Set in Prussia in 1860,
the All Manor of Yarns trilogy is a window into a lost world, for
since then the vast estates and little villages of the
northern European plains have been eroded away by the Soviet
collective farm system and Prussia itself has been wiped from
the map. 1860 was unique.
It was one of the very few years in history without a single
active war, revolution, or uprising anywhere in Europe, which
provides a background to answer the question, “What did the
people do in between the wars, revolutions and uprisings we
keep hearing about?”
This is the story that is
never told, the story of ordinary people living what they
considered to be normal life. There are fascinating
differences between the frequently depicted mid-Victorian
British, the Czarist Russians, and the seldom portrayed
pre-Bismarck Prussians of the same time.
In the first book,
Yarns, the protagonist, Otto von Goff, struggles to be
master of his own destiny against the conventions of his
society, the demands of his family, the strictures of the
church, and, at times, the conflicts within his
conscience. The yearning that shapes and steers Otto’s
life is to have his own estate. However, Otto is a
fourth son, without prospects of inheriting any land, nor of
acquiring or earning the means to purchase his own land.
The career his father expects of him is the military, an
appropriate life for a younger son of the Junker class in
nineteenth century Prussia, but one for which Otto is
It appears as if Otto has
made his dreams come true when he marries Hildegard von
Puttkamer, an heiress, and becomes Otto von Goff-Puttkamer,
the Master of Schönwald. Almost immediately
he discovers that the title of Master of Schönwald does not
make him master; not in fact, not of the estate, not of his
own destiny. His
family never forgives him for defying his father, his wife’s
family takes him to court to wrest Schönwald from him, and
the Schönwald residents who remain loyal to his in-laws
oppose him at every turn. By 1860, 13 years
after Otto and Hildegard were married; a faction at Schönwald
has still not accepted Otto as the rightful master. To top it all off,
he is married to a woman he can neither talk to nor sleep
with, so his dream of leaving Schönwald to a son looks highly
addresses a question hidden deep in our hearts in everything
we do and plan, “What do we do when our dreams don’t come
deals with it with a combination of humour, ingenuity, and
never gives up his dream, no matter how unattainable it looks,
no matter how socially isolated he is. His solace is in the
only child he and Hildegard have, his 10 year old daughter,
Luise, and in the companionship of the Schönwald residents
who are loyal to him.
Hildegard deals with it by
withdrawing from the world, becoming more and more isolated
and alone, which leads to her being afraid just about
everything except new hats.
The antagonist of
Yarns is Berthold von Puttkamer, the first cousin of
Hildegard’s late father, Friedrich von Puttkamer. The
custom in Prussia was that eldest sons inherited the entire
family fortune, lived in and administrated the estate of their
choice, which was usually the family seat and perhaps one
other favourite spot, while the second son administered the
smaller or poorer holdings. Third and later sons
usually had to find a career, such as the military, although
on massive inheritances a third son might be needed to help
administrate far flung properties. In Friedrich’s
case, his father had administrated and lived on Schönwald
while his father’s younger brother, Elard, administrated the
secondary estates. Friedrich had no
younger brothers to take over from his uncle, so Elard
continued to administer the secondary estates when Friedrich
was Elard’s eldest son, who took over the secondary estates
when Elard died.
When Friedrich had no sons,
Berthold came up with the idea that if his eldest son married
Friedrich’s daughter, then Berthold’s eldest son would
live at and administrate Schönwald and his second son would
take over the secondary lands. Friedrich didn’t
shoot this idea down, keeping it in mind as a last resort
only, but Berthold believed that Friedrich agreed with him, to
the extent that when Friedrich’s older daughter ran off to
convert to Catholicism and become a nun, leaving the younger
daughter, Hildegard, to be the von Puttkamer heiress, Berthold
forced his son to wait until Hildegard was old enough to marry
Just as Hildegard seemed to
Otto to make his dreams come true, Otto seemed to Friedrich to
be the answer to his dilemma. Hildegard adored Otto,
Otto was smitten with Hildegard. Otto wanted to escape
the army and have a career as a landowner; Friedrich wanted a
way to avoid having Berthold take over the von Puttkamer
inheritance. Otto and Hildegard married and everyone was
How Berthold’s son felt
about any of it, we can only guess, since he was never
consulted in the first place. Berthold, however, was so
unhappy with the turn of events, that when Friedrich died and
left the von Puttkamer inheritance to Otto “as if he were my
legitimately born son” Berthold challenged Friedrich’s
Will in court on the grounds that Otto had somehow
underhandedly influenced Friedrich in order to get his hands
on the von Puttkamer inheritance.
partially succeeded in that he gained title to the lands he
had lived on and administrated, but it was not fully
successful in that the family seat, Schönwald, remained in
Otto’s name. Berthold devoted the
rest of his life to finding a way to reunite the von Puttkamer
inheritance under the care of the von Puttkamer male line.
