Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Man of Wrath



This is a bit cheeky because I finished this yesterday but I am going to submit it for the Virago Reading week anyway because it is so close in time.....

Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

You know how particular books give you phrases for life?  For example,Winnie the Pooh - "elevenses", "horrible heffalumps" or Animal Farm- "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others" and so on.  Well, this book has given me "The Man of Wrath".  I shall be using this frequently from now on!

This was my second gift from my Virago Secret Santa - the lovely Juliette07.  What a wise choice.  I was a bit nervous about reading this book as I am the world's worst gardener.  I have a black thumb - possibly two.  Cactus struggle to survive in my garden.  Weeds flourish.  The sad thing is that I really do love a beautiful garden.  I am just bone lazy and would prefer to knit or read.  So, I thought, reading about gardening could be a challenge.

I was intrigued from the outset that the author, Elizabeth von Arnim, was Australian by birth and born in the very same city of my birth - Sydney - in 1866.  She was, however, brought up in England and moved to Pomerania in 1894 with her first husband, Count von Arnim aka the Man of Wrath.  This book is the account of her forays into gardening - delighting in experimenting with planting and designing a large estate.

This is a slim volume - just over 200 pages - and this particular edition has reasonable size print. All of which is very encouraging for those readers whose eyes are just beginning to require glasses at every turn and who lead hectic lives and read in short bursts on buses or in snatches, before the Man of Wrath discovers them somewhere and delivers yet another lecture with glass of wine in one hand.

The book is framed within a year - commencing in May and concluding in April.  There are detailed accounts to be sure of the sowing et al and at times I felt the book would benefit either from illustrations or my having a Yates Garden guide beside me, being vastly ignorant of many of the species under discussion.  I persevered however and really, in the end, Elizabeth is probably a much more acute observer of the human species, particularly in the second half of the book.

This is an account for sure of a woman who leads a privileged life.  There are numerous servants and seedlings are ordered in the hundreds.  But Elizabeth's observations are always told with tongue firmly in cheek or with a sense that, to many. her life and interests may seem rather odd and unconventional.  There are many passages where, despite this being written over 100 years ago, one smiles in recognition, that some things never change.  Just substitute your favourite vice (e.g. Librarything) for flower catalogues in the following quote and you will understand what I mean....

"I am very busy preparing for Christmas, but have often locked myself up in a room alone, shutting out my unfinished duties, to study the flower catalogues and make my list of seeds and shrubs and trees for the spring.  It is a fascinating occupation, and acquires an additional charm when you know you ought to be doing something else, that Christmas is at the door, that children and servants and farm hands depend on you for their pleasure, and that, if you don't see to the decoration of the trees and house and the buying of the presents, nobody else will.  The hours fly by shut up with those catalogues and with Duty snarling on the other side of the door." p. 94

Elizabeth is a woman who craves and enjoys solitude.  At times I felt sorry for a visitor thrust upon her goodwill - the aspirant writer, Minora - whose efforts Elizabeth and her friend Irais, delight in mocking at every turn. But in the end I am forced to admire Elizabeth's own acute observation of her self....a woman not entirely without faults - but ones we all share.....

4 comments:

Grand Purl Baa said...

Hmmm. If I had picked up the book in a shop and read that one paragraph, then it would be mine.

Lovely review.

Luvvie said...

Hah! I was thinking of you when I read this book. How was the soiree?

bookssnob said...

I love that paragraph you chose! I read The Enchanted April two years ago and instantly fell in love with Von Arnim. I collected a lot of her books and then shamefully read none of them. I don't know what's wrong with me! You have inspired me to pick her up again. Thank you for taking part in the week, it's a pleasure to have you!

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

I really like Elizabeth von Arnim and her German Garden was no exception. It was fun to remember it through your post.