The vast and windswept Great Lakes region is the setting for Castle Nowhere , Constance Woolson's collection of moody and often surreal renderings of this nineteenth-century frontier.
Woolson had a unique perspective as a woman who pioneered the use of unconventional subjects—such as unrequited or misplaced passion—and methods in fiction during a time that valorized domesticity.
Indeed, several decades after her death, Woolson was called "the most 'unconventional' feminine writer that had yet appeared in America," a sentiment that would have come as no surprise to the author herself. About female writers she once wrote, "I have the idea that women run too much into mere beauty at the expense of power; and the result is, I fear, that I have gone too far the other way; too rude; too abrupt."
While the stories in Castle Nowhere display a deep concern with the "civilizing" effects of people upon nature, they dwell just as frequently on the equally chilling de-civilizing effect of nature upon people. Like few others before her, Woolson could evoke great beauty while, as Margot Livesey writes, "always remaining keenly aware that beauty in no way mitigates hardship." Her characters are often outcasts, as befits the northern Michigan frontier where most of the stories take place.
The stories in the collection are not merely accomplished, nor are they mere historical curiosities. Contemporary readers will find a surprisingly modern atmosphere in Woolson's stories, and know that they have discovered both a lost masterpiece and a rare woman's voice in literature of its period and setting.