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Book I: Prussian Yarns

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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Prussian Yarns tells the struggle of Otto von Goff, a young man in 19th century Prussia, to be master of his own destiny against the conventions of society, the dictates of his family, and the strictures of his conscience.  Forced by his father into the military, a career for which he is particularly unsuited, Otto attempts to rise above his misery with a combination of humour, ingenuity, and rebellion.  Most of Otto’s efforts to expand his world outside the military mindset fail, and worse, even the efforts which do bring him some measure of relief make his overall situation worse.

When Otto meets Hildegard von Puttkamer there is a mutual attraction, each seeing the other as the key to making all of his and her dreams come true.  Her shyness and quietness is such a contrast from the other girls that he is fascinated by her.  He is infatuated with her delicate prettiness, and entranced by the way she remembers what he says.  Hildegard is an heiress, giving Otto an honourable way out of the military, since he would be expected to run her affairs for her if they married.

Hildegard, as a timid and frail personality, sees in Otto’s gentle and amiable nature a man who could take care of her without terrorizing her.  When he smiles at her she falls hopelessly in love.  Each being desperate to ensure their escape from their personal torments before anyone can stop them, they marry in 1846, as quickly as their families will allow, which is before either has had time to get to know the other properly.

The phrase "marry in haste, repent at leisure" has rarely held more truth.  The death of Hildegard's father, Friedrich, while Otto and Hildegard are on their honeymoon, does not automatically make Otto into the master of the estate, Schönwald.  Instead Otto is plunged into a court battle with Friedrich's cousin, Berthold von Puttkamer, who challenges Friedrich's Will, believing that he should have inherited Schönwald, convinced that Otto had influenced Friedrich in order to get Schönwald away from the von Puttkamer family, and determined to wrest the inheritance back for his son.  Instead of the supportive companion he had imagined Hildegard would be, Otto finds himself married to a woman he can neither talk with nor sleep with.  He is regarded as a usurper and interloper by Hildegard's family and treated without respect by the von Puttkamer servants.  To top it all off, his dream of having a large family can never come true, since he and Hildegard only manage to have one daughter, Luise, who was born in 1850.

Otto quickly realises that Friedrich had mismanaged Schönwald almost to insolvency.  He pays no attention to what's happening inside the house, putting all of his efforts into bringing Schönwald back to prosperity, even when the only way to do so is to make changes that upset everyone; the workers, his wife, his mother-in-law and even his own family.

After her marriage, Hildegard's life continues to be controlled by her mother and her nanny.  Her marriage was not her escape after all.  The gentleness in Otto that she had found endearing, she now despises as weakness.  Her inability to have more than one child causes her unbearable agony.  She views the changes Otto makes in the way the estate of Schönwald is run as sinful, and sees her cousin's attempts to take control of Schönwald as being a return to the way things "should" be.  That her one child is a girl is such a disappointment to Hildegard that she is unable to have any affection for Luise and feels tormented by the sight of her.  Otto's easy, affectionate relationship with Luise is more than inexplicable to Hildegard; it's indecent in her eyes.

Otto reacts to his disappointments by reaching out from himself, broadening his horizons, having a humorous attitude, and relentlessly seeking new ways to make his dreams come true.  Luise becomes son, daughter, and companion to him.  Hildegard reacts to her disappointments by turning inward, taking medications, becoming steadily more and more despairing, and blaming Otto for her dreams not coming true.  Luise becomes a constant reminder to her of what she sees as her failure as a woman.  She grows progressively more neurotic.  The delicate prettiness and quietness of her youth turns gradually to a sharp featured drawn look of disapproval and her voice becomes shrill.

Against this background, Prussian Yarns opens as Otto discovers that the death of his mother-in-law, Clothild, has not set him free any more than the death of Friedrich did.  After more than 13 years, he is again facing a court fight with the von Puttkamers to prevent them from taking Schönwald from his little family, while the von Puttkamer servants continue to treat him as an interloper and usurper.  Hildegard is prostrate with grief over the death of her mother.

