I first came across Elizabeth von Arnim when I was rooting around in a second-hand bookshop years ago. I saw a beautiful, small, slim volume bound in calf skin with lovely gold edges. I had to buy it whatever the contents were.
However I had struck gold as the book was called Elizabeth and Her German Garden and it turned out to be a book based on the author’s life as a wife, mother and gardener. As a keen gardener the whole thing appealed to me and I really loved it.
The book was first published in 1898 but my edition was printed in 1914, that fateful year. I was intrigued as there was no clue as to who the author was and as I bought the book before the existence of the internet I had to do a bit of detective work and I eventually discovered that it was written by Elizabeth von Arnim.
I managed to track down her other books and a few years after that (the BBC) made an adaptation of her most famous book, The Enchanted April.
It’s a story about four very different women who are unhappy with the lives which they are leading and are desperate for a change of scene. After seeing an advert in The Times for a medieval castle in Italy, available to rent for the month of April, they end up sharing it to make it more affordable.
San Salvatore turns out to be a magical place for them.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and went on to read everything else which von Arnim had written which I could find.
I later discovered that Elizabeth was the cousin of Katherine Mansfield, who was quite a famous short story writer. Katherine’s other claim to fame was that she ‘bolted’ from her husband after only one week of marriage. I’d love to know why she gave up so quickly. Must have been quite a scandal at the time.