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The Women in the Castle Summary & Study Guide Description
The Women in the Castle Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Shattuck, Jessica. The Women in the Castle. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2017.
The Women in the Castle is told in four parts, with a prologue at the start. Within each part are multiple chapters, thirty-eight in total. Each chapter is told from the third person but with the perspective of a different character including Marianne, Benita, Ania, Martin, and in one case Clotilde. In general time moves forward as the novel goes on, but often characters review events of the past.
The novel starts with the prologue from Marianne’s perspective at the castle, Burg Lingenfels in Ehrenheim, Germany, in November of 1938. Marianne is throwing an annual party that is a tradition of her Aunt-in-Law, a German countess. Marianne puts her young children Elisabeth and Katarina to bed, asks her workaholic husband Albrecht to join the party and greets her guests. Connie Fledermann, one of Marianne’s closest friends, arrives with his new (and very young and attractive) wife Benita. Later Marianne finds her husband, Connie, and other men in the study discussing recent events in Munich - later to be called Kristallnacht. The men agree they must work together to resist Hitler, and Marianne promises that the women and children will stand at their side. The men of the resistance agree, and Connie gives her the title of “Commander of wives and children” (14).
Part 1, Section 1 includes Chapters 1 - 4 and mainly tell Benita and Martin’s stories and how they get to Burg Lingenfels. Chapter One starts in June of 1945 - seven years later at Burg Lingenfels as Marianne is bringing Martin and Benita to the castle. They have taken an exhausting trip to get there and Benita recognizes the difference between where she grew up and her life now and feels overwhelmed. Chapter Two changes to May of 1945 and Martin Fledermann’s perspective as he lives in a home for German children of Nazi resisters. The caretaker of the children has tried to teach them Nazi propaganda. Towards the end of the war, Marianne finds Martin there but before going to the castle, they stop in Berlin to find Benita in a decrepit building where she has become a sex slave to the Russian soldiers in charge there.
Chapter Three goes back in time to March of 1938 and changes to Benita’s perspective in her small hometown of Fruhlinghausen. The chapter details Benita’s background and how she met Connie. She has chosen to join the Nazi BDM (Bund Deutscher Madel) group for women, and it is in this uniform that she first meets Connie in the streets of her hometown. Immediately entranced but busy, they go to dinner and Benita feels she has met her “prince” (57). Chapter Four returns back to where Chapter One left off. Marianne is taking care of a cut on Martin as Benita is ill with diphtheria. After treating his leg, American Lieutenant Peterman drops by to give Marianne a worker for the castle named Franz Muller. Muller is a German prisoner of war, and though Marianne tries to refuse his help, she gives in. Later, she goes up to Benita’s room to nurse her and to give her a letter that Connie had written for Benita in a sealed envelope. Benita does not open it, and goes back to sleep.
Part 1, Section 1 explores the growing relationship between Marianne and Benita, and the arrival of Ania Grabarek and her sons. In Chapter Five Marianne recounts July 20, 1944. This is the date that Connie and Albrecht unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Hitler, and the next day Connie was dead. She remembers her conversations with Albrecht and Connie about the resistance, and her dawning understanding of what was happening on the ground. Chapter Six picks up where Chapter Four left off, with Benita sick in her room as she asks Elisabeth to hide Connie’s letter. Marianne brings in Herr Muller to start walking with Benita to make her better. The two become close, and the chapter ends with Muller giving Benita a present of toy soldiers for the boys.
Chapter Seven starts with Marianne finding the boys playing with the toy soldiers, and as Benita had predicted, she is upset that they are a gift from Muller. She goes to Lieutenant Peterman, reads about Muller’s Nazi past, and tells him to send Muller away. Chapter Eight starts Ania Grabarek’s perspective for the first time at Burg Lingenfels in August 1945. She is meeting Marianne for the first time, and taking her sons Anselm and Wolfgang up to the castle. The section ends with Ania’s perspective in Chapter Nine as she recounts her life from January of that same year. She was on the road with other displaced persons and refugees with her two boys, when one night they had to hide from the Russians in a barn in a small town. There she meets another woman also named Ania with one son, and the two of them become friends. They decide to travel together to Dresden.
In Part 1, Section 3 the three women and their children now live together in the castle. Chapter Ten starts with the women watching Russian soldiers approach the castle. Benita and the children hide in the cellar, and Marianne and Ania give them food and shelter in the barn. They insist on eating Herr Carsten Kellerman’s horse Gilda as well, which Carsten gives them. In Chapter Eleven, Benita wakes up in the cellar and realizes she needs to warn Muller about the Russian soldiers. Upon finding him, Muller tells her to leave but the Russian soldier looks at Benita hungrily. The chapter ends with her reaching into her pocket for the paring knife she brought with her.