The “Yarns” part of
Yarns are the stories of the people of Schönwald; the
villagers, the estate workers, the household staff, the stable
workers, and the von Goff/von Puttkamer families, weaving the
threads (yarns) of many subplots throughout the main plot. What one character
does or says affects others. This is not a saga
of one family, but of a group of people of different social
and ethnic backgrounds whose lives are intertwined by place
and circumstances. The people were
united in their love of the vast expanses of their land,
divided by their opinions of what was right for the land.
In the second book,
Time, Otto struggled to be everything to
everyone. Hildegard either could not or would not run
her household or raise her daughter, which put Otto in an
As a man, and as Master of Schönwald, he could not take over
He could not be seen to do “women’s work.”
His efforts to persuade, coax, coerce, or force Hildegard to
fulfill her responsibilities all failed, and he couldn’t
hire someone to do the Mistress’s work when the Mistress was
Meanwhile, the house had to be run and Luise had to be raised.
There are few or no books telling of a man’s struggle to
balance the responsibilities of earning a living, raising a
child, and running a house all at the same time, never mind
such a story about a nineteenth century man.
The Cobden Treaty came into
effect in 1860, introducing Free Trade to Europe, and Otto
knew if he didn’t take advantage of the coming changes, he
would be victimised by them.
For the sake of the
inheritance he planned to leave for Luise, Otto had a French
trader spend most of September and the beginning of October at
Schönwald in order to draw up an agreement whereby he could
send his cattle to France for sale, using the new railways.
He then found
himself trapped by the presence of Jean Beaulieu in his house
when his child and his household needed his attention, because
he couldn’t be seen to be doing women’s work.
Unable to be everywhere at
once, Otto put off dealing with problems in the house, in
order to concentrate on the trade deal.
To force Hildegard
to come out of her rooms, he made her plan a garden party to
be held while he and Jean were away having their agreement
As an only child Luise was
accident she found the two sons of Jean Beaulieu, after which
the three children sneaked out to play together every day.
Their play was
innocent; their crime was in deceiving all around them in
order to play together.
When Luise heard
that her mother was planning a garden party, and she was
expected to play the part of dutiful heiress in a starched
white dress over a wide crinoline, the three children captured
a bat and released it into the garden party to rescue Luise
from having to attend it.
Otto at first found the
stories of “thousands of rabid bats” at a garden party
very funny, but when he discovered that Luise had been
sneaking around with the French boys, he was devastated.
She had been the
idol of his life, and she had deceived him and those he had
entrusted with her care.
It was some time before the
relationship between Otto and Luise could be restored.
He took a long time
to get over the fact that while he had been working so hard
for her sake, she had been deceiving him.
It took him even
longer to face the fact that if he had taken care of the
problem when he first knew it existed, it would never have
reached that stage.
Right from the
beginning Otto had known that Luise was lonely, and had
recognised that such loneliness could lead to trouble.
Once he faced his own
shortcomings, he was able to repair his relationship with his
only child, and to realise that he had answers to the problem
there all along.
Luise could spend
time with the children from the neighbouring estate.
He tried to apply the
principle of “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” to Hildegard,
only to realise that to be in time he should have dealt with
her problems when they were first married, 14 years
had reached a point where there was little Otto could do.
He swallowed his
pride and asked Hildegard’s family for help in providing a
widowed aunt to act as Mistress of Schönwald.
In the third book,
Tinctures and Tantrums, Otto was determined
to find out what was wrong with Hildegard, and to help her.
He questioned the doctor who had been treating her all of her
life, and when he couldn’t get a straight answer, he fired
After a search Otto hired a
new doctor, Herr Doktor Hirsch, who explained the effect it
had on a person to be given a tincture of laudanum to go to
sleep every night, and to settle the ‘nerves’ any time she
was upset, and to be giving a restorative potion every
was opium based and the restorative potions were cocaine.
Otto’s first reaction was
to throw all of the medicines away, but Doktor Hirsch
cautioned him that patients taken off opium and cocaine too
suddenly had a tendency to die.
His prescription was
to set an amount that Hildegard was allowed to have every day,
which was to start out close to what she was used to having,
then slowly reduce it.
Neither Otto nor Doktor
Hirsch had any experience with the cunning of drug addicts.
Every time they
thought they'd cut off Hildegard’s access to new drugs, she
found another avenue.
There was no one
they could turn to for help.
There was little
medical literature on drug addiction in 1860; it was seen as a
problem of sin, not of medicine.
Otto could talk to
no one, not even his family, since such things were so
unspeakably shameful in the 1860s.
When Doktor Hirsch found out
that there were experiments being done in Vienna to get people
off opium, Otto decided that the only way to save
Hildegard’s life was to take her to Vienna.