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"Christine" by Elizabeth von Arnim

"Dear England. Dear, dear England. To find out how much one loves England all one has to do is to come to Germany."

Christine may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog.

Having so greatly enjoyed Elizabeth and Her German Garden, I volunteered to read Christine (written under the nom de plume Alice Cholmondeley). The preface, however, indicated that the book was not Von Arnim’s work at all, but that of her daughter, being a collection of letters from Christine to her mother when the former was studying violin in Berlin in 1914. The preface indicates that Christine died before her mother received the last two letters. Thus, instead of enjoying Von Arnim’s usual wit, I would be reading a tragedy—not an appealing prospect.

I went on to read, and love, this story for its un-self-conscious style and its historical significance, despite the fact that I knew in advance that it would not end happily. When I finished the book, I was so impressed that I conducted some research into the origins and background of the book and author.

What I discovered was that Christine is indeed a work of fiction and was in fact written by Von Arnim. Von Arnim had been married to and produced a daughter with a German man (often referred to in Elizabeth and Her German Garden as “The Man of Wrath.”) That daughter died at 16 in Germany, although my sources offered no further details. Reviewers speculate that Christine may have been an homage to that daughter. Nevertheless, Christine was denounced my many critics at the time as a propaganda and a slander to the German people.

Being a World War II buff and former history teacher, I found much of Christine to be historically significant and eerily prophetic, especially in view of the fact that it is a work of fiction. The mindset Christine (or Von Arnim) describes among the Germans during the days leading up to World War I accurately mirrors the mindset that would become part of the next worldwide conflagration, a mindset that has been illustrated in countless movies and documentaries hence.

Fiction or no, Christine tells the story of a seventeen-year-old virtuoso violinist who travels to Germany in May, 1914, to study with the renowned violin teacher named Kloster. Christine arrives in Germany just a few weeks before “The Shot Heard Round the World”, the June 28 assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which would signal the beginning of the hostilities that would become World War I. Against the backdrop of impending war, Christine makes an effort to conduct her life as any young lady away from home would do. She studies and prepares for her future. She falls in love. She experiences a precious moment in time when all is perfect. Owing to the historical milieu, she then realizes that her dreams and even her life could become victims of the German war machine. And, as the preface warns, both Christine’s dreams and her person succumb to the Germany’s growing anti-English sentiments at the onset of the war.

Cover art by Janice Tarver, for sale at Etsy.


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