The beginning of the obsession was when I listened to the audio-book “The Enchanted April”. I was charmed by her wit, her description of the sights of Italy, her light touch.
Of course if an author’s first work you read is as charming as that, you are motivated to explore other works by him/her. In this case it was easier since not only some of her other books in public domain, they were in fact available as audio-books at librivox. Then I heard “Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight”, another delightful read (listen?). Yet it only evoked a reaction of amused delight. But then, I read (heard once again) “Vera”, and instantly I was swept off my feet. This was something else – this was no ordinary writer. The power of the book was such that it is not enough to say that the end sent chills down my spine; I had a sensation of something closing in on me, so much was I Lucy (the protagonist) in that moment. I was mad at the author for denying me closure, aware of her cruelty in ending the book where she did, leaving the worst to my imagination.
I am an avid reader and never would you catch me without a book. But as every reader knows, this complete falling in love with an author is a rare emotion. After “Vera”, I went on a von Arnim spree. “The Pastor’s Wife” was just as wonderful but less cruel. In “Love” she does that again- that delaying the inevitable, denying to neatly wrap up the threads and leave the reader with the relief that the worst at least is over. “Christopher and Columbus” kept me smiling throughout, and its fairytale ending was a comfort. I read “The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rugen” in the train, laughing out loud and attracting stares. “In the mountains” and “Fräulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther” are the books in which her spirit shines at its best.
I think she mentions in her autobiography (“All the dogs of my life”) that “Fräulein Schmidt” was her mouthpiece, and what a mouthpiece! There is no plot to prop the book up – it is the sheer beauty of her writing that creates a character you begin to love. Once again it is just the strength of her writing that creates a character so repulsive in “The Caravaners” that you want to fling the book across the room.
I am now the happy and proud owner of the first editions of three of her books – “Father”, “Expiation” and “Introduction to Sally”. I am hoarding them up, delaying the pleasure of reading them just so that I have some unexplored work of hers.
The last time I had this feeling of falling in love with an author was when I read “The Moon Is Down” by John Steinbeck. Reading Steinbeck made me feel like I was talking to a gentle friend. Silly as it may sound, in Elizabeth von Arnim I feel like I have found an elder sister.