We Have Always Lived in Whose Castle? (Appendix: Book vs Movie)

Before writing a relatively short post about the book and film versions of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I re-read the book and made copious notes. Spoilers are avoided in the main post but abound here.

In the book:

1. Merricat Blackwood goes shopping in town Tues and Fri, not Tues only. (Why change that?)
2. Merricat has a private "Snakes and Ladders" type game that helps her cope with town visits. ["Crossing the street (lose one turn) came next, to get to the grocery directly opposite. I always hesitated, vulnerable and exposed, on the side of the road while the traffic went by."]
3. Local men in coffee shop: Jim Donell is the town Fire Chief (we don't learn this until the end of the book) and "Dunham" is a carpenter who did some work at the Blackwood estate. Donell wasn't involved romantically with Merricat's older sister Constance. Donell doesn't put out a cigarette in Merricat's coffee.
4. A central (past) incident, referred to throughout the story, is the poisoning of the Blackwood family at the dinner table six years earlier. Constance was accused and acquitted but is still blamed by the townspeople. Merricat had a brother, Thomas, among the murdered family members. Very little is said about him. Julian, uncle of Merricat and Constance, survived and still lives with the two sisters. "Uncle Julian" had a wife, Dorothy, who also died at the table that night.
5. Julian was sickened by the arsenic and shattered by the deaths and became an invalid thereafter. The book doesn't give his age but we assume late '60s. He is depicted as much older and frailer than Crispin Glover's interpretation of him in the film. Glover captures his intermittent sharpness of mind.
6. There is more detail about Julian's original position in the family. He and Dorothy were living under the roof of his brother John (Constance's and Merricat's father, one of the poisoned family members) and he was sensitive about his dependence. This was not helped by John, who kept an eye on how much food they ate at the table.
7. The book Merricat nails to the tree is a small ledger kept by her father of monetary sums owed to him and "people, he thought, who ought to do favors for him."
8. Nosy, pushy people circling around the house calling out for Constance, after the murders, is a regular occurrence. At first the sisters assume Charles is one of these.
9. Merricat doesn't go to town a second time for sugar. She is home with Constance (but upstairs) when Constance invites cousin Charles into the house.
10. Charles' father was Arthur Blackwood, John's brother. Arthur shunned Constance and Merricat after the murders, and Merricat spent time in an orphanage while Constance was on trial. Once Arthur was dead Charles was free to visit the sisters (or so he tells Constance). Charles also tells Constance that Arthur died broke.
11. Charles is hostile and sinister towards Merricat almost immediately. On his second day in the house he says to her (pretending to talk to her cat Jonas): "I wonder if Cousin Mary knows how I get even with people who don't like me?"
12. Merricat is our point of view character so we have to guess at conversations between Charles and Constance held outside her hearing. We know he's obsessed with the Blackwood family fortune, locked in a safe in the house, and that he's attempting to persuade Constance to get outside more and "do something" about the troublesome Merricat and addled Julian. There are no overt scenes of Charles romancing Constance or speaking Italian, as in the movie. That he might have been using sex for persuasion is hinted at near the end of the book. See item 22.
13. Mostly there is no sex; it's all absent, repressed. Charles embodies the threat of maleness to the feminized household but is not a Lothario.
14. The "Merricat should never be punished" scene takes place in the estate's abandoned summerhouse. Merricat imagines the entire family sitting around the dinner table agreeing that she should never be punished. It's a fantasy but also, possibly, in some sense, a flashback. Perhaps Merricat was spoiled as a child, so badly that she never developed a conscience. Jonathan Lethem speculates about this in his afterward to the Penguin edition.
15. Charles keeps insisting that Merricat be punished for pouring water on his bed and spreading dirt and leaves around his room. He never touches her. The scene of him angrily manhandling her on the stairs, and the suggestion that the sisters are flashing back to similar parental abuse, are completely invented in the movie.
16. At the climax, after the fire is out, Donell throws the first rock through a window and the townspeople invade the house, destroying furniture and valuables. The sisters try to escape into the woods; they are surrounded and heckled but not touched. Constance keeps Julian's shawl over her face so no one can see her. The grabbing and manhandling of the sisters never happens in the book.
17. Charles keeps yelling for people to get the safe out of the house. He doesn't try to break into it, as in the movie.
18. No dramatic gunshot stops the heckling. The doctor announces Julian has died. Charles (who seems to have joined the mob) wants to know if "she" killed him. The doctor says it was a heart attack. (Not suicide by smoke inhalation as suggested in the movie.) The mob disperses because a death has occurred.
19. The catalog of destruction to the house goes on for several pages. This is shown in the movie in a series of shots of furniture, dishes, etc being smashed. The book emphasizes the sadistic, systematic thoroughness of the destruction. (Silverware removed from drawers and bent, Constance's harp thrown out a window, etc.)
20. The life of the sisters, post-fire, is very primitive. All their clothes are burned. Constance makes herself a garment out of an old suit of Julian's. She makes a dress for Merricat out of a red and white checked tablecloth. They wall themselves into the house, which becomes overgrown with vines.
21. Charles comes back to the house once. He tries to trick Constance into coming out so his friend can get a photo for the magazines. He is still obsessing about the money in the house. He stands in the driveway yelling but the sisters don't acknowledge him. (In the movie he enters the house, attacks Constance, and is killed by Merricat.)
22. After several years (?) of living as shut-ins, the sisters hear some furtive movements outside the derelict house one night. They muse that their property might have to be renamed Lover's Lane. Merricat cracks, "after Charles, no doubt." Constance replies, "The least Charles could have done was shoot himself through the head in the driveway."
23. The poisoning of the family is never openly explained. There is no subtext of child abuse or sexual abuse, as in the movie. Just hints that patriarch John was a controller and a snob and the family was hidebound in its class assumptions and conventionality. We're left to assume that spoiled child Merricat was starting to find her family disagreeable (12 is pretty old to be sent away from the table without dinner) and planned the murders in a way that spared Constance. The book is a tale of co-dependency: Constance protects Merricat and neither show remorse for the killings. The movie adds motivation of an abusive parent because all Hollywood films must have an abusive parent as a villain.

