The name Elizabeth von Arnim reveals and conceals so much of this often-forgotten author, writing at the beginning of the twentieth century. Married early to the German Count, Henning von Arnim, she became Elizabeth as she escaped to her German garden and found beauty amidst an oppressive existence.
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Jennifer Walker’s recent biography of the author Elizabeth von Arnim (1866 – 1941) provides a fascinating and comprehensive introduction to this writer and her entertaining novels.
Her first best-selling work of fiction, Elizabeth and her German Garden (1898), launched a long and distinguished writing career. Writing as ‘Elizabeth’, she immediately became a literary celebrity and went on to publish twenty more eagerly anticipated novels. With their unique humour and brand of rebellious feminism, these won high critical praise and gained a wide readership across the world.
Known today as Elizabeth von Arnim, this author’s most famous novel now is probably The Enchanted April (1922), but modern readers will appreciate the lively approach and relevance of all her work. This biography delves into the character of the remarkable woman whose life story provided much of the material and inspiration for her fiction.
Born Mary Annette Beauchamp in Sydney, Australia, she was brought up in London. A talented musician, she married the much older Prussian Count Henning von Arnim and whilst living an isolated married life in Pomerania, began writing novels with professional determination and ability, astounding critics and engaging with her many readers across the world. Her novels address many issues of female life and also encourage readers to join their skilful author in her search for joy in nature and happiness.
In this meticulously researched biography, we read of her many close friends and admirers, which include H G Wells and other well-known authors of the day as well as a much younger lover. Her deep friendship with her younger cousin Katherine Mansfield is highlighted, and her escape from a disastrous second marriage to Lord Francis Russell (older brother of Bertrand) described. We find how Elizabeth, always acutely aware of Anglo-German tensions, was twice forced to abandon her home before advancing German armies in Europe.
This biography offers the modern reader a fresh perspective on the life and work of this author who despite personal difficulties and tragedy, became one of the most fascinating personalities of the early twentieth century’s literary history.
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