I was moved to immediately begin reading this lovely book at last by Danielle’s sensitive and moving description of von Arnim’s sequel to Elizabeth and Her German Garden, The Solitary Summer. (And now I want to read that one too, because Elizabeth and Her German Garden was over all too soon!) But I’ve had a bit of a hard time thinking about how to write this review. I absolutely adored the first half or two-thirds (or maybe it’s three-fourths?) of this book, so much so I even considered typing them up to keep forever as my very own because I’m only reading from a very tattered library copy. I love flowers and gardens, even though I am definitely not a gardener, they are my safe place and I’ve always felt that trees and flowers were my friends, just as Elizabeth does. And she mentions all my favourite flowers (lilacs, sweet peas and roses) and it was idyllic and so relaxing and private, describing just the sort of place I’d love to live in (with my very sweet and lovable husband however, not the Man of Wrath!)
There were a few feminist bits, actually, she sees peasant women who’ve just given birth and then go back to work that very same day and feels sorry for them (and definitely doesn’t agree with her husband, the Man of Wrath, who argues that it does women good to be beaten, oh my word!!) but then in the last bit, she has two women come to visit, one of whom she and the other guest make fun of extensively. This girl’s from Britain and keeps taking out a notebook just to jot down whatever strange things these Germans talk about or do, in order to throw them together in a little book, which would get annoying I suppose, especially as she is oblivious to their hints to stop it.
Perhaps it’s the whole making fun of obnoxious Britishers at travel (looking down at everyone else, because of their bigger empire? This attitude of course, provoking Germany in particular which eventually led to a lot of trouble), which E.M. Forster also does in A Room With A View (Forster was, incidentally, the tutor of von Arnim’s children!) and especially the British travel writer type, like his sentimental novelist, Eleanor Lavish. But the thing is, both Elizabeth von Arnim and E.M. Forster were writers themselves and writers about the Englishman abroad too, what gives them the right to criticize their fellow travelers and fellow writers? Von Arnim at least actually lived in Germany, but she’s the one who’s actually written what seems like a rather autobiographical novel about the people around her, did she steal all her copy from them? (As they keep teasing the girl in the book.) Do they make fun of writers in their books to distract the reader from thinking of them as the same kind of writers? I’m not sure, but I found it an odd ending to such an otherwise delightful book and I definitely want to read more of her books now, The Enchanted April too. What a great wealth of richness this reading week has given me!
Here are some lovely bits:
On some very specially divine days, like to-day, I have actually longed for some one else to be here to enjoy the beauty with me. There has been rain in the night, and the whole garden seems to be singing — not the untiring birds only, but the vigorous plants, the happy grass and trees, the lilac bushes — oh, those lilac bushes! They are all out to-day, and the garden is drenched with the scent. I have brought in armfuls, the picking is such a delight, and every pot and bowl and tub in the house is filled with purple glory, and the servants think there is going to be a party and are extra nimble, and I go from room to room gazing at the sweetness, and the windows are all flung open so as to join the scent within to the scent without; and the servants gradually discover that there is no party, and wonder why the house should be filled with flowers for one woman by herself, and I long more and more for a kindred spirit — it seems so greedy to have so much loveliness to oneself — but kindred spirits are so very, very rare; I might almost as well cry for the moon. It is true that my garden is full of friends, only they are — dumb.
(Lovely lilacs, how I should love to have a house full of them!)
But while admiring my neighbour, I don’t think I shall ever try to follow in her steps, my talents not being of the energetic and organising variety, but rather of that order which makes their owner almost lamentably prone to take up a volume of poetry and wander out to where the kingcups grow, and sitting on a willow trunk beside a little stream, forget the very existence of everything but green pastures and still waters, and the glad blowing of the wind across the joyous fields.
Oh how I can relate! I’m afraid I’m much less organized than many book bloggers and much prefer being spontaneous, I try to finish more books to keep up with all of you speedy readers and then just wish I could do more wandering about, reading randomly! (I’m an INFP in the Myers-Briggs personality scale, if you were ever wondering, just that kind of daydreamy idealist.)
In the summer, on fine evenings, I love to drive late and alone in the scented forests, and when I have reached a dark part stop, and sit quite still, listening to the nightingales repeating their little tune over and over again after interludes of gurgling, or if there are no nightingales, listening to the marvelous silence, and letting its blessedness descend into my very soul.
This reminded me of a summer I spent working in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, at Lake Louise near Banff, a glorious deep green blue lake with the mountains all behind it and such stillness in the air at times, especially in the evenings, with the moon overhead — go if you are ever in the area (and then visit me too!), it will take your breath away. The air there is so fresh and pure, like glaciers and pine trees, I am always longing to breathe it in again.
Go read Claire’s review from earlier in the week if I’ve got you longing for more from this delicious book! And then read it and smell flowers and breathe deep and enjoy the last day of Virago Reading Week!
(I will admit I’ve read two Elizabeths this week, Taylor and von Arnim, partly because in Nancy Pearl’s book Book Lust her first entry is all about recommending authors whose first name is Alice. I began musing last year, after adding Elizabeth Gaskell to my list of favourite authors which also includes Elizabeth Bowen, that surely there must be more Elizabeth authors I would love! My first official Virago read last year was Elizabeth Jenkins’ The Tortoise and the Hare and that made me think more Viragos would be worth reading. And these two have been great novelists I’m glad I’ve finally read, with Elizabeth von Arnim sure to become a firm favourite. Any other Elizabeths you can recommend to me?)
Rachel will be doing the round ups today and tomorrow and then we’ll have to announce our prize winners, she’s got one for the person who can convince her that their favourite Virago is most worth reading, I have the photo contest so I can see all your lovely Viragos, and we’re both going to be picking one of our favourite reviews each for two more awards and then we’re thinking of the last award for one overall great participant, that’s the hardest one to choose as you’ve all joined in so heartily this week and it’s been such a pleasure.