The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth von Arnim

The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth von Arnim is another great book by the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden. Do you know it took me ages to find out the author’s name because I read that first book of hers long before the internet and my beautiful calf bound and gold edged ancient copy of the book had no clues to the author, anyway – how times change, everything is now just a google away.

Ingeborg Bullivant is the eldest daughter of a Church of England bishop, she has a younger sister who is a beauty and very much her parents’ favourite. Ingeborg is not a beauty and is cast in the role of useful daughter and as such she is completely put upon and taken for granted. She acts as a secretary for her father and he is happy for her to do so as he thinks the work would be too mindless for his assistants. Her mother has, like many a Victorian woman, taken to her sofa, where she spends every day avoiding the real world and feigning illness if anything unpleasant rears its ugly head.

After suffering terrible toothache for a whole week Ingeborg’s family decide that they will have to do without her while she goes to London to have her tooth sorted out. The London dentist sees immediately what is causing the problem and gets rid of it. However, Ingeborg has been givem £10 by her father and he has told her to stay in London as long as it takes to be cured, even if it’s as long as ten days.

Until then she had spent her whole life in Redchester and had really never been on her own before, she was ready for adventure. The thought of returning immediately to a family which treats her as their dogsbody is less than enchanting and when she sees a travel poster for a trip to Lucerne she decides to spend £7 of her money joining the excursion.

The other travellers are obviously well used to such trips and know how to behave, in other words, keep themselves to themselves until they know each other better, so when Ingeborg starts to chat with a German man, she’s seen as beyond the pale and shunned by the others so inevitably a friendship ensues. Of course he turns out to be a German pastor.

Things repeat themselves in this book as they often do in real life. Ingeborg gets her name from a Swedish grandmother who had run off to England to marry a vicar. After several children Ingeborg deals with her husband in a more honest way than her mother does the bishop, her husband. It isn’t in her to be manipulative like that, but Ingeborg’s honesty leads to fury and then complete disinterest from her husband. The poor girl hadn’t realised that she was just a woman who had met a man at the exact time when he was thinking it was time he had a wife, so he decided she was IT.

The pastor, Robert Dremmel is really only interested in his agricultural research, he’s trying to find the best combination of chemicals for the very sandy soil which his parish is set in. I kept wanting to grab him by the lapels and tell him that it doesn’t matter what you add into sandy soil, it gets washed out almost as fast as you put it in!

I read this book on my Kindle, I had thought that I owned a copy but it isn’t with my other von Arnims so I might have been wrong about that – which is so annoying because when we were in Buckingham in September I bought half a shelf full of lovely old von Arnims from a charity shop, thinking that I already had the others but I now know that there were at least two I didn’t have!

There’s a lot more to this book than I have written, it’s not quite as good as The Enchanted April but is still very good. You can download it here.

6 thoughts on “The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth von Arnim

  1. I found this book a really challenge – it’s just so bleak and sad – but I couldn’t put it down. I love-hated her father the Bishop!

    • Lisa,
      I didn’t find it too bleak, I liked that Ingeborg managed the complete change in her lifestyle well and was happy with her escape from her family for a long time. Of course she was really in the same situation, just different location and had a husband instead of a father ruling her life. I’m surprised that you love-hated the Bishop, I couldn’t stand him! I’m now trying to think what was good about him!

      • Sorry, that wasn’t clear. The bishop was so awful, but I couldn’t help laughing at him. I loved her acidic portrait of him but despised him, if that makes any more sense.

        • Lisa,
          I know what you mean, but I’ve known a few chaps like him in my time, including a ghastly bishop and his wife who really seemed to have styled herself on Mrs Proudie!

  2. Sounds great! I hope to read lots of Von Arnim next year. I’ve downloaded about 7 titles already but thought I’d stop there until I actually read some of them. I think her writing is so insightful about women’s lives.

    • Anbolyn,
      I have quite a few to get through myself, a few of the ones which I just bought I had never even heard of before! She certainly must have come across a lot of situations which she just had to write about amongst her women friends and family. I believe that her cousin the writer Katherine Mansfield – bolted from her husband after one day! I’d love to know what went on there! I think it’s only fairly recently that women’s lives have changed much since those days, and even then – not for all women.

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