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Review: "Vera" by Elizabeth von Arnim

Vera may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog. This text was produced from our new proofreading initiative in cooperation with Marc from freeliterature.org.

'After all,' [Miss Entwhistle] said almost entreatingly, 'what can be better than a devoted husband?'

And the widow, who had had three and knew what she was talking about, replied with the large calm of those who have finished and can in leisure weigh and reckon up: 'None.'

I've written before about how much I love Von Arnim's autobiographical writing. Her fiction was good too, but always seemed a little light and didn't carry the personal touch I love. And then I read Vera...

Vera, the book's namesake, is the late wife of Everard Wemyss. Wemyss has had to put up with a lot in the past week--his wife's mysterious death resulted in an inquest, the verdict of which was unresolved. Was it an accident? Or was it suicide? A stroke of fate lands Wemyss at the garden gate of Lucy Entwhistle, who had--just hours before--lost her own dear father. The two commiserate together in the following weeks and believe they have found a soul mate in each other.

The novel starts quietly, slowly adding details so that as we read we come to understand more and more. What at first appears charming and harmless we later realize was a hint a deep and enduring flaw. What at first appears to be a different and quirky romance turns out to be an indictment of egoism and dominance in relationships. The genius of the novel is that as we read not only do we learn more and more about the living characters, but we also learn more about Vera. By the end of the novel she has become a major character herself, possibly even more palpable than the living ones.

Von Arnim's inspirations for this novel seem varied. Wuthering Heights makes several appearances within the pages, and comparisons with that novel's cruel characters can certainly be made. Speaking of the Brontës, the "wife in the attic" motif of Jane Eyre cannot go unmentioned. The fact that Vera met her end the same way that Bertha Mason did is not, I believe, coincidental. We can also look at what this novel, written in 1922, inspired in others. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, written in 1938, carries several elements in common with Vera.

While the subject matter is dark and grows darker as we read, Vera is not, surprisingly, depressing. It is engrossing and will permeate your thoughts during and after reading, but it is more thought-provoking than mood changing. If you can appreciate Wuthering Heights and even find satisfaction and humor in its pages, you will most certainly love Vera.

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