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review 2018-06-17 09:35
Elizabeth and Her German Garden
Elizabeth and Her German Garden (The Penguin English Library) - Elizabeth von Arnim

I loved this - I think I first heard about it from a mention by Themis-Athena, but had to await its publication here before reading it.  It's a slim tome, but packed; at 104 pages, what I originally thought would be a fast read instead took me a couple of days, despite my being absorbed in it.


Mostly, it's a celebration of gardens, the outdoors, and nature, as written by one new to all of it.  But buried in the narrative, structured loosely like a diary, are moments of scathing wit, social commentary, and on the part of her husband, not a little misogyny.  Elizabeth and her German Garden was originally published in 1898 and though its language is of the time, Elizabeth is refreshingly modern.  Her thoughts, attitude, and personality are in almost all ways indistinguishable from the average 21st century woman's voice.  I loved her and her scathing, dry wit.


My only complaint about the book is it was slightly too short.  After lamenting two years of summer droughts that kept her in suspense of her garden's potential, the book ends at the very start of April and spring; I desperately want to know if she finally got to see her garden in all its glory!  Did the yellow border work out?  Enquiring minds are left hanging!

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review 2018-05-04 14:56
The Enchanted April - Elizabeth von Arnim

Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot meet unexpectedly in their club, both having spotted the advertisement for a month-long rental of an Italian castle by the sea. Both desperate to leave their lives behind for a short while they agree to rent the castle between them, engaging Lady Caroline and Mrs Fisher to share the costs. Soon the magic of Italy casts it spell over the four women and they find themselves changed in unforseen ways.


Any of us lucky enough to go on holiday know that they can have a magical effect on the psyche. A break away from the norm, from everyday worries, helps lift the spirits and forget, albeit temporarily, issues that may plague us at home.


Mrs Wilkins blossoms, much like the wisteria, almost as soon as her feet land in Italy. She becomes Lotty, first to Mrs Arbuthnot, then to the other women, much to Mrs Fisher’s consternation. She is transformed by the castle, seeing herself and her husband in a new light and is so certain that the others will see themselves differently too. Mrs Arbuthnot, soon to be Rose to her new friends, soon starts to view her own life differently, becoming more melancholy as she begins to perceive that her choices may have impacted her relationship with her husband. Mrs Fisher is determined to separate herself from the others, taking over the best sitting room and studiously ignoring the radiant Lotty. Lady Caroline too is determined to separate herself from others, tired of being pandered to and pawed, too aware her beauty and charm have an odd and not always welcome effect on others. However all four women soon find the magic of Italy changes them in unforseen ways.


This is not just a book about four disparate women, thrown together. It is a comedy of manners, of breaking down social barriers, of forging friendships and rekindling passions. It is about finding the time and the inclination to love yourself and your life. And about finding the time to just sit in the sun.


My April was enchanted reading this wonderful novel. I could easily imagine myself walking around the grounds, taking in the beautiful views and being caught up in the exuberance of Lotty and the gentle charm of Rose and Lady Caroline. A joyful, fun, and sometimes moving novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


I shall now practise my wafting whilst I look out for more of Elizabeth von Arnim’s work.

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review 2017-08-15 23:08
Vera - Elizabeth von Arnim

'My little love isn't going to do anything that spoils her Everard's plans after all the trouble he has taken?' he said, seeing that with her mouth slightly open she gazed at him in an obvious astonishment and didn't say a word.

Vera, written in 1921 and partly informed by von Arnim's marriage to Earl Russell (the older brother to Bertrand), is as fascinating as it is frightening. 


Vera tells the story of young Lucy who marries the somewhat older Everard Wemyss and finds herself caught. The tragedy of it is, she doesn't realise it. 


Vera is often described as the prototype for Du Maurier's Rebecca (1938). In some ways this is quite true: 


Vera, like Rebecca, lends her name to the book's title. Vera, like Rebecca, is the late wife of the husband. Vera, like Rebecca, haunts the young new wife. 


However, on levels of dysfunction, Vera surpasses Rebecca by far. 


Marriage, Lucy found, was different from what she had supposed; Everard was different; everything was different. For one thing she was always sleepy. For another she was never alone. She hadn't realised how completely she would never be alone, or, if alone, not sure for one minute to the other of going on being alone. Always in her life there had been intervals during which she recuperated in solitude from any strain; now there were none. Always there had been places she could go to and rest in quietly, safe from interruption; now there were none.

I pretty quickly in the book wanted to shake Lucy and make her see what she was getting into, but I am not sure she would have listened. 

As the story progressed, dysfunction turned into what can only be described as a nightmare, and I truly hoped that Lucy, much like von Arnim, would find a means to escape from psycho-Everard's clutches. Or that she'd push him off a cliff. Or the top floor window.

Well, that was at the very beginning. She soon learned that a doubt in her mind was better kept there. If she brought it out to air it and dispel it by talking it over with him, all that happened was that he was hurt, and when he was hurt she instantly became perfectly miserable. Seeing, then, that this happened about small things, how impossible it was to talk with him of big things; of, especially, her immense doubt in regard to The Willows.

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text 2017-08-14 22:25
Everard Wemyss
Vera - Elizabeth von Arnim

The other end was filled with bookshelves from floor to ceiling, and the books, in neat rows and uniform editions, were packed so tightly in the shelves that no one but an unusually determined reader would have the energy to wrench one out. Reading was evidently not encouraged, for not only were the books shut in behind glass doors, but the doors were kept locked and the key hung on Wemyss's watch-chain.

Which tells us pretty much everything we need to know about Everard Wemyss.



'People are so untrustworthy about books. I took pains to arrange mine myself, and they're all in first-class-bindings and I don't want them taken out and left lying anywhere by Tom, Dick, and Harry. If any one wants to read they can come and ask me. Then I know exactly what is taken, and can see that it is put back.' And he held up the key on his watch-chain.

'But doesn't that rather discourage people?' asked Lucy, who was accustomed to the most careless familiarity in intercourse with books, to books loose everywhere, books overflowing out of their shelves, books in every room, instantly accessible books, friendly books, books used to being read aloud, with their hospitable pages falling open at a touch.

'All the better,' said Wemyss. 'I don't want anybody to read my books.'


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text 2017-08-02 13:03
As much as I am enjoying...
The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James,Patricia Crick
Vera - Elizabeth von Arnim
Indiana - Sylvia Raphael,Naomi Schor,George Sand

... my current reads, none of them are books I can enjoy when on the go or, indeed, on the commute.


So, I am looking for an audiobook to go play in the car on the way to and from work.


My shortlist of potential commuting reads are: The Moonstone, The Portrait of a Lady, Vera, or Indiana.


Does anyone have any thoughts on them?


I am looking to source them from Librivox, mostly because I can just leave the memory stick in the car and it will pick up at exactly the same location where I got to previously... the simple things...

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