Monday, May 9, 2011


Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther, In the Mountains, Christopher and Columbus, Elizabeth and Her German Garden, The Princess Priscilla's Fortnight

 On my Kindle I've rediscovered Elizabeth Von Arnim, whose reputation was revived a few years ago when the movie of her novel Enchanted April was a popular success. I have yet to read that book, though it is on my Kindle list.  I read The Parson's Wife several years ago, but this time started with Christopher and Columbus, a humorous novel about twin girls of eighteen orphaned and sent to relatives in England at the beginning of World War I. Being half German and half English, the girls were a problem for their aunt and uncle who subsequently sent them to America hoping that business friends of the uncle would take them in. The girls are beautiful, charming, naive, and their subsequent adventures are humorous while also being a social commentary on the treatment of Germans in America during the war. 

In the Mountains is a poignant story of a woman who returns to her vacation home in Switzerland from England after World War I, having lost in the war all of those who had spent the summers with her before the war. The early book consists of reflections on her pain.  "You see, what has happened has taken away my faith in goodness," she tells her journal."and the hurt goes too far down to be healed. Yet I know time is a queer, wholesome thing. I've lived long enough to have found that out. It is very sanitary. it cleans up everything."  At another point she writes, "What shall we do when we all get to heaven and aren't allowed to have any patriotism? There, surely, we shall at last be forced into one vast family.  But I imagine that every time God isn't looking the original patriotism of each will beak out, right along throughout eternity."

The main character is engaging and her reflections and memories so interesting (including a letter from Henry James), that the book held me despite its seeming lack of plot - and then half way through two English women arrive at her garden exhausted from walking up the mountain. She takes them into tea and they stay for months. They prove to be both a diversion as now there is conversation but also something of a trial, not because they are difficult but because of their extreme politeness, and a mystery for although they converse there is also much left unexplained.  The main character however persists in attempting to break through their reserve. She suspects one of the sisters, for they are sisters, had a German husband that they fear to divulge.  When the truth comes out finally, the tone turns light and soon a romantic interest arrives to bring more sunlight into their lives. I'm not saying more, read the book.

Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther is a delightful tale of love gone awry and a heroine who will not be put down by love or loss, The Princess Priscilla's Fortnight is a charming modern fairy tale. Eliizabeth and her German Garden is a wry picture of a woman enjoying herself and her garden despite her husband, whose name we never know. He is always referred to as "the man of wrath".  What is so enjoyable about von Arnim is that her books are not conventional, I couldn't predict what was going to happen, but was quite pleased with all the endings.  Von Arnim was a cousin of Katherine Mansfield. Her maiden name was Beauchamps but she married and later divorced a German count, who gave her five children and material for many novels.

virtual catalogue, Kindle (all free)

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