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

Read in 2017

January: 1. London: the Novel, by Edward Rutherfurd 2. Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson 3. A Very English Scandal, by John Preston 4. Imagined London, by Anna Quindlen 5. The Black Dahlia, by James Ellroy 6. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote February 1. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen 2. The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark 3. Patience, by John Coates 4. Into the Whirlwind, by Eugenia Ginzburg 5. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James 6. Few Eggs and No Oranges, by Vere Hodgson 7. Vittoria Cottage, by DE Stevenson March: 1. The Exiles Return, by Elizabeth de Waal 2. Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen 3. The Death of the Heart, by Elizabeth Bowen 4. The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton 5. The Death of the Heart, by Elizabeth Bowen 6. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith April: 1. The Heat of the Day, by Elizabeth Bowen 2. The Two Mrs. Abbotts, by DE Stevenson 3. The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson May: 1. London War Notes, by Mollie Panter-Dow

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy:   2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy:, April 2013 This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice , First Impressions ). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death. To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; A

Review: The Far Cry, by Emma Smith

Pages: 324 Original date of publication: 1949 My edition: 2007 (Persephone) Why I decided to read: It’s been on my TBR pile since I purchased it six months ago How I acquired my copy: from the Persephone shop, September 2009 The Far Cry was inspired by the author’s experiences in India. In 1945, at the age of 21, Emma Smith (who describes herself as “a green young woman” in her preface to this edition) traveled to India with a film production crew as a junior script writer/gopher. While she was there, Smith kept a journal of her experiences and thoughts to detail her “magical Cinderella-like transformation” into a worldlier person. In the preface of the novel, Emma Smith writes brilliantly about what kind of impact her travels to India had upon her, a first-time visitor. What she wrote in her journal went largely into the writing of this novel; and the stronger it is for it, I think, because this is an absolutely stunning book. When Mr. Digby’s ex wife returns from Amer