At the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be "the angels of the house," even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family.
John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house's grip on her mind.
Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.
A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one's own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.
PARTICULARS OF THE BOOK :
Published by: Unhinged Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Stephanie Carroll
Find copies of the book: Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon and other stores below
ABOUT THE AUTHOR :
Her writing is inspired by the classic authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights).
Stephanie blogs and writes fiction in California where her husband is stationed with the U.S. Navy. Her website is www.stephaniecarroll.net.
INTERVIEW WITH STEPHANIE CARROLL :
A Bookish Libraria is happy to bring you this interview with Ms Carroll. Thanks for participating in this personal question and answer time, Stephanie. Here we go!
1) Tell us something about yourself, please. How do most people describe you?
I’d imagine others would describe me as short, determined, and squeaky! Friends claim I make squeaking sounds on occasion. Either that or I’d think they would say something about something I’ve done followed by – she’s crazy! They might add that I’m a writer, and I’m kind of creepy because my creative side leans toward dark ideas but not in a horror type of way. I don’t like scary or gore. I really hope people describe me as a good friend and an honest and honorable person. In addition to that, I’ve been married to the love of my life for nine years and my babies are my two Chihuahuas, Gigitt and Coconut.
2) Briefly, from where did the idea for your novel germinate?
The original idea came from a free-write I did to deal with a difficult time in my life. After I graduated from college, my husband, who is in the U.S. Navy, was stationed in Fallon, Nevada. The move was really difficult for me for several reasons. It was going to be the first time I lived far away from friends and family, and it was the first time I was going to be going out into the world to actually work instead of going to school. Fallon is a very small town, isolated. There’s not much there other than a Walmart. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and I was terrified that I wasn’t going to have any options in such a small community. It turns out Fallon became like a second home to us and I earned several awards while working as a reporter there, but I could never have imagined anything like that happening when we first moved there.
I started to feel like I was losing it. Everything began to seem overwhelming and like an unwanted obligation. I felt so overwhelmed and pressured by what I was supposed to do in this life – and I mean everything – paying bills, grocery shopping, getting gas, showering. This, of course, was a reflection of how I felt obligated to move for my husband and give up my goals and chances for a career.
At the time, though, it just all felt like everything was too much and a part of me just wanted to give up, stop caring about everything. I felt like if I let go and didn’t care about anything then I would be free, but you can’t do that. If you stopped caring about the things you are obligated to do, your life would fall apart, and everyone who relies on you would suffer. So I just felt trapped by obligation and while feeling all of that, I wrote this:
“Sometimes while sitting there staring out the window, I imagined
a place in my mind, a white room. A simple space coated
in white paint. The white represented responsibility, obligation. It
didn’t require what responsibility and obligation required, but it
had the same effect. It maintained the person in the room; it kept
the person alive and well, along with everything and everyone that
person cared for, but nothing the person held dear existed in the
room. The person was alone. The person experienced no joy from
bearing the weight of responsibility, earned no prize.
I imagined a particular person in the room—a woman, also
clothed in white. This woman constantly faced a dilemma. She
longed for freedom. She longed to be the bird.
Her open palms grazed the rutted expanse of the wall. She
knew that something lay beyond—beyond the white. She could
burst out into the world of grass, sky, and lavender, but she knew
that if she broke through the barricade, everything she protected
would crumble, suffocate, and wither behind her. Her own freedom
would last only moments because she, too, couldn’t survive
without the white. Earth and water would smother her, and radiant
light would slice through her like a blade.
I imagined her pressing with both hands, weighing freedom
against existence and all that depended on her, but in the end she
lightened her stance and stepped away. She always chose to stay, to
fulfill her obligation.
I thought of the woman in the white room—she chose to
sacrifice her freedom for the people who relied on her to survive,
but how long could she possibly survive without freedom? How long
could she last before choosing the alternative?”
—Quoted from A White Room with the permission of the author.
3) Who first told you could write well, and how did it affect you?
I’m sure I was told when I was younger, but the memory that has really stuck with me was with my first history instructor in college. It was the first class I took after I had realized I wanted to study history. I wrote a paper on a topic that was very interesting to me, and when my instructor returned the papers, she stopped in front of my desk, clutched the paper to her chest and said, “This is the best paper I have ever read.” That instructor became my mentor and one of her assignments laid the first seeds for A White Room – that is when she assigned Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which is a classic short story that I modeled much of my novel off of.
