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Thread: Elizabeth and her German Garden. by Elizabeth Von Arnim

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    Elizabeth and her German Garden. by Elizabeth Von Arnim

    Elizabeth and her German Garden. By Elizabeth Von Arnim.

    Elizabeth and her German Garden was Von Arnim's first book and an instant success, it was reprinted 23 times in the year it was published (1898.) Nowadays it is little known and seldom read, but is utterly marvellous.
    It is set in a remote landscape and house in Northern Germany, and is written in beautiful effortless prose. Long, long sentences meander down garden paths past scented flowerbeds out on to the Hirschwald and under shady birch copses. Frozen snowscapes and bright spring mornings are caught and presented to us beautifully gift wrapped.

    There are so many bird-cherries round me, great trees with branches
    sweeping the grass, and they are so wreathed just now with white
    blossoms and tenderest green that the garden looks like a wedding.
    I never saw such masses of them; they seemed to fill the place.
    Even across a little stream that bounds the garden on the east,
    and right in the middle of the cornfield beyond, there is an immense one,
    a picture of grace and glory against the cold blue of the spring sky

    Now, too much description, how ever well done, would soon weary and though the garden is at the centre of the book, there is a lot more to appreciate here, particularly her eccentric outlook and her wit. It starts slowly, but had me chuckling before too long. The only disappointment is that it is too short.

    Well there isn't one really, it is a lady's journal and is about her garden. It is also about her children (The babies,) her husband (The Man of Wrath,) herself (Elizabeth,) her bothersome visitors ( Irais and Minora,) and society in general (rural and fashionable). Her wit is wicked but is saved from being cruel because she is often her own target, she laughs at her own oddities as much as anyone elses. When this unconventional and extraordinary woman rubs up against other people the book really blossoms. The Irais / Minora episodes are priceless, as barbed comments, sarcasm, ironic remarks and farcical situations stretch the rules of good manners almost to breaking point. There is also a thread of social comment winding through it. Inequalities of class and sex are handled with such a light ironic touch and with such wryness, you wonder if she means it to be there at all.

    "I wonder," she went on after a pause, "whether men
    ever make resolutions?"

    "I don't think they do. Only women indulge in such luxuries.
    It is a nice sort of feeling, when you have nothing else to do,
    giving way to endless grief and penitence, and steeping yourself to the eyes
    in contrition; but it is silly. Why cry over things that are done?
    Why do naughty things at all, if you are going to repent afterward?
    Nobody is naughty unless they like being naughty; and nobody ever really
    repents unless they are afraid they are going to be found out."

    "By 'nobody' of course you mean women, said Irais.

    "Naturally; the terms are synonymous. Besides, men generally
    have the courage of their opinions."

    "I hope you are listening, Miss Minora," said Irais in the amiably
    polite tone she assumes whenever she speaks to that young person.


    I loved this book because of the fine writing and subtle wit, definitely a keeper and re-reader. I thank goodness Elizabeth avoided the fate of her cousin Catherine Mansfield, and married a German landowner rather than entering the Bloomsbury orbit and indulging in all that intellectual introspection. There is introspection and philosophy here, but it is a practical, earthy sort imbued with German common sense and English humour.

    The best thing on my Kindle so far. 9 /10 (and I never give 9/10)
    Last edited by prendrelemick; 07-10-2013 at 02:35 AM.
    ay up

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