Saturday, May 21, 2011

The House of Dead Maids (fiction)

Sometimes you wonder what happened in a person's past to make them turn out the way they did. What's their backstory? But authors don't often give us the behind-the-scenes glimpses that we desire.

Such is the case with Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, whose creator Emily Bronte tells us so little of how he was orphaned or why his unseen childhood turned him into such a brutal man.

Clare B. Dunkle decided to tell Heathcliff's backstory in this very creepy and very plausible prequel to Wuthering Heights - lots and lots of scary packed into a short book! (I don't ever, ever want to travel to those moors...)

Book info: The House of Dead Maids / by Clare B. Dunkle; illus. by Patrick Arrasmith. Henry Holt, 2010. 146 pgs. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Hired as a nursemaid for a little boy, Tabitha wonders what happened to the other girl from her orphanage who held the position before her. Seldom House is a huge, gloomy place on the English moorlands, with no windows facing south and a bleak inner courtyard where nothing grows.

The villagers stare and whisper, no one from Seldom House goes to church with her, and Tabby finds odd toys suddenly uncovered in her bedroom. Who is the other girl she hears running down the hall? Mrs. Winter says that no other girls live in the house.

Soon Tabby sees the ghosts she’s been hearing, all the dead maids of the house, and meets the little boy, who’s savage and wild, who has been promised that he will be Master of Seldom House, who can see the ghosts of all the dead masters. Overhearing a plan to murder them during a thunderstorm, as the land must have blood to be satisfied, she vows that they’ll both escape.

This chilling prequel to Wuthering Heights gives the dark background of the little orphan boy brought to Seldom House to ensure its luck, to take the place of its master, to learn of murder - the savage little boy who grew up to become Heathcliff… (one of 5,000 books recommended on


  1. My book pile is growing thanks to your posts! This one sounds interesting, but one has to wonder if it stands alone or should someone have read Wuthering Heights to really appreciate it? Hmmmmm.

  2. @Bach - younger readers (who like scary stories, of course) will enjoy it just for the creepy tale. Hopefully, they'll remember it later when they read Wuthering Heights, and it will contribute to their 'mental map' of Heathcliff's possible background. Did you check out Clare Dunkle's massive amount of background research? Wow!


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