4) Which contemporary authors do you most admire?
Janet Fitch – White Oleander and Audrey Niffeneger – The Time Traveler’s Wife. Those authors do things with words that make me salivate.
5) Which are your favorite classical authors?
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper” – I love her brand of crazy.
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden – This is where my obsession with big houses and secret rooms comes from.
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights – The moors, oh I love the moors! The wind sounds like a person howling – oh it’s so creepy. I love it!
6) Jump into any book which character would you be?
Oh wow. That’s a really hard question. I guess I’d have to say Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. Running around that big house and discovering secret rooms, having a secret place to call your own, not to mention living on the moor! Either her or Bella from Twilight! Bella gets to have all the fun. Oooo or Hermione Granger! Oh yeah I want to be Hermione from Harry Potter! I want to be smart and do magic!
7) If you could have 5 historical people to dinner, who would they be? What would you have to eat?
Mark Twain – he’d be all witty and say interesting things about life.
Anne Boleyn – you know she’d bring a little intrigue to the conversation.
Teddy Roosevelt – everybody loves Teddy! He’d bring me a Teddy Bear.
Adam and Eve (I’m counting them as one because of the whole rib thing.)– I’d want them there so we could all be like, dude you guys what happened?
Jesus of Nazareth – You can’t have a magical dinner with anyone in history without inviting Jesus Christ! To be honest he’s kind of an important guy to me – and he always has wine.
What would we eat? … Sushi! Just to see the looks on their faces!
8) Read any good books in the past 6 months?
The last book that I really, really enjoyed was Megan Chance’s An Inconvenient Wife and before that The Host by Stephenie Meyer – ahhh don’t stab me. I liked that book ... but not everybody likes people who like that book. =)
9) Favorite two tv shows:
“Desperate Housewives” because they are a bunch of crazy women, and “Vampire Diaries.” Who isn’t addicted to that show? I got my husband addicted. He was so disappointed in himself. =) Before that it was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer!” I have loved vampires long before Twilight. I own all seven seasons! And I’ve watched all the commentary . . . TWICE!
10) Favorite movie of all time:
My favorites are the movies that I watch over and over and over. It’s difficult for me to choose just one. So here are my top three:
Titanic – with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Pride and Prejudice – with Kiera Knightley
Ice Age – with the sloth!
11) Are you working on a new book?
The first draft of my second novel is written, and I’m super excited about it. It’s called The Binding of Saint Barbara and is about the people involved with the first death by electrocution, which took place in Auburn Prison, New York in 1890. It focuses more specifically on the warden and his family who lived in the prison at the time. The true story of the first electrocution is extremely interesting, but I decided to combine real events with fiction and create a fictional warden’s daughter, named Charlotte, who believes the patron saint of lightning lives inside her and talks to her. She is the main character and while the issues of death are going on in the prison, Charlotte, learns lessons about life and herself after meeting a strange young man outside the prison walls.
I think my books are going to start leaning more toward magical realism. Magical realism isn’t fantasy. It’s like incorporating magic into fiction and treating it like reality. Alice Hoffman (The Dovekeepers) is known for this as is Isabel Allende (House of Spirits) and Sarah Addison Allen (The Sugar Queen).
I also plan to keep writing in the same time period for now although who knows where I might go in the future. My third book will actually span several generations of women so several time periods, and I have several ideas floating around my head, some of which are in different time periods, but I imagine I’m going to stick with historical. What can I say – I love history.
12) Anything else I forgot to ask you?
I don’t think you forgot anything but something I can add is A White Room is not based on true people or events, but is based on a variety of historical trends, common experiences, and especially the female experience at the turn of the century.
The house itself is based on the Doyle-Mounce House in Hannibal, Missouri. I tried to describe the exterior exactly, but the interior is all a creation of my own. All the descriptions of furniture are based on real pieces of Art Nouveau furniture from the Victorian era. Art Nouveau is a very creepy and interesting style. It was very easy to imagine these pieces coming to life. I highly recommend people Google Art Nouveau furniture to see it for themselves.
I also tirelessly researched the daily life of Victorians so I could show what it was like to live day to day. That aspect was very important to me and is the reason I include a chapter that describes my main character’s day.
