Hardie Jackson (December 14, 1916 – August 8, 1965) was an American author. She was a popular writer in her time, and her work has received increased attention from literary critics in recent years. She influenced Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Nigel Kneale, and Richard Matheson.[1]

She is best known for the short story "The Lottery" (1948), which suggests a secret, sinister underside to bucolic small-town America, and for The Haunting of Hill House (1959), which is widely considered to be one of the best ghost stories ever written. In her critical biography of Jackson, Lenemaja Friedman notes that when "The Lottery" was published in the June 26, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, it received a response that "no New Yorker story had ever received". Hundreds of letters poured in that were characterized by, as Jackson put it, "bewilderment, speculation, and old-fashioned abuse". In the July 22, 1948, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jackson offered the following in response to persistent queries from her readers about her intentions:

Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.

Jackson's husband, the literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, wrote in his preface to a posthumous anthology of her work, "she consistently refused to be interviewed, to explain or promote her work in any fashion, or to take public stands and be the pundit of the Sunday supplements. She believed that her books would speak for her clearly enough over the years." Hyman insisted the darker aspects of Jackson's works were not, as some critics claimed, the product of "personal, even neurotic, fantasies", but that Jackson intended, as "a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb", to mirror humanity's Cold War-era fears.


-From Wikipedia.


message 4: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Linda wrote: "I just read it for the first time in October. Will try to jump in without spoiling. I hate spoiling!"

It would be very nice if you joined the discussion. I'll go a bit faster with this one, plus you can use spoiler tags. :)


message 5: by Traveller (last edited Dec 11, 2015 03:06AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
American/Southern Gothic:

Here is a link to a few examples of Southern Gothic stories: http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/S...

Shirley's stories are thought to be set in New England, so in that sense her work is not SOUTHERN Gothic (which is set in the American South and tend to have certain common characteristics), but they have enough characteristics similar to SG and American Gothic to see it as a sort of hybrid American Gothic.
American Gothic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America...

I will post a bit more on this soon.


message 6: by Amy (Other Amy) (last edited Dec 07, 2015 10:08AM) (new)

Amy (Other Amy) | 715 comments Mod
I am planning on this one, but the library copy that has been sitting on the shelf for two months is suddenly checked out with another person on the waitlist for it, and I am having a heck of a time actually reading this month. I will jump in when I get ahold of a copy/find time to read it.

(I'm thinking of making the reading of introductions a post-book activity at all times. Several I've read lately can't seem to help spoiling.)


message 7: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
No hurry, Amy! As you know, our threads are here to stay. :)


message 8: by Traveller (last edited Dec 08, 2015 06:28AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Did anybody else also feel almost as if the narrator was just being paranoid at first?
At the start it felt a bit to me like a Robert Chambers story, where you're not sure if your narrator is giving you a skewed or even totally fictional version of reality.


Dish Wanderer  (philologistatwork) | 37 comments When the " ancient rites" are mentioned -- the folklorist in me did a little jig. Not to spoil anything but folklore ( including rites) is a very important part of the novel. Just wanted to put this here -- so that readers can think about that :)


Linda Abhors the New GR Design | 269 comments Traveller wrote: "Did anybody else also feel almost as if the narrator was just being paranoid at first?
At the start it felt a bit to me like a Robert Chambers story, where you're not sure if your narrator is givi..."


Exactly, there's an "unheimlich" quality to it....everyone's dancing around something, and just when you think you can put your finger on it, there's a shift. When I read it in October, it was my first read ever, and I had read nothing about it, other than that some of my favorite horror writers cite her as an influence. Still haven't read anything on it. But something's not right with her.


message 11: by Traveller (last edited Dec 08, 2015 09:47AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Exactly, first you wonder if she's simply paranoid, and then when you do catch on that people might really be hostile to the Blackwoods, you start wondering why!

This is a completely vanilla read for me, and it's still the first day - so let's keep the discussion on the first chapter for now, shall we? I'll make some new "spoiler" threads soon. :)

For now, if we do want to refer to specifics from further on, there's always the spoiler tag function.

