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Characters in Depth:
Minna Müller

First Trilogy
All Manor of Yarns

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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

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Lorraine Stanton
Vicki Wootton
Shalanna Collins
 
Minna Müller was the housekeeper for the manor house of Schönwald.  Only in her thirties, she kept herself severely prim and well groomed in an effort to look old enough to have a position of such authority.

Although she was from a long line of millers, she had worked her way upstairs in previous estate houses during the social upheavals of the 1840s in Prussia.  The political unrest and the poor harvests of the early 1840s had led to an exodus of workers from the land to other Germanic states, to Russia, the Ukraine, and to the New World.  This was followed by the Revolutions of 1848 in several countries including Prussia, which disrupted the system of transportation causing yet more food shortages.  The last straw was anthrax which broke out in 1849 before Prussia had a chance to recover from the previous upheavals.  The number of people who left Prussia between the mid 40s and the early 50s left such a shortage of labour that people ended up working outside of their traditional social situations.

Most of the women who held powerful positions in the great houses of Prussia, such as head nannies and housekeepers, came from the Junker class, with such names as "von Aesch."  For someone with a name like "Müller" to be a housekeeper was not common.  Minna was well aware that she was very fortunate to have been hired for the position of housekeeper of Schönwald, and worked diligently to run the house as well as any manor house could be run.

Minna was quite aware that one of the reasons Otto had hired her had been that she was a distant relative of other people on the estate of Schönwald.  When he had hired the cook, Emma, she had been a foreigner and a stranger, which had caused such disruption for so long that he had vowed never to repeat that mistake.

It had astonished Minna at first that the master of the estate was hiring household staff, but once she became acquainted with the mistress, it all became clear to her.  The lady of the manor, Hildegard, was not capable of hiring staff.  She was not capable of running her house.  She didn't even take any interest in her child, and only left her rooms under duress.

Minna was the housekeeper of a manor house, not only without a trained assistant, but also without a retired housekeeper to turn to for advice, and without a mistress to give instructions.  There were times when she felt overwhelmed.  Her only ally at first was the foreign cook, Emma, who had married Minna's distant cousin. The two women called one another "cousin" because it made them both feel better to have someone nearby who they were related to, even though both of them knew that their kinship was at best distant.

The amount of work and organisation that it took to prepare a house as big as Schönwald for the winter was a daunting task, made more difficult by a dearth of records showing what had been done in previous years.  Without a retired housekeeper, or the mistress, to ask, Minna had no place other than old household accounts to find out what had been done in previous years.  She received some direction and instruction from the old butler, but since he had never controlled the household purse, he did not know what had been spent on winterisation in previous years.

Hildegard had the household books, but she was not using them.  Staff had not been paid, and Minna's request to see the books threw Hildegard into a rage.  Unable to talk to Hildegard about it, Minna had no recourse but to go to Otto.  In any other house the internal workings of it would never have been brought to the notice of the man of the house.  What was worse, Otto had guests in the house at the time, men from France with whom he was drawing up a trade agreement.

So that it didn't seem as if Otto was doing "women's work" to his guests, Minna had to find a time when he was alone to tell him of her dilemma.  Otto did retrieve the books from Hildegard, but he had such a miserable fight with her over it that he told Minna that he never wanted to see or hear of the books again.

What then was Minna to do when she discovered that the books were in such appalling disarray that she could not use them to find out how much the staff needed to be paid, nor even what was spent on winterisation the previous year?  All she could think of was to go to the butler, Scharnhorst.

She was horrified when Scharnhorst insisted that they must take the books to Otto.  He had been very clear that he didn't want to see or hear of the books again.  Scharnhorst insisted, and the two of them make an appointment to see Otto together when he can get away from his guests without looking as if he's doing women's work or neglecting his duties as host.

Taken aback to see both the housekeeper and the butler with the housekeeping books, Otto listened to them, and looked at the mess in the box.  He set them the task of sorting it all out, and was not pleased to hear that the staff had not been paid.

It became clear as the work of sorting out the box and filling in the ledgers with the information on notes and receipts that funds are missing and unaccounted for. Who had stolen from the household accounts?  Or was it just Hildegard spending money she didn't record instead of running her house and paying the staff?

Struggling to keep the house running, and to do the seasonal work, and to do the preserving that should have been Hildegard's responsibility, and to retrain staff who had fallen into bad habits, all while trying to straighten out the muddle of the housekeeping books and make them balance, Minna didn't have time to find answers to the questions.  She discovered that she had, without realising it, become part of Schönwald as if she'd always been there.

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