Hildegard von Goff is the lady of the manor, the Gutsherrin,
but she does none of the work of a Gutsherrin. She suffers
from a variety of ailments, including agoraphobia and
anorexia, neither of which had been identified or named in
As a young girl she had been completely dependent on her old
nanny, Frau Blücher. As a grown woman, Hildegard was still
unable to function without Frau Blücher. Without her there
to tell Hildegard what to do, she felt frozen, unable to do
anything. The knowledge that she is not doing what Frau
Blücher would expect her to do only makes it worse, adding
to her feelings of uselessness and helplessness.
Despairing, all Hildegard wants to do is remain in her
rooms, and wipe the world away with her potions which give
her blessed relief from a terrifying reality. She resists
her husband's demands that she eat, get up, get dressed,
leave her rooms, and open her drapes. She does not see them
as the same requests that Frau Blücher would make of her.
They are not understood as attempts to save her life, but as
cruel and unreasonable.
By September 1860 Hildegard has lost in the space of nine
months all of the mainstays of her life. Her mother died on
New Year's Day, the governess, Frau Klemperer, was sent
packing in March, the old housekeeper, Frau Hess, was taken
to join Frau Klemperer in May, and Frau Blücher was fired in
Of the four, the loss of Frau Blücher has hit her the
hardest. The loss of her mother has left her in the
petrifying position of having to fulfil her own
responsibilities, which was hard enough, but the loss of
Frau Blücher left her utterly bereft.
Because she doesn’t eat she’s becoming literally starved,
which adds to her desire to stay in her bed, which adds to
She is afraid of having strange people in her rooms. She is
not even all that happy with Katya, who is there to minister
to Philomele, her servant, or with Marta who delivers her
food. An inadvertent comment from Marta convinces Hildegard
that there are bandits in the house, and she frantically
tries to keep the house free of the bandits.
Hildegard does not know that Philomele is secretly writing
to Frau Blücher, but when she secretly receives instructions
from her to get up and dressed, to eat and to plan a garden
party, she does so. The trouble is that the potions Frau
Blücher sends to her are too strong and make her frantic.
The bat at the garden party undoes it all, and Hildegard
falls back into herself, withdrawing from everything and