We Have Always Lived In The Castle – Book Review

A look into the basic plot book and its genre.



We Have Always Lived In The Castle Book Cover

Book: We Have Always Lived In The Castle

Author: Shirely Jackson

Genre: Gothic Horror

Minimal Spoilers


The short novel We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirely Jackson is certainly not one of her works she is most remembered for, such as her short story “The Lottery” and her novel The Haunting of Hill House. However there is a certain pull from Jackson’s last novel – published in 1962, just three years before she passed away – that draws readers into the story.

The main character, Mary Katherine (known the Merricat), narrates the story. In the first paragraph, she introduces herself and her sister, Constance, stating that everyone else in her family is dead. This turns out to be slightly less than true, as their Uncle Julian, who has dementia, is later introduced in the story. The story seems to be set sometime in the 1960s, in a small village in Vermont. Merricat, Constance and Uncle Julian live on their estate castle Blackwood.

The main plotline of We have Always Lived In The Castle (or, for simplicity’s sake, The Castle) focuses on the villagers hatred and fear of the Blackwoods, Constance being implored by some of the village socialites to venture outside the castle grounds, and Merricat desperately trying to hang on to a previous sense of normalcy. Later in the book, another character is introduced – Charles Blackwood, Constance and Merricat’s cousin. Charles initially claims to have come to help the sister’s, but had an ulterior motive instead.

The Castle most closely fits into the gothic horror genre, with its castle haunted by the past, themes of death, a sense of madness and ghosts of the past. What makes The Castle a gothic horror is the mixture between horror and romantic elements. The romantic elements of the book come mostly from thoughts and actions, such as the celebration of nature and imagination, the rejection of social convention, and the idealization of rural life. The horror elements in the book are much more subtle, the looming shadow of the deaths in the family, the suspense of whether Constance will venture outside the castle, the ambition that brings the fear of change, the horror of the fire. All of these subtle horror parts combined with the romantic elements creates the gothic horror that Jackson is known for. 

Overall, The Castle is a shorter book of about 216 pages that is an excellent example of a gothic horror novel. Though it is not necessarily a book Jackson is known for, like The Haunting of Hill House, it is definitely a book for someone interested in or a fan of Shirely Jackson and gothic horror to check out.