The Keepers of the House

The Keepers of the House

infobox Book |
name = The Keepers of the House
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Shirley Ann Grau
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Alfred A. Knopf
release_date = 1964
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (hardback & paperback)
pages =
isbn = NA
preceded_by = The House on Coliseum Street (1961)
followed_by = The Condor Passes (1971)

"The Keepers of the House" is a 1964 novel by Shirley Ann Grau set in rural Alabama and covering seven generations of the Howland family that lived in the same house and built a community around themselves. As such, it is a metaphor for the long-established families of the Deep South of the United States, their encounter with changing values and norms, and the hypocrisy of racism. In 1965, "The Keepers of the House" was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Plot summary

The first William Howland did not return home to Tennessee on his way back from the War of 1812. Instead, he settled on a hill in rural Alabama, overlooking a small river. He was later killed in an Indian raid, but since then, a descendant of William Howland, most often a male named William, lived in the house and dominated affairs in Madison City and Wade County, which sprang up around Howland's original settlement.

The fifth William Howland was the last man bearing the name to live in the house. His wife died young, leaving him with a young daughter, Abigail, and an infant son, William, who died just a year after his mother. Abigail married an English professor, who abandoned her with a child, Abigail, when he went off to fight in World War II. When she died, William Howland was left to take care of his granddaughter, also Abigail. He also brought Margaret, a new African American housekeeper to the house to live with him. Throughout the county, she was known as his mistress, and the mother of his other children. What no one knew, however, was that William had secretly married Margaret to ensure that the children were legitimate. Once their children came of age, William Howland and Margaret sent them north, so that they could pursue lives as Whites.

The secret of the marriage came out only after the younger Abigail was married to John Tolliver, an up-and-coming politician, who was running for governor. In the turbulent racist atmosphere of the South, Tolliver aligned himself with the Klan and came out with racist statements against Blacks. This enfuriated Robert Howland, the eldest son of William and Margaret, who was living in obscurity in Seattle. He releases the news to the story of his origins to the press, crippling Tolliver's campaign. Tolliver, who regards Abigail as a trophy wife, declares that their marriage is over and heads north to his family.

Both William Howland and Margaret are dead, but a mob gathers to vent its anger about the mixed marriage on Abigail and the Howland house. They kill the livestock and set fire to the barn, but Abigail succeeds in driving them away from the house with her grandfather's shotguns. At the end of the book, Abigail takes her revenge on the people of Madison City. Over the past generations, her family had come to own most of the county, making her one of the richest people in the state. Over the course of a single day, she takes revenge on the locals for betraying her grandfather by shutting down the hotel and bringing most of the local economy to ruin. Once she has done that, she places a call to Robert, with the intention of informing his new family that his mother was Black.

Major themes

Race plays an important role throughout "The Keepers of the House". Grau point to what she regards as the hypocrisy among southerners, whose true beliefs about race do not coincide with their statements or beliefs. This culminates in her husband, John Tolliver, whom she challenges as to whether he really believes the rhetoric he spouts about the differences between blacks and whites. This bitter condemnation, made at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, evoked a sharp reaction against Grau. When the book was first published, Grau was attacked by the Ku Klux Klan and a cross was burned on her lawn.

External links

* [ Photos of the first edition of The Keepers of the House]

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