Nice to see you guys aboard! (And taking note of that, Disha! You sound pretty enthusiastic about the novel. Always nice to see. :) )


Linda Abhors the New GR Design | 269 comments I no longer have the library copy, so will work from memory. In the first chapter, she's walked into town, right?

And there's reference to the fact that the library books have been on the kitchen shelf forever? At first, I thought maybe they were ghosts...I mean, why wouldn't you return them?


message 13: by Traveller (last edited Dec 08, 2015 11:18AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Yes, in Chapter 1, Mary Katherine goes to get groceries in town.


message 14: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Since this thread is where people might come and clock in before they have read much of anything, let's do chapters 2, 3 and 4 in the next thread here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...


message 15: by Traveller (last edited Dec 08, 2015 12:12PM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Linda wrote: "And there's reference to the fact that the library books have been on the kitchen shelf forever? At first, I thought maybe they were ghosts...I mean, why wouldn't you return them? "

Yes, there a continuous undertone reference to some mysterious turning-point...

In Chapter 2 which we can start discussing in more detail in the next thread, Merrikat returns home after her shopping ordeal, and meets Constance in front of the house.


Linda Abhors the New GR Design | 269 comments Traveller wrote: "Yes, in Chapter 1, Mary Katherine goes to get groceries in town."

Well I remember thinking of Jack Nicholson´s OCD character in ¨As Good As It Gets¨ while reading this.....¨You have to walk a certain way, you have to cross here, you have to do this...." It was almost superstition for her


message 17: by Traveller (last edited Dec 08, 2015 07:09PM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Yes, ritualized behavior like that is typical of OCD. Note also, that as the story progresses into the later chapters, she makes use of "special words" to ward off harm or evil.

Perhaps superstition, like crossing yourself etc, is similar to that kind of ritualized behavior - the difference though is, that when you have 'true' OCD, you cannot help yourself doing rituals, it feels compulsive. Hence the "compulsive" in obsessive compulsive syndrome.

The anxiety she has is another symptom of OCD. (or, like I said, is there really an external reason behind it? Dummm dummm DUUUMMMMM! (Enter Jaws/Psycho soundtrack)


Linda Abhors the New GR Design | 269 comments DOOO doo. DOOOOO doo. DOOOO DOOOO, DOOO DOOO, DOOO DOO, DOO DO, DO DO DO DO DO DO DO !


message 19: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
ROFL. Laughing here. :D I'm enjoying the book. The novel is written with the kind of dark humor that reminds me a bit of




message 20: by Yolande (new)

Yolande  (sirus) | 246 comments Has anyone read 'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson? In the Wikipedia page it says that the short story received a mostly negative response and readers were sending hate mail. Apparently it was also banned by the then South African Union.

Sounds very interesting, I would like to read that.


message 21: by Traveller (last edited Dec 11, 2015 02:12AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
I hope it's not illegal for me to do this, but anyway, I saw it here: https://sites.middlebury.edu/individu...

and here: http://fullreads.com/literature/the-l...

An audio version online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuXNy...

These are just quick references and readers are still encouraged to either buy or borrow the actual story - It's widely anthologized in collections of short stories.


message 22: by Yolande (new)

Yolande  (sirus) | 246 comments Traveller wrote: "I hope it's not illegal for me to do this, but anyway, I saw it here: https://sites.middlebury.edu/individu..."

Seems very open source to me, since it's from an .edu site and a 1948 version, thanks!


message 23: by Derek (new)

Derek (derek_broughton) Traveller wrote: "I hope it's not illegal for me to do this, but anyway, I saw it here: https://sites.middlebury.edu/individu... here: http://fullreads.com/literatur..."

It is in some places. Including both the US (where GR is) and (I think) the UK, unless the story is explicitly released under an unrestricted license or copyright has expired. For something published in 1948, that's short enough that it may actually have been published originally in a magazine, it's quite possible that copyright has expired. What often happened is that publications bought the copyright outright, so there's no author's death+50 (or 75) years limit, and then let the copyright expire. So there's all sorts of stories like that that are now in the public domain (check the wonderful collection of authors like Leigh Brackett and Clifford Simak at gutenberg.org).

