Another of the British Library’s new, beautiful Women Writers reissues, which was published on 03 September. I am very happy to have landed on their mailing list – I really enjoyed Rose Macaulay’s “Dangerous Ages” last month and this was another super read (and also with the pretty cover, extra information and French flaps).

Elizabeth von Arnim – “Father”

(29 August 2020)

A fool, a spinster, and propinquity. What mightn’t, thought Alice, result from such a combination?

While the first paragraph of this excellent novel marches briskly through a daughter’s deathbed promise to a mother to look after Father, said father’s remarriage and said daughter’s freedom, we have 289 pages of delicious description of how she starts to achieve her own version of that freedom, and in particular to the power of vigorous gardening (something Elizabeth in her German Garden I seem to recall doesn’t actually achieve herself) to restore the spirit.

We also see the parallel attempt of the vicar local to Jennifer’s new home to free himself from his sister’s tyranny, and while there are some serious points and a very difficult train journey, his attempted physical escape is hilarious. The book is not lacking in subtlety: while there are some fairly crashing coincidences at one point, with Alice the vicar’s sister, though a monstrous creation, we can also see her pain and her fears for the future – very real ones in a world with an excess of women after the First World War.

A lovely ideal of male companionship is presented (and here, knowing of the author’s unhappy marriages gives one a sad jolt):

The man’s personality didn’t get in the way of one’s happy thinking, it didn’t come between her and what she wanted to attend to. (p. 78)

but will this actually come to pass?

The final paragraph is as amusingly succinct as the first one, having expanded out into thought processes and ruminations in the middle. A great read that was very engaging indeed.

The book comes with a 1930s timeline, a biography of the author and a preface, as well as an afterword by series consultant Simon Thomas, making this a great package and another ideal gift. Did I mention how pretty it is, too?

Thank you very much to British Library Publishing for sending me a print copy of this book in return for an honest review. Ali reviewed this today, too: read her take on it here.