Michigan and the Great Lakes

Castle Nowhere

Lake-Country Sketches
Constance Fenimore Woolson
Introduction by Margot Livesey
A unique but little-known woman writer offers a powerful voice from the nineteenth-century Great Lakes frontier


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.

Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-94) was born in New Hampshire and moved to Cleveland shortly thereafter. She spent time on Mackinac Island, Michigan, then traveled to Florida before moving to Europe. Much of her time there was spent in Italy. She is the author of four novels—Anne, East Angels, Jupiter Lights, and Horace Chase—as well as poetry, travel writing, and several collections of short stories. She died in Venice in 1894.

Praise / Awards

  • "The stories in this book are both tough and moody, touched by both realism and fabulism. If there is another book like it of its place and period, I have not read it."
    —Charles Baxter
  • "And when finally, sadly, I closed the book I made a very happy discovery. The Lady and the hunters, like many other characters in Castle Nowhere, had taken up residence in my imagination and heart."
    —Margot Livesey, from the Introduction
  • "Poetically realistic . . . [and] poetically fanciful."
    Atlantic Monthly, 1875
  • "Unsparingly realized."
    Nation, 1886
  • "These [stories] are sometimes involved in romantic mists, and sometimes they are unsparingly distinct, but the sensitive and sympathetic spirit of the author, her humanity, her passion for nature, her love of beauty, and her delight in color, characterize all."
    Harper's, 1886

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Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 280pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03008-8

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  • $17.50 U.S.