Excerpt, A Princess of Wittgenstein | jenniferstevenson.com

Excerpt, A Princess of Wittgenstein

Excerpt from “A Princess of Wittgenstein”

“Now, Ileen, the Penderby residence is capacious, so you will sleep in your own room, rather than share with the other maids, as is more common in London. I gather that things were otherwise for you in…Paris?”

“Yes, M’sieur Soames, very different. I am most happy to serve in the house of the great scientist Docteur Horace Penderby.”

“Er, yes. Although it is to Mrs Penderby that you owe your position here.”


“Mrs Penderby is a founder of the Society for a Broader Definition of Humanity.”

“I assure you M’sieur Soames, I am human.”

“Er, yes. Of course.”

“As are you.”

“I see you are curious. Very well, on this one occasion I will satisfy your natural question.”

“Thank you, M’sieur Soames, I should like to be satisfied.”

“Although in future it would be impertinent to pursue the matter.”

“Yes, M’sieur Soames.”

“If you would accompany me downstairs. As you have guessed, Ileen, I am one of Dr Penderby’s automata. He endowed me with the equivalent of an Etonian education, with one additional year of Oxford in his own specialties, so that I may assist in the laboratory. I have a chassis which satisfactorily mimics the human frame, such that visitors are not unduly alarmed by my appearance, and a minute understanding of etiquette, household management, London society’s practices and customs, in short, everything necessary to make the ideal butler for such an establishment as this one.”

“M’sieur Soames is indeed marvelous.”

“I am also capable of handling the wild beasts which reside – through this door -in the laboratory, which was once the ballroom. We have an orangutan, a crocodile, rabbits, agoutis, and smaller mammals and lizards. It will be one of your duties to assist me. I trust you are not afraid of God’s creatures?”

“But no. I, too, am one.”

“Er. Of course.”

“And did Docteur Penderby provide you also with a soul?”

“Automata do not require them. I have a mandate to which I refer, which aids in my self-direction.”

“But Docteur Penderby is the author of They Are All Alive ”

“Those pamphlets were penned by Mrs Penderby. It is a topic on which master and mistress…differ.”


“Do not look so stricken, girl. Mrs Penderby will discuss your soul, if you choose, as exhaustively as you could wish. Dr Penderby is easily satisfied, provided his staff do not faint, scream, or indulge in hysterics above once or twice a week.”
M’sieur Soames is satirical.”

“I fear not. We suffer rather a high turnover of staff. It is the orangutan, principally. He forgets his trousers.”

“He does not mistake the maids for orangutans, does he, M’sieur?”

“I am gratified to report that he has stopped short of such an outrage. Er, Ileen.”

“Yes. M’sieur Soames?”

“Have you -that is to say, you seem to me -er, where are you from originally?”

“Wittgenstein, M’sieur Soames.”

“Fancy. I see. Hm. Thank you, Ileen, that will be all.”

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