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Review: "The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rügen" by Elizabeth von Arnim

The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rügen may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog. This is the first ebook produced from our new proofreading initiative in cooperation with Marc from

One cannot underestimate my love for Von Arnim's writing. Her fiction is good, but her autobiographical work is pure joy. In this kind of work she doesn't write about much of anything, but her spirit and intelligence shine in witty observations of daily life. Daily life it indeed was in Elizabeth and Her German Garden and The Solitary Summer. In those she simply described her daily goings-on, mostly in her beloved garden in rural Pomerania. In The Solitary Summer she had a small premise at the outset, to have no visitors for a whole summer, and she succeeded charmingly. This time around Von Arnim gets bolder with her premise: to walk around Germany's largest island and popular tourist destination, Rügen.

She fails at her premise almost instantly as it was quite impossible for a woman at that time and her social standing to go walking alone. And since she couldn't convince any lady friends to be as excited about walking around Rügen as she was, she settled for riding her coach around Rügen with her maid, Gertrud. Stolid Gertrud provides an excellent foil for free-spirited Elizabeth, and belly laughs frequently follow many of their interactions.

If not a practical travel guide, Von Arnim intended this book to contain at least useful tidbits of where to eat, where to stay, and where the best bathing spots are. She admits that she fails at this intention too, which is just as well since this information is of no use to us over 100 years later. Where Von Arnim excels is in her interactions with the people she meets and, more importantly, with nature. She makes parts of Rügen seem like paradise on earth. People she tries to avoid, but she is not successful. Coincidentally she runs into her cousin Charlotte who is an  earnest feminist with no sense of humor. Charlotte is disgusted with Elizabeth's conforming existence of piddling in the garden and having babies. At the point she meets up with Elizabeth, Charlotte is on the run from her famous intellectual husband. I had to wonder if this cousin "Charlotte" was in actuality Von Arnim's real life cousin Katherine Mansfield--a quick look at Mansfield's biography makes this unlikely, but possible. Charlotte, her estranged husband, and an English son and mother pair in star-struck adulation of the estranged husband, take over the narrative which gets quite interesting. This part of the book reminds me of Enchanted April in which Von Arnim weaved several intertwining story lines where again not much happens but is intensely satisfying.

As is true when reading any Von Arnim work, you will find yourself wanting to read aloud parts of it to innocent bystanders. I will therefore leave you with a selection of the author's words that I think particularly defines her style and mood:

Oh blessed state, when mere quiet weather, trees and grass, sea and clouds, can make you forget that life has anything in it but rapture, can make you drink in heaven with every breath! How long will it last, this joy of living, this splendid ecstasy of the soul? I am more afraid of losing this, of losing even a little of this, of having so much as the edge of its radiance dimmed, than of parting with any other earthly possession.


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