|Overview: The Snow Queen and the Caterpillar|
The second trilogy.
The Caterpillar, excerpt from Chapter Five, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was written in 1865. Although hookahs are more often used to smoke tobacco in the western society of the 21st century, in the 19th century they were used almost exclusively to smoke opium.
The "Snow Queen" is cocaine. In the 19th century the refined white powder that is well known as cocaine in the 21st century had not yet been perfected, so cocaine was most commonly available dissolved in alcohol, under various different names.
Substance abuse is not new. Some of the street drugs available today have been available for a hundred and fifty years at least. What has changed is the manner of their presentation: nowadays they come from street vendors, back then they came from legal sources. The three books in the "Snow Queen and the Caterpillar" trilogy take a look at the effects of substance abuse before the medical community had found out how to deal with addiction.
In "There is a Season" Otto takes the first step to try to wean Hildegard from opium, morphine, and cocaine. Because all three were dissolved in alcohol, Hildegard also needs to be weaned from alcoholism. The word "addict" had not been coined. There were various labels for people who couldn't do without their potions, but the one most often used where Otto and Hildegard lived were "opiumsucht" and "morphiumsucht." The theory was that people who became dependant on medications were like babies needing mother's milk. By 1860 there was a growing opinion that such dependencies were not a mere character flaw or sin, but the sufferers had not developed past the unweaned stage of life, because simply depriving opiumsucht of any access to opium had resulted in a number of deaths. The practice of "weaning" was invented, and had some success.
In "There is a Season" Otto makes the first attempt to "wean" Hildegard from her medications and herbal preparations. The difficulty is not only Hildegard's reaction to having her doses of alcohol, opium, morphine, and cocaine steadily reduced against her will, but also that her maid, Philomele, honestly believes Hildegard needs her medicine to survive. In order to save Hildegard's life, Philomele finds a way to obtain supplies for Hildegard, and gets them to her right under the nose of the nurse, Danuta.
Philomele writes to Hildegard's old nanny, Frau Blücher, in retirement at the sea-side town of Greifswald. Frau Blücher dips into her savings to send the medication she believes her "little lamb" needs, becoming increasingly convinced that Otto is trying to do away with Hildegard in order to be free to marry a woman who will bear him a son. The idea that the potions are dangerous to Hildegard's health is complete nonsense to her, she knows they are life supporting elixirs.
When Otto discovers the subterfuge, he fires Philomele and her maid, Katya, and cuts off all of Frau Blücher's access to Hildegard, as well as declaring Frau Blücher will never receive another penny of her pension from him.
Frau Blücher's revenge is terrible, and the repercussions of it change Otto's family forever.
The second book of the trilogy, "Viennese Yarns" takes place in Vienna, where Otto has taken his family in order to put Hildegard in the only hospital that he could find in 1861 that had a treatment programme for the opiumsucht. It was an experimental programme that consisted mainly of tying the patients to their beds in straight-jackets and waiting to see what happened. The "treatment" for opium normally took between one and two weeks. Those who were still alive at the end of two weeks were considered cured. In Hildegard's case, it isn't simple opium dependency. There is also a dependency on morphine and cocaine, and an accidental alcoholism brought about by steady intake of alcohol with each dose of "medicine." The worst symptoms of withdrawal from morphine are also usually gone by the end of two weeks, but cocaine and alcohol linger for longer. Moreover, Hildegard has delusions that remain after all of the substances have worked their various ways out of her system. The doctors in the Allgemeine Krankenhaus reach the point of telling Otto that they can do no more for her, and recommend her transfer to another hospital.
When Otto finds out that the hospital recommended is not a treatment facility for the ill, but a home for the incurably insane, he refuses to take Hildegard there. He finds a place for Hildegard to live while her recovery continues, in rooms rented from an aristocratic family who have fallen on hard times.
During the time Otto waits to see whether Hildegard continues to improve or not he struggles with the decision of what would be best for her. Should he take her home as she is, or should he leave her in Vienna? Should he stay in Vienna indefinitely, or should he return before winter sets in, with or without Hildegard?
In a kind of suspended animation as they await the outcome of Hildegard's treatment, Otto, his daughter, Luise, and his ward, Kirsten, become involved with Otto's sister's family. Kirsten learns to adjust to the change of roles from maid to Otto's ward, and Luise learns how to function as part of a multi-child family instead of as an only child.
Otto's niece, Doris, is ill with "consumption," the 19th century name for tuberculosis. Doris's illness has a profound effect on Otto, Luise, and Kirsten.
Every member of the family has been altered by their experiences in Vienna as they return to Prussia.
Their story is picked up, back at home, in the third book, "The Glass Room." Hildegard is back at home, living without her potions, but is still Hildegard. Some reality has sneaked in, but for the most part she lives in her own world of shadows. The removal of her medicines has given her back many more hours in every day, and she doesn't know what to do with them. Seeking to find a way to occupy her, Otto leaps at a passing comment she makes about orchids, and has an orangerie built where Hildegard can grow orchids. At first nonplussed by the hot house, Hildegard begins to spend more and more time in it. She learns about orchids and begins to have success with tending them, eventually virtually living in her glass room.
Kirsten found it easier to adjust to being Otto's ward in Vienna, where she was unknown, than she does back in Prussia where she had been a maid. The one place where she feels the most at home is with her pony. She becomes more and more horse-mad, to the point of exasperating Luise who was previously the one who doted on horses the most.
Hildegard can never accept Kirsten as part of the family, and can never forgive Otto for adopting her. Without Frau Blücher to give her guidance, she retreats more and more into her glass room, becoming the ultimate hot house flower, tending the ultimate hot house plant.
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