Chapter Twelve details what happened to Benita in the five months before Marianne found her. After having a miscarriage in a Russian prison hospital, she had been taken hostage and raped and brutalized by various soldiers. She tried to find her son, but a Russian captain told her he was dead. In Chapter Thirteen, the whole family is preparing for Christmas in 1945. On Christmas Eve, Martin and the Grabarek boys go to visit Muller in the French camp for German prisoners of war. On Christmas Day the family goes into town for mass and a concert of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which everyone attending leaves in tears.
Part 2, Section 1 jumps forward five years to May of 1950 and centers around two new relationships: Ania and Kellerman and Benita and Muller. Chapter Fourteen starts from Benita’s perspective as her family and Marianne’s have moved into a new flat in Tollingen. She still has Connie’s letter unopened and locked in a chest. The families drive up to the Kellerman farm for the wedding. In Chapter Fifteen Ania watches her wedding reception. A newspaper man takes her picture with Carsten for the announcement and she is afterwards inexplicably agitated. Chapter Sixteen continues in time and location as Marianne hosts a goodbye party for the last of the refugees in their area and Ania, Marianne and Benita talk together about marriage and love. In Chapter Seventeen, Benita visits Muller, her lover. He tries to tell her about his past but she stops him and insists that “everyone is guilty” (177). Franz later announces to Benita, his father, and his daughter that he and Benita are engaged.
Chapter Eighteen moves forward one month to Ania’s perspective as Carsten’s new wife. The wedding announcement wth her picture was published in the newspaper, and Ania is worried about it. Ania also finds herself pregnant in this chapter. She tries to self-abort to no avail. One day she receives a letter from “R. Brandt” but she replies telling him she does not know him. Chapter Nineteen returns to Marianne’s perspective as Benita tells Marianne of her betrothal to Muller. The next day Marianne tells Benita that she cannot support her marriage, or allow Benita to involve Martin because of Muller’s past. Marianne insists this is not what Connie would have wanted. Benita is upset and calls Marianne cruel and Marianne is hurt.
In Part 2, Section 2 Shattuck finally reveals Ania’s secret, Ania gives birth, and Marianne’s relationship with both women begins to crumble. In Chapter Twenty, Ania receives another letter from the mystery man mentioned in Chapter Eighteen. She tries to find him, but cannot. At the end of the chapter he shows up on her land - asking if he is “speaking to Ania Kellerman or Ania Brandt” (198). Ania decides to hide him in Burg Lingenfels, as the castle is boarded up.
In Chapter Twenty-One, Marianne decides to talk to Muller about her disapproval of his and Benita’s engagement. She travels to his house and explains her promise to Connie, and that Connie’s background as a resistor makes Benita’s relationship to him (a former Nazi) an insult to his memory. Marianne is surprised to find Muller regretful, and he agrees to consider this. In Chapter Twenty-Two, Muller breaks off the engagement, telling Benita it is not right, given that her first husband had died in the resistance. Benita realizes Marianne is behind his change of heart. She tries to convince Muller otherwise, insisting the war is over and she would love him even he was “Hitler himself” but Muller is appalled and tells Benita she has no shame (208).
In Chapter Twenty-Three (August, 1950) Ania gives birth to a baby girl, whom she decides to name Marianne. Benita comes to visit her to tell her about her break-up, and that she is going home to Fruhlinghausen. In Chapter Twenty-Four, now September, Benita and Marianne drop off the children at boarding school. They stay at a local Inn, and Benita decides to go out to a beer garden where she meets a young man and goes home with him. After sleeping with him, Benita packs her things and leaves without saying goodbye to Marianne.
Chapter Twenty-Five details Marianne’s discovery of Ania’s secret. It is October and Marianne is lonely without the children, Benita, and Ania. She decides to visit Burg Lingenfels, as it has been boarded up for years. When she walks into the castle she discovers Ania standing there with a very sick man, whom Ania tells her is her husband. Marianne is disgusted with Ania for lying to her for all those years, but thinking of her friend Carsten she walks away.
