Highlighting Historical Romance with Sandra Schwab
This summer I re-released my Gothic romance (well, at least it was intended to be a Gothic romance) Castle of the Wolf, in which my English heroine unexpectedly inherits a mysterious castle in the Black Forest, but, alas, finds it inhabited by the grumpiest man imaginable (but he’s kind of hot too) (of course!). And she has to marry him (of course!). There’s an unfortunate incident with a mummified mouse (because, you know, Gothic romance!), another unfortunate incident with a not-so-dead bat, and a lady with sturdy boots who stomps all the gothicness to dust. Quite…um…literally so.
And because I somehow needed to get my heroine from Britain to the Black Forest, I thought it would be an awesome idea if she traveled up the Rhine, past all the lovely castles of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. And perhaps I could even mention some kind of gruesome folk tale! (Because, you know, Gothic romance.) Like, say, the folk tale of the evil Bishop Odo of Mainz, who was devoured by mice in his tower in the middle of the Rhine. Awesome!
And while I was preparing the novel for re-release this summer, I remembered with amusement those two or three frantic weeks back in 2005 when I had been trying to find out something about the history of traveling on the Rhine. (Mind you, those two or three weeks of research eventually resulted in half a page in the finished novel.)
Travels on the Rhine, and especially travels through the Upper Middle Rhine Valley with its many castles, had become fashionable among the British in the late 18th century as a result of changing tastes in architecture and views of nature. As everything to do with the Middle Ages became all the rage at home in Britain, so did traveling through a landscape that was dotted with old churches, ruins, and castles (= perfect for sketching!).
For a few years, the Napoleonic Wars put a stop to the stream of tourists from Britain, but after 1815, new waves of tourists arrived. Indeed, journeys along the Rhine became so popular that later in the century the author Thomas Hood would remark,
“It is a statistical fact that since 1814 an unknown number of persons have been more or less abroad, and of all the Countries in Christendom, never was there such a run as on the Banks of the Rhine. It was impossible to go into Society without meeting units, tens, hundreds, thousands of Rhenish tourists. What a donkey they deemed him who had not been to Assmannshausen!”
This popularity of travels on the Rhine was only increased by the publication of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. In Canto III, the author describes the picturesque landscape:
Thus on the banks of thy majestic Rhine?
There Harold gazes on a work divine
A blending of all beauties; streams and dells,
Fruit, foliage, crag, wood, cornfield, mountain, vine,
And chiefless castles breathing stern farewells
From gray but leafy walls, where Ruin greenly dwells.
A copy of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage would accompany many British tourists to the Rhine so they could trace Childe Harold’s footsteps (a bit like today’s Harry Potter fans visiting Alnwick Castle).
My heroine, Cissy, isn’t such a big fan of Byron, and so no copy of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage can be found in her luggage. Instead she travels with a copy of the Grimms’ fairy tales — something that will come in very handy in her mysterious castle in the Black Forest. J
Celia Fussell’s father was dead, and she was reduced to the status of a poor relation in the house of her brother – the new baron – and his shrewish wife. A life of misery loomed ahead.
But, no. There was hope. Deep in the Black Forest, in the Great Duchy of Baden, was Celia’s inheritance. Among fir trees so dark they looked almost black, the Castle of Wolfenbach rose, a skeletal ruin adorned by gargoyles where even locals feared to tread. It was a fortress of solitude, of secrets, of old wounds and older mysteries. But it was hers. And only one thing stood in her way: its former master, the hermit, the enigma … the man she was obliged to marry.
“A luminous fairy tale, beautifully written and brimming with poignant emotion.”
~ New York Times bestselling author Gaelen Foley
Castle of the Wolf is available from:
But finally the trees fell away, and in front of them rose, in all its old, gray glory, a tumbledown castle from the fog.
The cart rumbled to a halt.
With something that sounded like a curse, her driver jumped onto the ground, marched around their vehicle and proceeded to loosen the straps around her travel trunk. With a dull thud it hit the ground.
“And what exactly do you think you’re doing?” Cissy asked.
Throwing her another dark scowl, the driver wiped the back of his hand across his dripping nose. Then he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. “Out!” he snarled.
“I beg your—”
He snarled some more, but Cissy couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Yet she certainly caught his meaning, especially since he repeatedly pointed his thumb over his shoulder. Twenty horses would not make him drive into that cursed castle. He had been forced to bring her this far, and apparently he considered this sufficiently heroic.
Reluctantly, she climbed down from the seat. Her old half boots sank into the snow well over the ankle. “Now, look here—”
He strode around the cart and, shoving her roughly out of the way with his shoulder, grabbed her carpetbag and dumped it onto the snow-covered ground. With a last smoldering look, he swung himself up onto the box seat and urged the horse away as if all seven hounds of hell were after him.
Cissy looked over her shoulder at the castle. The tower lay in ruins, and the dark holes of the windows blinked at the her like the empty eyesockets of a grinning skull. Cackling, a raven came flying from the forest, circled overhead and flew inside.
Well, perhaps her reluctant driver knew something she didn’t.
Sandra Schwab is an author, artist, and translator. She earned a PhD in English literature with a study on the history of dragonslaying, and she now uses some of her fiction to shamelessly fangirl over Punch, her favorite Victorian magazine. She appeared on the BBC documentary Great Continental Railway Journeys to talk about the Grimms’ fairy tales (while walking through a rather muddy stretch of the Black Forest) (there were a lot of slugs too).
Sandra lives in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, with a sketchbook, a sewing machine, and an ever-expanding library.
You can find her online at
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