BOOK REVIEW: Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

"Elizabeth and Her German Garden," a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, was popular and frequently reprinted during the early years of the 20th century. "Elizabeth and Her German Garden" is a year's diary written by Elizabeth about her experiences learning gardening and interacting with her friends. It includes commentary on the beauty of nature and on society, but is primarily humorous due to Elizabeth's frequent mistakes and her idiosyncratic outlook on life. The story is full of sweet, endearing moments. Elizabeth was an avid reader and has interesting comments on where certain authors are best read; she tells charming stories of her children and has a sometimes sharp sense of humor in regards to the people who will come and disrupt her solitary lifestyle.

My Thoughts:

Every month or so, I like to read an old favourite classic. This time I chose Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim – it’s a tiny sparkling jewel of a book, first published in 1898 and only a hundred or so pages long. It purports to be the diary of a young woman who finds solace and liberation in the garden of her husband’s old country house. It begins ‘May 7th: I love my garden’ and goes on with such glorious quotes as: ‘When I got to the library I came to a standstill, - ah, the dear room, what happy times I have spent in it rummaging amongst the books, making plans for my garden, building castles in the air, writing, dreaming, doing nothing’.

Or this one: ‘What a happy woman I am living in a garden, with books, babies, birds, and flowers, and plenty of leisure to enjoy them! Yet my town acquaintances look upon it as imprisonment … what can life in town offer in the way of pleasure to equal the delight of any one of the calm evenings I have had this month sitting alone at the foot of the verandah steps, with the perfume of young larches all about, and the May moon hanging low over the beeches, and the beautiful silence made only more profound in its peace by the croaking of distant frogs and hooting of owls?

Elizabeth and her German Garden was published anonymously, and the names of all the people within the book are concealed behind nicknames. The author calls her husband ‘the Man of Wrath’, an irreverent appellation that I have since adopted for my own husband, while her children are simply called ‘the April baby’ and ‘the May baby’ and so on. The author was in fact born in Kirribilli in Sydney, Australia, and christened Mary Annette Beauchamp, but called May by all her friends and family. The New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield was her cousin. She met the German aristocrat, Count Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin, while travelling in Europe and married him soon after. They lived in Berlin initially, but then she moved to his country estate in what is now Poland. Elizabeth and her German Garden was her first book and it was a runaway bestseller, being reprinted eleven times in its first year of publication and earning her over £10,000. She became so famous that everyone called her Elizabeth and she ended up adopting her pseudonym as her name. Her marriage was unhappy and did not last, and the estate was eventually sold. It gave me an enduring desire to marry a count and build a garden in the ruins of a castle somewhere – a dream that seems increasingly unlikely to ever come true. Luckily I can dip in and out of this charming little book as often as I want!

Get your copy of Elizabeth and her German Garden here

 You might also like to read my review of Hanns & Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding:

Kate Forsyth
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