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Review: "Christopher and Columbus" by Elizabeth von Arnim

Christopher and Columbus may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog.

When Elizabeth von Arnim (AKA Alice Cholomondeley) published Christine in 1917, an outcry ensued, complainants claiming that the book was loaded with anti-German propaganda. The book, which I reviewed, was certainly not sympathetic to the Germans, although I found her description of the events and political sentiments surrounding the outbreak of World War I to be in line with those described by historians, and rather prescient considering German frame of mind that led to World War II.

If, however, Von Arnim felt chastened by the perceived slight, she apparently set out to make amends when she wrote Christopher and Columbus. This book was published in 1919, two years after the publication of Christine. The story may also exhibit the yearning the author felt for her daughter, born of English mother and German father, who died in Germany as a teenager. Could she have been salving her grief by recreating that daughter times two?

Christopher and Columbus became the nicknames the twins, Anna Rose and Anna Felicitas von Twinkle, assigned to each other as they embarked on their own journey of discovery, across the ocean from England to America. Born of an English mother and a German father, the twins resided in their ancestral home of Pomerania with their mother until the war broke out. Since their father had died, their mother took the twins to England where they would be safer. However, in England their mother died, leaving the 17-year-olds in the care of their Aunt Alice. Alice’s husband, Arthur, disliked the arrangement, especially in view of the girls’ half-German parentage, and soon dispatched them to America in hopes that relatives in that country would take them in.

On the steamer and later in America, the twins endured slights both from Germans and Englishmen, neither of whom wanted to be associated with “the enemy.” These slights, however, did not put a dent in either their ingenuousness or their optimism, and except for their seasickness, they relished their adventures and looked forward to life in a new world. During their journey, they befriended an American, a Mr. Twist, who perceived their need for a guardian and who assumed those duties, unofficially, until they took up residence in their designated guardians’ home. Although he believed that his duties would end when they arrived in America, he did not anticipate that the twins’ official guardians, one then another, were not prepared to assume said duties, leaving the twins to fend for themselves. Thus they called upon Twist to help them get settled in America.

In spite of Twists efforts, the gossip mill, even in sunny California, made the twins and their companion the target of suspicion and not a little disdain. Some of the most amusing scenes in the novel described the twin’s complete obliviousness to those sentiments. Although the ending gives the impression of being hastily written and somewhat contrived, Von Arnim’s humorous prose and amusing characterizations never cease to amuse and delight, and the ending was satisfying and as optimistic as the twins.

Cover art by Janice Tarver, for sale at Etsy.


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