During the span of Prussian Yarns, February to September 1860, Otto strives to be recognised as the master of Schönwald, battling not only his in-laws in court, and the servants loyal to them at Schönwald, but also the local customs.  Slowly over the years some of the people in the village, on the land, and in the household have come to see that Otto's ways have brought them more prosperity, and that he treats them better than Friedrich did.  This leaves Schönwald in three factions: those who are loyal to the von Puttkamers, those who are loyal to Otto, and those who don't care who runs the estate as long as they can live where they've always lived and support their families.

A dilemma arises for Otto when he realises that in order to control Schönwald, he must rid Schönwald of the von Puttkamer servants.  Servants in 19th century Prussian estates were not easily put off their ancestral lands.  Many came from families that had not only been at Schönwald longer than Otto had been alive; they'd been at Schönwald before the von Puttkamers had arrived.  The people of the land could only be driven out for extremely serious wrongdoing.

It is fortunate for Otto that the three he feels he has to remove are not people of the land, but even so, if a number of the senior staff are put off the estate at the same time, Otto risks alienating those who are loyal to him, and even those who are neutral.  It's common knowledge that here have been riots in Prussian villages, and refusal to work in the houses and on the land where the people have been disaffected with Lords of the Manor.  Otto has no doubt that the von Puttkamer staff would be willing to foment as much disruption as it would take to get rid of him.  He can't risk giving them reason.

Over and above his need to save Schönwald without destroying it in the process, is Otto's ethical dilemma.  In order to take care of Hildegard, the actions he needs to take put her fragile mental health at risk.  He cannot provide for his family without Schönwald, he cannot keep Schönwald without getting rid of the von Puttkamers, yet if he strips away from Hildegard all of the familiar people she depends on before she has had a chance to recover from the loss of her mother, there is a danger he'll destroy what he is trying to save, his family.

What will he do?  Will he win against Berthold and have uncontested control of Schönwald?  Or will Berthold win and put the little family out?  Will Otto be able to win over the von Puttkamer faithful family retainers, or will he have to get rid of them?  If he gets rid of them, will the other people then rise up against him?  Even Otto wins and deals with the faction that is against him, how can he run Schönwald smoothly when his wife is a significant member of that faction?  At what cost would he achieve his dreams?

What will happen to Schönwald if Berthold wins?  What will happen to Berthold if he doesn't?  What will happen to Schönwald if Otto wins?  What will happen to the people and to Otto's family if he doesn't?

The subplots underlying the main plot of Prussian Yarns are the stories of the people who live and work at Schönwald: the von Puttkamer faithful family retainers; those loyal to Otto; and those who don't care who wins as long as they still have bread on the table.  This gives the story more than an Upstairs, Downstairs texture, there is also the aspect of the villagers.  The story is told of the workers and masters alike, all dependent on the outcome of the battle for Schönwald.  These are the yarns, or stories, that are the Prussian "yarns".

There is Amalie, who had been placed in an orphanage at the age of eight when her mother died, who grew up wanting to be a teacher to help children like herself, and ended up as Luise's governess.  She is the first person to stand her ground against the nanny, Frau Blücher.

There is Cosima, born of the unlikely union between the household cook and the head stableman, born a little too soon after her parents married, determined to make something of herself.  Sullen and clumsy in the beginning, by the time the book closes Cosima has learned how to work "upstairs" and has formed a plan for her future.  No matter how hard-done-by she feels from having been born from scandal and despised by Frau Blücher and her minions, Cosima feels that Luise's lot is worse, and does what she can to help and support her.  As part of her plan, Cosima wants to learn to read and write, even though both of her parents are illiterate.  To avoid embarrassing them, she needs to learn in secret.

