Review published on September 14, 2013.Reviewed by Kirsty Hewitt
Nudge Reviewer Rating:
Elizabeth of the German Garden is ‘really the story of Mary Beauchamp, the woman behind the mask, who would spend the rest of her life struggling to forge her own identity and follow an independent path… a woman who enjoyed the company of E.M. Forster, Hugh Walpole, H.G. Wells, her cousin Katherine Mansfield and Bertrand Russell’. In it, Walker has attempted to shed ‘new light on this much loved but until recently somewhat forgotten literary force’. As well as outlining the major events in Mary Beauchamp’s life, she has also referred to a wealth of letters and diary entries by those who range from Mary’s closest family members to her dearest friends. In her Author’s Note, Walker states that in the following text, she ‘will show that Mary assumed an identity parallel with, but not identical to, her own when she wrote. Elizabeth was not a pen-name but another creation: one who existed in the imagination of Mary’.
Elizabeth of the German Garden is split into eight separate sections, ranging from ‘Perspectives on Europe’ and ‘Morality Tales’ to ‘The Paradise Garden’ and ‘An Established Author’. She begins her work on Mary’s life with the Beauchamp family’s emigration from Australia to England, her father’s home country, in 1870, when she was just three years old. As well as placing focus upon Mary herself, Walker thoughtfully considers her wider family and home life. She writes about Mary’s four brothers and one sister, all older than her, and the lives which they made for themselves. She also includes many details about every considerable aspect of Mary’s life – her schooling, her love of horticulture, her ‘spiritual life’, the Victorian prejudices which rallied against her, her time at the Royal College of Music where she played the organ, her travels around Europe, her mother’s troubles, and her loathing of anti-Semitism, amongst many others. The book follows the span of her entire life, encompassing her life as a German Countess and as a mother and grandmother, as well as a companion and lover.
The only negative with this book is that not enough care has been given to the checking of spellings. In several instances, mistakes marr its pages – Cicely Fairfield, the real name of author Rebecca West, is written as ‘Cicily’, and Rose Macaulay is ‘Macaulay’ at first, and then ‘Macauley’.
Walker’s definite strength is in the parallels she expertly draws between the life of Mary and the characters and storylines which she created. The literary criticism which the author has included strikes a perfect balance between Mary’s life and work. The extracts from Mary’s books serve to further reinforce Walker’s opinions and insights. The entirety of the book is written in such a lovely manner. It is both rich in detail and easy to read. In Elizabeth of the German Garden, Walker has presented a fascinating account of a fascinating woman, who certainly deserves to be admired and cherished by a wider audience. An awful lot of research, work and consideration has clearly gone into this book, and it is sure to delight everyone who has enjoyed one of ‘Elizabeth von Arnim”s novels.