A Review of Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

Elizabeth and Her German Garden, a wonderful
novel about escaping into nature.

Although Elizabeth and Her German Garden is designed to be the prequel to The Solitary Summer, I read them in reverse. As expected, Elizabeth von Arnim’s writing is refreshing and light, and is the perfect accompaniment to my holiday. However, I do think I prefer The Solitary Summer to German Garden. In Elizabeth and Her German Garden the narrator seems quite trapped by guests and socialising, with only snippets of her time spent in nature. I prefer the freedom that she finds during her solitary summer.

Nonetheless, there’s plenty to discuss about German Garden; probably more than The Solitary Summer in fact. There’s a greater political sphere to the novel, particularly in relation to the position of women in society. This was a text written in 1898, and the female marginalisation of the time is all too apparent. However, the fact that Arnim questions the situation is proof of growing modernity. The novel’s protagonist, Elizabeth, challenges the stereotype of a woman at home: she doesn’t cook, doesn’t enjoy cleaning, and classes herself, like others do, as eccentric. By spending so much time writing and reading, she lives a life that appears more contemporarily masculine than feminine. In one episode, the three female characters – Elizabeth, Irais and Minora – challenge the Man of Wrath’s view that “women, children and idiots” should be classed collectively. Was Germany more reactionary than Britain at this time, perhaps?

It’s worth mentioning that Elizabeth and Irais mock Minora for being a female writer, and imply that she is not a “true” woman because of it. I imagine that Arnim is recapturing the attitudes of others towards herself as a writer. Also, Minora discusses the possibility of using a pseudonym for her writing, just as Arnim did.

I’m so glad that I discovered Elizabeth von Arnim at the beginning of the year. I’d have to choose The Solitary Summer as my favourite novel by her, although I’m sure that I’d like to re-read Elizabeth and Her German Garden and The Enchanted April too.

Lucy
It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.