We Have Always Lived in Whose Castle?

Shirley Jackson's novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), a subtly gothic melodrama unreliably narrated by an 18 year old child-woman, appeals to slightly maladjusted teens (I knew a few who read and loved it at that age) but is also a brilliant comedy of manners about American small town life. 56 years after its publication a film version has been attempted, directed by Stacie Passon. It's worth a watch even though it torques up the melodrama at the expense of the subtlety.

The main change is to make the antagonist, Charles Blackwood, a nastier piece of work. In the movie he openly romances his first cousin Constance and physically grabs and pins down her sister Merricat, the 18 year old, in a moment of anger. In the book, the romance is buried to the point of invisibility and there is no grabbing. As with all Hollywood films today, there is the obligatory suggestion of parental violence or abuse. Jackson depicts John Blackwood, the dead father of Constance and Merricat, as a controller and a snob but not necessarily an abusive monster.

The motive for the book's central crime -- the unsolved poisoning of John and several family members -- isn't explicitly given in book or movie but the film's climactic staircase scene makes the suggestion that Charles' grappling with Merricat has awakened memories of similar behavior by John. it's implied in the reactions and facial expressions of the sisters during Charles' attack; Merricat even yells out "Father! Stop!" It makes the movie seem more powerful but it isn't Jackson's story; in the novel the reader has to decide who the monster is.

Shirley Jackson was a committed wife and stay-at-home mother of four whose feminism came out in her strong, complex writing. Passon's film version is also strong but leans to less complex, woke explanations for the characters' behavior. Possibly it's the only way to get a film made today.

Update: Notes on differences between book and film.

guest DJ set list (May 27, 2021) - Soundtracks 2: '60s-'80s

Thanks to ffog for inviting me to guest-DJ again on his weekly internet radio show, Myocyte.
The mix was "simulcast" on anonradio and tilderadio, and has been archived by anonradio (scroll down to "Ffog - Pleasure & Discomfort Myocyte"). An mp3 version of the mix is here: [1 hr mp3] (The show was broadcast at 1 am on May 28 UTC, which is 8 pm Central, May 27, in the US.)

This was my second soundtracks mix. Part 1 is here. The mix compiles some favorite movie and TV soundtrack excerpts. Most were first heard while watching the film or video and hunted down because they were so ear-grabbing. Some are from soundtrack albums of clips from the films or TV shows.

While the tracks were playing I "announced" via text chat on the #sally and #tilderadio channels on IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Listeners could comment or ask questions. This is an interesting way to DJ, very different from my old FM radio days and a few steps up aesthetically from having everyone's data and souls leeched out on spotify, etc.

Set list and notes for the show:

0:00 Jerry Goldsmith, Where the Bad Guys Are Gals (1967) - In Like Flint

2:38 Vince Guaraldi, You're in Love, Charlie Brown (1968)

5:38 Nelson Riddle, Holy Hole in a Doughnut (1966) - Batman

7:31 Vic Mizzy, Morticia's Theme (1965) - The Addams Family

10:07 Dudley Moore, Bedazzled (1967) - Peter Cook as Satan

12:29 Goblin, The Hunt (1979) - Dawn of the Dead

15:12 Stewart Copeland, West Tulsa Story (1983) - Rumblefish

19:06 Wang Chung, City of the Angels (1985) - To Live and Die in L.A.

24:56 Wendy Carlos, The Light Sailer (1982) - Tron

27:16 Claudio Simonetti, Phemonena, (1985) - Dario Argento film

31:39 Vladimir Cosma, Sentimental Walk (1981) - Diva

35:07 Ryuichi Sakamoto, Father Christmas (1983) - Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

37:10 Frank Zappa, Lucy's Seduction of a Bored Violinist & Postlude (1971) - 200 Motels

41:06 Massimo Morante, Fabio Pignatelli, Claudio Simonetti, Tenebrae (1982) - main title - Dario Argento film

45:20 Gato Barbieri, Return (La Vuelta) (1972) - Last Tango in Paris

48:02 John Barry, Capsule in Space (1967) - You Only Live Twice

50:30 Ennio Morricone, The Shower (Deep Down 2) (1968) - Danger: Diabolik

51:52 John Barry, Fight at Kobe Dock/Helga (1967) - You Only Live Twice

55:48 John Williams, TV Reveals (1978) - Close Encounters of the Third Kind

57:32 John Williams, Roy and Gillian on the Road (1978) - Close Encounters of the Third Kind

58:38 Keith Emerson, Mark's Discovery (1980) - Inferno - Dario Argento film

robot rmx (outline)


This drawing started as a collage of different sections of a spudoogle robot (an animated aggregation of 3D-rendered geometric solids). I wasn't satisfied with my cut-and-paste so I made an outlined version. Possibly this will be further modified with added colors, although these colors of spudoogle's are pretty great.

goodbye, Honey Ramka website

Honey Ramka, the Brooklyn gallery where I had my last couple of shows, took down its website recently.


This must have been tough for all the artists who had had their work so lovingly displayed and carefully documented.
I still appreciate the shows and thanked the gallery for their support. (The physical space closed in 2018.)
The Wayback Machine has the URLs but the pic-loading is sporadic.
I kind of suspected this was coming so I saved all the pages and made my best shot at reconstructing the Pre-Post-Internet show (my last solo).