Shirley Jackson’s final completed novel was published in 1962. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a slim gothic novel about Mary Katherine Blackwood, also called Merricat, who lives with her sister Constance, their Uncle Julian, and her cat Jonas, after the rest of the family died by poisoning at dinner. Julian is ill with the lingering effects of the poison, Constance did not eat the affected food (and was tried and acquitted for the murders), and Merricat had been punished by going to bed without supper.
There have been many, many editions of this, my favorite novel, and some of the covers have been…choices. So I have gone through them all and selected the very best (and the very worst) covers for We Have Always Lived in the Castle, categorized by who — or what — the cover depicts.
Keep reading to see the best and worst cats, castles, sisters, and more!
The Best and Worst Cats
Best: 1962 Hardcover (First Edition)
This is the GOAT, the OG, the book whose publisher was brave enough to say “The woman who wrote The Haunting of Hill House and ‘The Lottery’ can get away with a horror novel with a cat on the cover!” (Quote is paraphrased*, of course.) Jonas is the real star of the book, and he deserves the attention.
*made up entirely
Also Best: 2020 Thai Edition
There are no bad cat covers. I do make the rules! This one includes the sugar bowl, which is where the poison was hidden, and what appear to be some poisonous berries (which are not mentioned in the book — the sugar was used on blackberries — but I don’t care).
The Best and Worst Castles
Best: 1962 Hardcover Edition
I am not sure why there are two different hardcover editions from 1962, but here we are! This iconic cover shows a castle-like house with gothic towers rising up. The house in the book is never fully described, and while this is unlikely to be quite what Jackson had in mind, it’s got the right vibe.
Worst: 2016 Kindle Edition
This edition cover, on the other hand, seems to have just slapped a stock image of a mansion on the front and called it a day. There’s nothing wrong with the house, it just doesn’t look like the Blackwoods would live there.
Actually, I’m pretty sure this is the house from Jackson’s other isolated family novel, The Sundial.
The Best and Worst Merricats
Best: 1963 Mass Market Paperback
Someday I hope to have a copy of this edition in my collection. It is absolutely iconic, with Merricat behind an oft-repaired fence, her eye peering through a knothole. I truly love everything about it.
Worst (Tie): 1984 Paperback
I don’t really care for the way Merricat looks here (among other things, she is clearly 35 instead of 18) but I do like the design quite a bit. The gate to the Blackwood property is iconic.
Worst (Tie): 1976 Paperback
Much like the previous cover, this one isn’t terrible but isn’t great. I do like that we see Merricat and Jonas in a broken window, and I appreciate the way the glass makes it look like she has cat ears.
If you put Stephen King’s name on it, I’d probably believe it was an edition of Carrie — even though I don’t remember her having a cat.
The Best and Worst Sisters
Best (Tie): 2018 Indonesian Paperback
Possibly a tie-in to Stacey Passon’s film adaptation (which is excellent), possibly just a random clapper board? I love the illustration, whatever that part is supposed to mean. Constance looks contemplative and sad, Merricat looks furious, it’s perfect. I love the specter of the townspeople as shadows behind them.
Best (Tie): 2006 Paperback
This is the most commonly seen cover, at least in the U.S., and it’s terrific. It has everything the Indonesian cover above has, but in black and white and with a sadness in Constance’s face. The townspeople are more clear here, a present threat. Iconic.
Worst (Tie): 2010 Audiobook Edition
Oh dear. I just hate everything about this illustration.
Worst (Tie): 1984 Paperback
This is the version I own, the very first Shirley Jackson I read.
How do you make two mysterious figures behind the curtains look so drab? I don’t know, but they accomplished it.
The Best and Worst Penguins
Best: 2016 Paperback
I love this take on the Penguin Classics orange cover, with added illustrations direct from the book. LOVE!
Worst: 2010 Paperback
There is nothing wrong with this cover. It’s merely boring compared to the other Penguin cover.