So, I'd not bothered to get around to getting this book, because I thought I'd read it. Then I thought I hadn't, and must have been getting confused with The Man in the High Castle and The Girl in the High Tower (you can see how this is confusing). Then I actually got a copy and I have! Or at least I've read the beginning of it. So, I thought maybe tor.com had published an excerpt, but not as far as I can see...

Anyway, I'm on it now...


message 24: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
As to The lottery, I didn't find it all that great, but maybe partly because videogames like Fallout new Vegas took that theme and ran with it, so it's become a bit passe for me.

One must remember the year it was published though, and I suppose I can see why it caused an outrage at the time...


message 25: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Thread for Chapters 2, 3 and 4 here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...


message 26: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments Traveller wrote: "I want to put out a warning not to read past page 2 of the introduction by Lethem, or perhaps save the entire introduction until later.

Perhaps I can post a more general introduction, poached off ..."


Thanks for warning, Traveller! I stopped just in time.


message 27: by Saski (last edited Dec 15, 2015 09:56AM) (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments Traveller wrote: "Did anybody else also feel almost as if the narrator was just being paranoid at first?
At the start it felt a bit to me like a Robert Chambers story, where you're not sure if your narrator is givi..."


Exactly! I wanted to shout "Calm down, it's not this bad." But as I finished chap 1, I wasn't so sure. My mother had similar feelings and I was positive she was exaggerating. Then one day she showed a collection of very strange letters they would get periodically. So, I don't know. "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you."


message 28: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Hi Ruth, welcome to the discussion!

I know, right? I can't remember now if you did the Robert W. Chambers stories with us, the King in Yellow - I think you did at least one with us, eh?

...but it feels to me as if Shirley might be ambiguous that way, though perhaps not quite in the same way. In Jackson's story, you're thinking: "This girl is totally paranoid... or... is she?" ...and then you think: It's creepy either way!


message 29: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments Definitely creepy! I did actually end up reading all the Chambers stories, though I didn't chime in much. The one I liked the best wasn't really horror or unreliable (except for the ghostly soldier scene). Maybe I'm just not a horror person.

I'll try to dive into the next section of Castle tonight, if I can stay awake. I want to catch up to you guys. :)


message 30: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
We seem to be doing this story in waves. Luckily it's quite a fast read.

Are you going to do the Bradbury with us? Fahrenheit 451 ?


message 31: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments I'm going to try. It's on the shelf, so I have no excuse, especially if it is, not between early Feb and early March, when I'm traveling. Though it's small; I could take it with me.


message 32: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments Not sure about Finch, though.


message 33: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Ruth wrote: "Not sure about Finch, though."

Nah, you needn't do all the books on the schedule, of course. The Vandermeer is mainly my and Amy's obsession, it seems, though Allen had also expressed a desire to read Finch, I should actually PM him.

The Bradbury will be part of a "banned books" project. I'm just waiting a bit on something before I send out news about that. :)


message 34: by Derek (new)

Derek (derek_broughton) Traveller wrote: "Did anybody else also feel almost as if the narrator was just being paranoid at first?"

Actually, no. She's certainly OCD, and a few other issues, but what kept ringing through my head as I read it was the old line "even paranoids have enemies."

I thought at first that she thought Stella was sympathetic, and so was convinced early on that if she thought Stella was half-decent, then she must be right that everybody else hated her. Later, I suspected that she'd totally understood Stella.

Of course, she's the epitome of 'unreliable', so it's always possible that none of this happened...


message 35: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2524 comments Mod
Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime) wrote: "Traveller wrote: "Did anybody else also feel almost as if the narrator was just being paranoid at first?"

Actually, no. She's certainly OCD, and a few other issues, but what kept ringing through m..."


Yes, well, see the later threads. :)


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