There is Emma, an illiterate Hungarian nomad who had gone to Vienna to earn a living, was hired by Otto's sister and ended up in Prussia working in the Schönwald kitchens temporarily, who ends up married to the Schönwald stableman and becomes the household cook, the "backbone" of Schönwald.  When her health wavers, the entire household is affected.

There is Ernst, Otto's valet, who has a talent for finding out what's going on and letting Otto know.  He's as fastidious as Otto is relaxed. He's as formal as Otto is casual.  They irritate each other, yet Ernst is devoted to Otto, who has given him a job and a position far above the station in life he was born into.

There is Frau Blücher who had kept Hildegard alive when she was an unwanted, premature baby, and can't let go.  She will do anything, risk anything to keep her "little lamb" safe and happy.  She fights Otto tooth and nail, convinced that he's a wicked man who tricked Friedrich out of Schönwald, and who is bringing Schönwald to ruin.  She is convinced that having Berthold in charge is the only way to save Schönwald, and does everything she can to help his cause.  She believes that it's her sole responsibility to see to it that the household is run properly after Clothild's death.

There is Frau Klemperer, the elderly governess, who is past it, but is terrified of anyone finding out she can't keep up with Luise, in case someone realises she's doing no work and drawing a full salary.  She is completely under Frau Blücher's thumb.

There is Frau Hess, the elderly housekeeper who has been unable to fulfil her responsibilities for years.  The household has been in such a habit of working around her and protecting her that she doesn't realise she isn't making any decisions or keeping track of anything any more.  Her deficiencies don't become apparent until Clothild dies.  Frail and bewildered, she thinks whatever Frau Blücher tells her she thinks.

There is Frau Hiestand, Clothild's personal maid.  Born to the personal maid of Clothild's mother, she's a little slow.  She was raised with Clothild and has always been protected by her.  Clothild's death leaves her utterly bereft.  She's under Frau Blücher's thumb.

There is Helmuth, the head stableman, who was widowed with three small boys, and got involved with Emma, which was scandal enough, but then he married her and fathered two daughters on her.  He is from the von Puttkamer staff, but although he voices constant disapproval of Otto's "modern" ways to Otto, he supports Otto completely in every argument with other staff.  He's ashamed of his behaviour in seducing Emma, and views everything that happens to be a punishment from God for his sins.  He breakfasts in the house kitchen every morning, ignoring the disapproval of the household that the stableman is in the house, though he takes all of his other meals in the stable kitchen where he belongs.  He's dour, grumbling and complaining about everything.  Only to the horses is he gentle and kind.

There is Kirsten, who was found on the orphanage doorstep as a baby, who is taken in by Otto to be a companion for Luise, and who is despised by Hildegard and the von Puttkamer staff.  As she blossoms under Amalie's care, her puzzling family likeness to Otto's family is noticed.

There is Kurt, Helmuth's son and heir, who keeps his counsel, but in his actions is supportive of his step-mother, Emma, and willing to help in whatever way he can to rid Schönwald of those who tormented his step-mother and half-sisters.

There is Luise, the heiress.  Mistreated and neglected by Frau Blücher and Frau Klemperer, ignored by her mother, she has affection only from Clothild, Otto, and Emma.  It's not until Clothild dies that Otto realises how things are for Luise in the nursery, since it was not a man's place to have anything to do what went on in the nursery.  Realising that Hildegard was never going to do anything about Luise's situation, Otto brings Kirsten into the house as Luise's companion/maid, and hires Amalie.  Under Frau Blücher and Frau Klemperer Luise ran wild, off on the fields with her dog and her pony.  Under Amalie, Luise is not only better cared for, she is better supervised, and disciplined instead of being bullied and mistreated.  Luise is only too pleased to help Cosima, who has helped her out of many a scrape.  She comes to love Kirsten, but maintains her friendships with Cosima and the other young maids close to her age.

There is Scharnhorst, the butler, who is from the von Puttkamer household, but somehow manages to have the respect of all factions without falling in with any of them.  No one knows whether he supports Otto, or Berthold, or is neutral.

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