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Review: "In the Mountains" by Elizabeth von Arnim

In the Mountains may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog. This ebook is yet another product of our proofreading project with

First published in 1920, In the Mountains is written in first person as a journal. Our narrator is a tired English woman who, after WWI, escapes ambiguous personal troubles in London and seeks refuge at her chalet among the Swiss Alps. As she starts to gain strength, two other English women, also of ambiguous personal circumstances, show up literally on her doorstep. The hostess takes them in, and they embark on a strange and endearing path to helping each other.

Those well-read in Von Arnim may recognize much in this novel that is similar to her other novels--In the Mountains is something like a sequel to Vera and a prequel to The Enchanted April. At the beginning, the narrator has just escaped some trying circumstances and seems to be hiding from something or someone. Though we never find out what these trying circumstances are, that does not detract from the narrative. In fact it gives it a more global application.

While reading this novel, I happened to get my hands on one of Von Arnim's biographies, Elizabeth of the German Garden by Leslie de Charms. Written by Von Arnim's daughter under a pseudonym, this out-of-print work is quite thorough and a must-read (if you can find it) for those of us who can't get enough of this author. I find it interesting that I was never surprised by any of the facts I learned of her real life. While most of her work is not explicitly autobiographical, all of her books are autobiographical to some extent and tell the story of her life through tidbits weaved into her main and secondary characters.

Thus, after reading her biography and arming myself with knowledge of her real life, it is plain that In the Mountains in fact does correspond to a time in Von Arnim's life after she escaped from a tumultuous marriage (the tumultuous marriage being what we see in Vera). She really did have a chalet in the Swiss Alps where she would go to write and be alone. Other times she would fill the house with artists and writers and play hostess. While the two English women in the book are most certainly made up, they do appear to be a composite of the author herself. The narrator is sharp-witted, observant, and a lover of nature; Dolly is a free spirit with past entanglements she feels obliged to hide but doesn't really care to do so; and Kitty, her sister and protector, is always nervous and fretting about Dolly and the consequences of her wild free-spiritedness. The fact that these women band together and find a way to peacefully co-exists seems to have been the author's way of thinking things through within herself, and in doing so she finds serenity and peace amongst the conflicting parts of her conscience. This is a short, quiet story that will no doubt appeal to us lovers of Von Arnim and lovers of great literature alike.


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