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Book II: A Stitch in Time

First Trilogy
All Manor of Yarns

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Hardcover
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 I.

Prussian Yarns

II.

A Stitch in Time

III.

Tinctures & Tantrums

Second Trilogy
The Snow Queen and
The Caterpillar

IV.

There is a Season

V.

 Viennese Yarns

VI.

Orchids

Third Trilogy
Taffeta Tales

VII.

British Yarns

VIII.

Polish Yarns

IX.

Threads of Strife

Favourites Writers
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Lorraine Stanton
Vicki Wootton
Shalanna Collins
 
There are any number of books dealing with how women juggle the responsibilities of earning a living with house and home, and raising their children, but few about how men caught in the same pinch.  If it's unusual to find a book about how a twenty-first century man could cope with being a single parent, raising a child, running a house, and earning a living all at the same time, then a story about a nineteenth century man in that situation is virtually unheard of.

Otto von Goff doesn’t know how he’s to be everything to everyone on his estate of Schönwald.  The year is 1860, a time when houses and children were women’s work; the place is Prussia, that bastion of stern patriarchy.  Otto’s wife, Hildegard is mentally ill, unable to run her house or raise her child.  Far from being a helpmate to Otto, she is more of a burden to him than is their daughter, Luise.

The Cobden Treaty has been drawn up, Free Trade is affecting Europe, and Otto knows he must take advantage of the coming changes or else he’ll be victimised by them.  To this end he draws up an agreement with a French trader, Jean Beaulieu whereby Otto can send his cattle to France for sale.  While Otto and Jean are inventing the international trade agreement, Jean and three of his sons stay at Schönwald.

Being closeted away with Jean Beaulieu renders Otto out of touch with his household.  With neither Hildegard nor Otto at the helm, the household starts to come undone.  There is dissension in the kitchens, the housekeeping books have been tampered with, and Hildegard is wasting away. 

Unable to appear to be doing “women’s work,” Otto lets things in the house slide, hoping everything will turn out all right in the end.  He knows he has good people working in his household, and trusts that will be enough to keep everything running smoothly inside the household while he spends weeks hammering out the trade agreement.  After all, he has left Schönwald for months on end in the past, and the place was always in good shape when he returned.

What Otto fails to realise is that he keeps close tabs on his stables and his land.  When he’s away from Schönwald for any length of time, he hires a bailiff to run the estate, and the house was always run by his mother-in-law who has now passed away.  Untrained in running the complex entity of one of the great manor houses of the nineteenth century Prussian estates, and inexperienced in doing so, he doesn’t notice that he’s virtually ignoring the needs of the household and his child, while keeping an eye on the stables and the land.

While the staff are too busy preparing the house and the estate for winter to notice, Luise sneaks out each day to play with Jean Beaulieu’s young sons.  It is innocent play, their crime is that all three of them are being deceitful in order to be able to play together. 

In his efforts to force Hildegard to leave her rooms, Otto persuades her to have a garden party while he and Jean Beaulieu are away from Schönwald for a few days to get legal advice on their agreement and to have it notarised.  Luise and the two French boys catch a bat and let it go at the garden party in order to rescue Luise from having to attend it.

At first Otto is amused at stories of bats breaking up the garden party, but when he finds out Luise had deceived him he is devastated.  He cannot forgive Luise for deceiving him while he was working so hard for her sake.  It takes him a long time to come to terms with the fact that he would have done the same thing at her age if he’d had the opportunity, and even longer to realise that if he had taken care of the problem of her loneliness when he first knew about it, it would not have reached that point.

Otto’s relationship with his daughter, although repaired, will never be the same.  It is in many ways a healthier relationship, based more on reality and less on illusion, but they both miss the innocence of the relationship they once had.  Otto learns to run the household without appearing to do “women’s work” and faces the fact that he’s never going to be able to make Hildegard get better. 

Despite the fact that Otto makes every effort to take care of his wife, he has to come to terms with the reality that she will never be normal.  The medical science of the time did not have a diagnosis of her problems, much less effective treatment.  All he can do is pray, and keep her out of sight, regretting that he had not to applied the principle of “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” to Hildegard’s behaviour when they were first married, before it had reached the point of no return.

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