Today on the site we’re revealing the cover of The Manor House Governess by C.A. Castle, a classics-inspired literary novel with a genderfluid protagonist set amid Cambridge high society, releasing November 7, 2023 from Alcove Press! (The book even includes five period-inspired illustrations, which are certain to be gorgeous.) Here’s the story:
Orphaned young and raised with chilly indifference at an all-boys boarding school, Brontë Ellis has grown up stifled by rigid rules and social “norms,” forbidden from expressing his gender identity. His beloved novels and period films lend an escape, until a position as a live-in tutor provides him with a chance to leave St. Mary’s behind.
Greenwood Manor is the kind of elegant country house Bron has only read about, and amid lavish parties and cricket matches the Edwards family welcomes him into the household with true warmth. Mr. Edwards and the young Ada, Bron’s pupil, accept without question that Bron’s gender presentation is not traditionally masculine. Only Darcy, the eldest son, seems uncomfortable with Bron—the two of them couldn’t be more opposite.
When a tragic fire blazes through the estate’s idyllic peace, Bron begins to sense dark secrets smoldering beneath Greenwood Manor’s surface. Channeling the heroines of his cherished paperbacks, he begins to sift through the wreckage. Soon, he’s not sure what to believe, especially with his increasing attraction to Darcy clouding his vision.
Drawing energy and inspiration from Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, E.M. Forster, and more, while bowing to popular fiction such as Plain Bad Heroines and Red, White, and Royal Blue, The Manor House Governess is a smart, sublimely charming novel destined to become a modern classic.
And here’s the striking cover by Jaya Miceli!
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Want a little peek into the story itself? Check out this excerpt!
Tomorrow the bushes would be stripped of their berries but today they were abundant and blooming. From where Bron stood, naked at the window ledge of the dormitory’s top-most story, he could spy on the gardener clipping away at the stems of a tree. He’d been observing the man’s labored reach toward every branch—the length of his torso, the nod of his head with every snip—inadvertently mirroring this man’s posture as his own fingers dug into the sill’s grooves. Bron held himself out for one last glimpse of his surroundings: the woods on the left, the hills on the right, the pipes trailing the crumbling walls of the school’s east court. All the while he was doing sums in his head.
Below, the gardener descended the ladder, and raised his sleeves to gather the foliage which had fallen into a pyre at the base of the trunk. But captured by birdsong, he looked up to the building’s eaves. What did he see there? What did he make of the lone figure framed by the square lattice window, their shoulders bare and pearlescent, with hair loose and coiling down sharp, rung collarbones, a flat chest exposed? An androgyne statue, or a careless young woman trapped in an all-boys boarding school. A school teacher, perhaps, there through the holidays.
The gardener moved to get a better look when—“Ah, Christ!”—he tripped on a branch, falling to his knees. Above this scene, Bron stepped back and drew the window shut, having finally decided.
Upon arriving in Cambridge, he would take a taxi from the train station to the address on the envelope, a certain Greenwood Manor, which sounded very grand. Google Maps estimated a near two-hour walk to the manor, marked by a red pinpoint, and the weather forecast threatened the usual early-September drizzle, so there was no chance of walking. He couldn’t show up to his new place of employment drenched and smelling of sweat. What would his employer and new pupil think of him, then? He had to make a good first impression.
The television flickered scenes from Merchant Ivory as he dressed. The boys with whom he used to share these quarters had long since returned home for the summer holidays and were due back in the coming days. The place stood barren, no trace of character or belongings left behind except his own, most of which had already been packed away. He could only carry so much, and the remaining boxes would come to him at a later date, set aside and taped as they were in the furthermost corner of the room. Inside them were an assortment of clothes alongside his most prized possessions—sets of books by the Brontë sisters; a collection of Austen novels; those of Hardy, Forster, Woolf, and Shelley—all of them collected over the course of his life from the high-street’s second-hand bookstore, accompanying him through his years like a friend. He opened them up again and again for comfort. He’d highlighted his favorite passages, written notes to himself in the margins, and learned to turn his favorite quotes (Reader, I married him) into a digital scrawl of black calligraphy which he and thousands of others would post and share across their social media channels. His most cherished book, a hardback edition of Jane Eyre with foiled spine, lithograph illustrations, and a ribbon to demarcate his progress, was comfortably tucked away in the bag he’d be taking with him.
He fixed his hair, a bobby pin stuck between his teeth as he angled another in before applying a little bit of mascara and eyeliner. When it smudged, he wiped it away, and applied it again with a steadier hand. But it was no use. He couldn’t get the flick right. He stopped, shut the compact mirror, threw it into the open bag, and turned to watch the screen, comforted by its misty feel, the light it threw across the room, and the soundtrack muffled by aged speakers.
The film had played to his favorite part: a yellow-green poppy field pockmarked red, the display of wild barley and Italian countryside, and those two people who should not have been together by matter of convention, coming together almost in celebration, in tandem with Bron’s defiance of what some might call “normal.” For times had not changed, boundaries continued to exist, and a child born in possession of an external appendage, or lack thereof, must be either one thing or another.
As someone assigned male but who came to be fond of primarily feminine clothing in his early adolescence, this was not a truth Bron had been born into. It had been an otherwise uneventful Friday evening when Bron stumbled upon Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity on the internet, and such power did he find in those words, where “performance” was no longer a thing ascribed to the arts, but a behavior in which we are all complicit. This theory proved to be a major checkpoint in his life, and with a new mantra to follow, he immediately swapped the shapeless, faded trousers and dull patterned hand-me-down shirts for leggings and other much-loved articles procured from the local Oxfam: high-waisted jeans, frilly blouses, and oversized jumpers that fell just below his natural hipline. Apart from the silhouette sculpting him to appear shorter, he was pleased with this newfound style and would eventually get used to walking without the luxury of pockets at his side. On the weekends he’d haunt the local bookstore in a pinafore dress and trail the fields in a maxi skirt, enjoying the way it flapped in the wind, all the while shrinking at the back of the classroom during the week in his stiff collar and baggy school trousers, waiting, cyclically, for his snippet of freedom. It always came back to this claim: It is the clothes that wear us, and not we them, and the notion coiled around his mind like a tourniquet, limiting the flow of other thoughts. He was not performing. He was fashioning himself in an already established social structure. He knew the codes, and from there governed his own being.
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C. A. Castle is a writer and editor. He holds a BA in English Language and Literature from King’s College, London, and an MPhil from the University of Cambridge, where he focused on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, period adaptations, and queer studies. He is also a picture book author as well as an anthologist, where he contrasts the old with the new with a view to capturing the zeitgeist. He currently resides in Cambridgeshire.