Skip to main content

Review: Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth von Arnim

Pages: 207
Original date of publication: 1898
My edition: 1985 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: AV/AA
How I acquired my copy: September 2011, London

I’ve had Elizabeth and Her German Garden on Mount TBR since last September, and it came to my attention recently while watching the second season of Downton Abbey, when two characters talk about the book briefly in passing. The novel is a kind of diary that our heroine keeps in order to record her thoughts about motherhood, marriage, life—and, of course, her garden, in which she spends most of her time in order to get away from the stresses of daily life. Her husband, the Man of Wrath, doesn’t understand it, but Elizabeth’s situation will probably resonate with a lot of fellow introverts—she likes having the space in order to recharge.

Yes, there’s a fair amount in the book about gardening. But you don’t have to be a gardener necessarily in order to enjoy the book (in fact, in an early review, a reviewer was disappointed that there were no gardening tips for the amateur). Knowing what we know about Elizabeth, it’s interesting to watch how she handles the invasion of two unexpected houseguests at Christmastime—and how her husband assumes that she’ll enjoy it (why did those two get married in the first place? They seem to have nothing in common). There is something kind of poetic about Elizabeth’s prose, particularly in her descriptions of her need for solitude.

There is a (slight) autobiographical note to the novel, as Elizabeth von Armin was married to a German aristocrat. Homesick for England, in 1896 she accompanied her husband to his country estate as Nassenheide, outside Berlin, where she became enamored of the garden; Elizabeth and Her German Garden describes the first spring months that von Arnim spent there. I wasn’t quite as bothered by the Man of Wrath’s actions as some other readers, but then again I think von Arnim was satirizing the Count. It was also interesting to me to find out from the Introduction to the Virago edition that EM Forster visited the estate at Nassenheide in 1904.


Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancĂ©e, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…