Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Cardiff BookTalk is delighted to invite you to our first event of the 2020–21 semester, on Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Following the dreadful and sensational poisoning that killed the rest of the Blackwood family, Merricat lives with her beloved sister Constance, their invalid Uncle Julian and Jonas the cat in their isolated family estate in Vermont. They spend their days taking tea, teasing and fussing over each other, while Merricat keeps the suspicious and increasingly hostile villagers at bay with her ‘safeguards’ – the old book nailed to a tree in the pines, or the doll buried in the long field. She would like nothing to ever change. Change, however, is coming to the Blackwoods in the form of their Cousin Charles, who has designs on both Constance and the contents of the family safe.

Told from the viewpoint of one of the least reliable narrators in fiction, Shirley Jackson’s final novel upends the traditional haunted house of the horror genre with an enigmatic and ambivalent story that combines the tradition of the Gothic with psychological suspense and dark comedy.

A complex and contradictory figure, Jackson’s activities as a writer spanned magazine fiction, the then-emerging genre of confessional journalism and the novel. Her books combine uneasy personal and sociological insight with a sharp and sometimes sceptical view of the supernatural. Her novel The Haunting of Hill House has been filmed multiple times, most recently as a radically re-imagined serialisation for Netflix, and a recent biopic, Shirley, casts the author as the protagonist in a weird Jackson-esque mystery. Authors such as Stephen King, Donna Tartt and Neil Gaiman have named her as a key influence.

To guide us in our thinking about We Have Always Lived in the Castle, we have the great privilege of welcoming three expert speakers to begin our discussion:

Shelley Ingram (University of Louisiana) is a professor of folklore and literature and will explore fairy tales and food in relation to We Have Always Lived in The Castle.

Robert Lloyd (Cardiff University) is the author of a doctoral thesis examining spectral modalities of subjectivity in the writing of Shirley Jackson.

Joan Passey (University of Bristol) specialises in Victorian and twentieth-century Gothic, the Cornish Gothic, and embryonic ideas of ocean pollution in the nineteenth century.

Each of our speakers will present a 10-15 minute talk, and then there is an opportunity for audience questions and discussion. To make the most of the session, you may like to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Further recommended writings by Jackson include The Haunting of Hill House, The Sundial, Hangsaman and her short story collection The Lottery.

The event is free and open to all. Book your place via Eventbrite at the link below:

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