Part 3, Section 1 tells the story of Ania before her marriage; ending the moment she leaves her husband. It also explains how she acquired Ania Grabarek’s identity. Chapter 26 starts in 1923 in Ania’s hometown of Dortmund. Ania is 12 as she watches the French take over her town and understands what it feels like to be part of a defeated country. She has a Jewish best friend named Otto Smeltz who, one day while avoiding punishment from her father for running away, she falsely accuses of kidnapping her. Afterwards, Otto and his family are abused by the neighbors and forced to leave their home. Ania misses him and thinks of him throughout the novel. In Chapter Twenty-Seven, Ania is now a grown woman living in the rise of Hitler in 1934. She joins a local convent so she can go work in Africa, but after 2 weeks her friend Rainer takes her to a local Hitler Youth performance. Ania is so moved by the patriotism and celebration, she drops out of the convent and becomes a member of the Nazi party.
Chapter Twenty-Eight details the change Ania and greater Germany experienced from 1935 to 1943. Ania and Rainer work together in 2 different lagers (Hitler Youth training camps). Germany is on the rise, and Ania and Rainer love their lives. They have two children, Anselm and Wolfgang. They listen to Hitler on the radio and believe him, that the war is self-defense. In 1941 Germany declares war in Russia and her husband is called to the front, so Ania returns to Dortmund. He is wounded shortly after his deployment, and returns moody and violent. Ania starts to hear new rumors about the war, including the murdering of Jews and gas chambers. Later when remembering this time she will think, “She knew of the horrors and she didn’t. She half-knew but there is no word for that” (259). The family is reassigned to a new lager in the Warthgau, Poland and while boarding the train to leave she sees cattle cars packed with Jews.
In Chapter Twenty-Nine the family now lives in the Warthegau. Her husband has grown intolerable to live with, even physically abusing her. Orphan babies arrive one day, and nuns come to take them to families but refuse to take two, and the SS suggest shooting them in the woods. Ania is horrified and will remember this moment as the end of her former identity, even more so than when she took her dead friends’ papers off her body later during the bombing of Dresden. A few days later, Ania takes two boys from the lager to the local labor camp, where she has visual confirmation of the horrors of the war. When she returns that night, she packs the essentials (including the paring knife), wakes her children, and they leave.
Part 3, Section 2 starts with Chapter Thirty and Benita returning home to Fruhlinghausen. She has moved in with two of her sisters. One night, she opens her chest and finds the letter from Connie Marianne gave her after the war in 1945, still sealed and unopened. She reads the letter and realizes her long hatred of him was unfair and unfounded. She also feels she is no longer necessary to anyone, and even a burden to some. She takes several sleeping pills and dies. In Chapter Thirty-One Marianne and Martin come to Fruhlinghausen for the funeral. Afterwards, Marianne returns to Tollingen feeling lonelier than ever. She runs into a Jewish man praying, and begins to talk to him about the war and his plans. He tells her he is going to America, and Marianne hears it “as the name of a place where a person could begin again” (294).
Part 4 begins forty years later in 1991, and ties up all the loose ends of the novel. In Chapter Thirty-Two Martin is visiting Marianne at her home in Maine, and she invites him to the party to be held in her honor at Burg Lingenfels that fall. Chapter Thirty-Three changes to Ania’s perspective as she visits her daughter Mary in Massachusetts. Her daughter has received an envelope with the invite for the party for Marianne. Chapter Thirty-Four begins four months later in October of 1991 at the weekend of the party for Marianne at Burg Lingenfels. Marianne donated the castle to the Falkenberg Institute of Moral and Ethical Inquiry, an organization that Marianne has supported. Marianne sees Ania and the two reconnect after forty years apart. The last time Marianne had seen Ania, she had given her laudanum for Rainer, and after delivering the medicine he had died the next day. Chapter Thirty-Five switches to Ania’s perspective in the castle, as she remembers her life back then. She thinks of her husband Rainer and how she and her sons had buried him out back.
In Chapter Thirty-Six, Marianne stands in front of the group and begins to deliver a speech, and though the book refers to her as the Moral Compass of the Resistance, she is uncertain of her own moral integrity. After learning about Ania’s past and expressing her own guilt over getting involved in Benita’s life she has learned life is more complicated than it appears. In the middle of her speech she faints, and Martin catches her. In Chapter Thirty-Seven Martin wakes in bed the next day next to Mary, Ania’s daughter. Marianne had revived quickly after fainting, and the party was a success. He comes downstairs and re-lives the feeling of the castle.
Chapter Thirty-Eight is the last chapter of the novel, and told from Clotilde Muller’s perspective for the first and only time. She has taken care of her father in his old age, and even take care of the gravesite of the Russian soldier. At one point, he told her his history in the war, but she insisted he had acted bravely when asked to be reassigned. The novel ends with Clotilde trying to remember all the beauty of the world, while thinking she must keep her father’s secret.
This section contains 2,752 words
(approx. 7 pages at 400 words per page)