In Keeping the Castle, Patrice Kindl resurrects the Regency romance, exposing the stark economic reality facing the 18th-century woman but leavening it with tremendous helpings of her signature wit.
Read our teen blogger Bookshelves of Doom's take on 'Keeping the Castle.'
Beautiful Althea Crawley, 17, lives with her mother, little brother and odious stepsisters in a crumbling castle that's about to fall off the Yorkshire cliffs into the ocean. Impoverished, their only hope is for Althea to marry a rich man—a goal so far thwarted by Althea's sharp tongue. When the eminently marriageable, new Lord Boring arrives in Lesser Hoo, their hopes rise. In a romp that resonates with echoes of Austen, Althea single-mindedly pursues financial security.
The author has a small but powerful oeuvre. In Owl in Love, her protagonist, a 14-year-old wereowl, sighs with unrequited love for her science teacher. Anna, the titular Woman in the Wall, literally lives inside the walls of her home, observing but not participating in life. The Goose Girl of Goose Chase finds herself "blessed" with fairy-tale gifts she sees as little more than a nuisance. And in Lost in the Labyrinth, she rewrites the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur from the Cretan point of view.
Kindl took the time to talk to us about her book, 18th-century feminism and avoiding anachronism.
I am interested in the genesis of Keeping the Castle. Your previous books were all pretty unusual. But Castle is a Regency romance, on the face of it about as conventional genre as there is. What took you there?
That's easy. I was reading a historical novel in which, as always seems to be the case these days, the heroine refused the very idea of marriage and was off to London to track down murderers in the slums. It is ridiculous. Of course they wanted to get married! Other than a very precarious future as a hat maker or seamstress or a career as one step up from a servant [governess], they had no other options.
I had been working on something else (only on the second chapter) and just for the hell of it wrote a first chapter. I liked it enough that I abandoned the other and worked on it. A friend gave me the title after hearing the first chapter.
Althea says that beauty is "the only real power (other than cash in hand) that a woman could possess." It's a pretty harsh economic reality.
Oh, yes. I was saying to my husband that people dismiss these Regency romances as fluff, but the reality for the women of the time was very hard. I forgot to say that the other alternative for women was prostitution, and many of them ended up that way. I would emphatically not like to live during the Regency era, thank you very much.
Can we talk about your influences? Austen, obviously, but a lot of people have remarked on your book's similarity to Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. Had you read that before?
I'd heard of it, had meant to read it, but didn't until after an early reader compared it to I Capture the Castle. I liked it a lot, but the mood seems different to me.
It's definitely a different mood, but the naked need for the girls to marry is very similar. I'm not sure I'd say it about I Capture the Castle, but it feels to me that in your book, marriage, for Althea, is a feminist act. Would you agree?
Oh, yes. I am a feminist, but I am also wholeheartedly in favor of marriage. When it works it is a tremendous asset. I am very glad that women have other options today but back then, that was what Althea needed to do to survive and protect her family, so she embraced it with enthusiasm and verve.
I love your names: Lesser Hoo, the Throstletwists, Dr. Haxhamptonshire (pronounced "hamster") and, of course, Lord Boring. Do you save them up until you have a plot to put them in? Or do you find them rising organically from your story?
Normally it's organic to the story, but my agent talked me into doing two more Lesser Hoo stories, so I now have a file named "Funny Names."
Many thanks to your agent! Was the decaying castle always as much of a character in the book as it is now?
Yes, I immediately wanted a castle by the sea—who doesn't, after all?—and it had to be dreadfully uncomfortable and inconvenient but essential.
It lent itself so beautifully to great comedy—like the scene when Althea infests her stepsisters’ beds with mice, for instance, to get them to help with a needed repair.
I felt a little sorry for the mice personally, but I did have Althea return their nests to the places where she'd found them.
How important was it to you to keep it true to the period?
Most anachronisms drive me nuts, unless they are thoughtful and deliberate. I know that if Miss Austen were to read Castle she would find Althea too brash and my style abrupt and too fast-paced.
However, I know that there has to be some recognition of the two centuries that have passed since she put pen to paper. Yes, it is important to me to be accurate. I love the Internet, but I also relied heavily on period books. I finally read War and Peace while writing this manuscript because, although set in Russia, it was in a Europeanized Russia in 1812.
What are you reading now?
Um…trying to think of something more impressive than an old Agatha Christie I found at the back of a bookshelf, which is the actual truth. Oh! I just gave a book talk on Critical Children by Richard Locke. So there! That's pretty scholarly.
There's nothing wrong with Agatha Christie! Wouldn't it be lovely to see whodunits on the rise, now that you've resurrected the Regency romance?
You know…I was wondering about a Regency whodunit…
Vicky Smith is the Children's and Teen Editor at Kirkus.