Jun 12, 2014

Elizabeth and her German Garden

by Elizabeth von Arnim

I had always wanted to read more von Arnim since loving her Enchanted April, and held off for a while after being disappointed with her dog memoirs. Similarly, I did not find Her German Garden quite as good as Enchanted April, but it was still very enjoyable. It was just not quite what I expected.

It starts out well enough, her lovely words about the beauties of the garden and musing on why no one else seems to appreciate it so much. Others pity her for being left alone in the very place she loves -they just don't understand. How she thrives on solitude and books and dearly loves her plants, would rather not even have visitors. She loves lilacs (so do I) and once filled the house with armloads of the flowers, so that the household staff were convinced she must be planning a party or at the very least expecting some guests. They were put out to find nothing of the sort! I enjoy all this very much. There is an oddly amusing passage where she sneaks into her cousins' garden to see what they have done with it since she was last there- it is apparent she doesn't like these cousins much, and is afraid of being found there, while reminiscing about gardens from her childhood. And of course there are all her efforts to compose a beautiful landscape with the plants, full of learning errors- although she doesn't actually get her hands dirty, merely directing the staff where to put plants she has selected.

There's another longer section about an English girl who comes to visit, a houseguest somehow forced upon Elizabeth; it becomes an extended stay lasting several weeks, even though no one in the household seems to like this girl much. She purports to be studying German culture in order to write a book, but her inquiries are either ignorant or insulting by degrees. Amusing all that, but not much about the garden. There there's some odd attitudes towards her own children expressed, and about women- her own gender! which reminded me that I was reading a book from a very different time. It was oddly disconcerting and uncomfortable for me, as I admired von Arnim so much before. I guess I don't know her very well at all. She also refers to her husband as The Man of Wrath- I was never sure whether this was in jest, or if they really had a bad relationship.

So- I liked most of it, but other parts confused me some, even though I did enjoy them for other reasons. I learned this was her first published work; maybe that's why it feels a bit disjointed to me, the writing voice always lovely regardless. I'm determined to read it again in the future, and see if a bit of perspective will improve my reading experience.

I read this one on my kindle.

Rating: 3/5      207 pages, 1899

more opinions:
So Many Books
The Captive Reader
The Book Snob
Small World Reads


Stefanie said...

Definitely not Enchanted April but like you I still enjoyed the book especially the bits about the garden!

Jeane said...

Yes. I'm hoping to like it more when I read it again (not having unrealistic expectations the second time around).