Further, society’s obsession with hysteria, the professionalization of medicine, the eradication of midwifery, and the illegalization of abortion are all based in historical fact. Even the brutal methods of interrogation in the book were inspired by actual investigative procedures, including the disturbing use of the ‘dying confession.’
I appreciate your taking time to be with us today, Stephanie. Interesting comments and a wonderful insight into you and your writing!
THE BOOKISH DAME REVIEWS :
Stephanie Carroll is a debut author with much to say in terms of the treatment and sufferings of women in the late Victorian age. While her book doesn't fall specifically in the category of "women's literature," per se, it could be categorized that way if it were read in college classrooms. I found it persuasive in terms of the plight of women in that Age. It was good reading and held my attention throughout the story.
The plot is well-developed, and the storyline is one that engenders sympathy on behalf of the main character, Emeline, who is a young woman caught in a seemingly loveless, arranged marriage. We are drawn in to her increasing guilt and madness as she struggles to make sense of her "captivity" in boredom and disconnection with her husband. Ms Carroll does a fine job of describing her descent into this sort of insanity, and then her climbing out of it as she finds meaning in her life. There is a surprise ending that pulls the story together!
If there were one short-coming to point out in her writing, I would have to say I found the dialog stilted at times. This is probably a symptom of it being a first novel. It didn't take away from the meat of the book, but is something I would mention only because it was evident especially in the beginning. I easily pushed past it and it became less noticeable as the story progressed.
All in all, this is a well-imagined book with a strong story behind it. It's reminiscent of "The Yellow Wallpaper," but takes a similar story to a broader perspective and to a wonderful conclusion. I think Ms Carroll is a writer with great potential, and one I look forward to reading again.
I recommend this book to all who enjoy women's fiction with a bent toward feminism. It's a strong historical fiction with a blistering story of an unusual woman's life in the late Victorian era, as I've said.
Fast-paced and intelligent, this is one you'll find very thought-provoking. A good read for everyone!
4.5 stars Deborah/TheBookishDame
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SEE MORE REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND GUEST POSTS ON THIS NOVEL AND STEPHANIE CARROLL HERE :
A White Room Blog Tour Dates
Weds, June 19 – Oh, For the Hook of a Book: Book Review and Giveaway (ebook)
Thurs, June 20 – Hazel the Witch: Interview and Giveaway (Print)
Sat, June 22 – Reading in Ecuador:
Guest Post: How to Write Suspenseful Fiction including A White Room excerpt
Thurs, June 27 – Momma Bears Book Blog: Giveaway and
Guest Post: The Story Behind Emeline’s Mental Distress
Fri, June 28 – The Bookish Dame: Interview and Giveaway
Tues, July 2 – I am Indeed: Guest Post: Historical Accuracy in Historical Fiction
Mon, July 8 – Bookfari: Interview and Giveaway
Tues, July 9 – Hazel the Witch:
Guest Post – How to Write the Inner Thoughts of a Crazy Person - Finding Meaning in Insanity?
Weds, July 10 – Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers: Review and Giveaway
Fri, July 12 – Lost to Books: Guest Post TBA and Giveaway
Mon, July 15 – A Writer of History: Guest Post: Writing an Era – Where to Begin?
Weds, July 17 – Michelle’s Romantic Tangle: Interview
Thurs, July 18 – Oh, For the Hook of a Book: Interview
Tues, July 23 – Unabridged Chick: Review and Giveaway
Thurs July 25 – Ravings and Ramblings: Review and Interview
Tues July 30 – Reading the Past: Giveaway and Guest Post:
Writing and Historical Thought - They Didn't Think Like We Did 100 Years Ago
Sat, Aug. 3 – History and Women: Giveaway and Guest Post:
Guest Post: Victorian Women and the Mystery of Sex
A White Room
Soft Cover: $14.99
Publisher: Unhinged Books
Available in Print and
eBook (Kindle, Nook, Sony, e-pub)
Find Stephanie Carroll
“A novel of grit, independence, and determination ... An intelligent story, well told.”
—Renée Thompson, author of The Plume Hunter and The Bridge at Valentine
“The best historical fiction makes you forget it’s fiction and forget it’s historical. Reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper … the thoughtful, intricate story Carroll relates is absolutely mesmerizing.”
—Eileen Walsh, Ph.D. U.S. Women’s History, University of San Diego