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The Dark Unwinding
by Sharon Cameron

Scholastic Press, September 1, 2012

“In the very back of the room, where the sunlight could not penetrate, a wide staircase rose into darkness, and beside the stairs was a door, light leaking from its edges. I opened this, and found a windowless corridor, gaslit and stifling. Door after door slipped past me, set in walls the hue of half-ripened cherries, a sense of suffocation growing as I moved deeper and deeper into the house. A closed door ended the hall, and behind it was another room, also windowless, a single chandelier throwing both illumination and shadow on nothing but clocks.”

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Katharine Tulman discovers a fantastic world where science seems like magic when she arrives at her uncle’s remote estate to have him committed to a lunatic asylum. But instead of a lunatic she is confronted with a genius inventor with his own set of child-like rules, a brooding apprentice and a mysterious young student of science, the dwindling family fortune and the hundreds of families her uncle is using it to support. Having Uncle Tulman sent to the asylum is no longer an easy choice. And that’s when Katharine Tulman begins seeing things that aren’t really there. 

“Utterly original, romantic, and spellbindingly imaginative.”  –USA Today

“Haunting thrills unfurl…” –Entertainment Weekly

“Gripping twists, rich language, and an evocative landscape.” –Publisher’s Weekly

“By turns funny and poignant, this period mystery is a thoroughgoing delight.” –Kirkus Reviews

Welbeck Abbey:
The estate of Stranwyne Keep in The Dark Unwinding was inspired by Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire, England.
Welbeck Abbey, Postcard, early 20th century
While Welbeck Abbey did not have enormous statues that balanced on a pencil point or swimming clockwork fish, Welbeck’s Duke did build miles of underground tunnels,
an enormous underground ballroom, library, and billiard room, a gasworks, an iron-and- glass stable, and marble-tiled cow sheds.
Tunnel Entrance, c. 1900



Underground Ballroom, seen as a picture gallery, c. 1901
More than a thousand people lived on Welbeck’s grounds, the trade and craftsman that made the Duke’s massive building projects possible, families that otherwise would have lived (or died) in poverty. Madness, or benevolence? History has never quite decided.
Oh, and by the way, every room was painted pink.
Katharine’s Uncle Tulman liked to remember people that have “gone away” by making automatons. Automatons are figures, life-size or otherwise, made of thousands of clockwork parts. When wound up automatons perform a specific task: moving, walking, smoking, or even eating and drinking. Automaton making was at its height in the 18th and 19th century.
Made in the early 18th century by Pierre Jacquet-Droz, these three automatons are called The Writer, The Musician, and the Draftsman. The Writer has over six thousands parts and is fully programmable. By pushing tabs on the inside, The Writer uses a quill and inkpot to write the message of your choice onto paper. He is considered by some to be the world’s first computer. The Draftsman draws four different pictures, and The Musician breathes, curtsies, and plays her instrument.
Here are some videos of automatons in action.
Any of these could have been in Uncle Tully’s workshop. If they were dead people, that is.
Here is a girl teaching her bird to sing.
The bird is an automaton, too.
This automaton belonged to Marie Antoinette.
This is Cleopatra.
Note the happy music, snakes,and heaving breath.
Meet Nancy:
And this short film is just creepy.
From Uncle Tully’s workshopThe Fish Toy(as transcribed by Philip Cameron)
click image to enlarge