Mr Skeffington by Elizabeth von Arnim – The 1940 Club

I was so pleased when I realised that Mr Skeffington by Elizabeth von Arnim was first published in 1940, I just had to read it for The 1940 Club, as it was one of the few books of hers that I hadn’t got around to reading, and I’ve owned this one for over ten years. It was the last book that she wrote, she died the following year aged 74.

Fanny (Lady Frances Skeffington) had married Mr Skeffington a wealthy businessman in her younger days and after several years of marriage she had divorced him as he had a penchant for his young typists. She had always forgiven him in the past but number seven was one too many for her!

Since then she has had a very enjoyable life, she got a very good divorce settlement from Skeffington (Job) and had had a fine time breaking the hearts of various men who had begged her to marry them, but that was never going to happen as she would presumably have lost her alimony and the house she lived in which she still regarded as Mr Skeffington’s as do her many servants. In truth though it has been a rather empty life that she has led, with no children for her to focus on, therefore no grandchildren.

Fanny had been beautiful in her heyday, but now she is approaching her 50th birthday and she isn’t looking forward to it, especially as she has been seriously ill with diphtheria and has even lost a lot of her hair. People who know her can’t manage to hide their shock at the change in her. Her most recent love had been a student less than half her age, but he has dropped her for a young woman, it’s a shock for Fanny.

She begins to reassess her life and her ex-husband begins to haunt her thoughts. She can’t get rid of him, and she begins to visit the men that she had had dalliances with in the past. This has a desperate effect on her ego as they are obviously shocked at how old she looks. She has been going to a beauty parlour to have her face made up and they’ve over-done it. Some people assume that she must be a prostitute, but Fanny has a wonderful capacity to overcome the shocks she’s dealt and is at heart a kind woman. Obviously the men in her past have also changed over the years, but somehow that doesn’t dawn on them. Women are over the hill at a far earlier age than men are, and the 70 year old man from Fanny’s past has in recent years married a woman half his age and has very young children. The prime of a man’s life lasts a long time!

After a lot of grief for Fanny the ending is perfect.

Ageing was something that Elizabeth von Arnim dwelled on, with at least one of her earlier books taking up a similar theme and I suspect that she didn’t cope well with the ageing process, but I’ve always thought that ageing is preferrable to the alternative!!

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times is a meme which was started by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.


It must be at least twenty – maybe even thirty years since I stumbled across Elizabeth von Arnim, not that I knew the name but I found a small copy of Elizabeth and Her German Garden which didn’t even have an author’s name on it. I loved it so much that when I did discover who wrote the book I started to collect everything else that she had written.

Some of Elizabeth von Arnim’s books are available free from Project Gutenberg here.

The other books on this shelf are by Lawrence Durrell, I think I read some of his books back in the 1970s, gave them away and then bought these ones again but so far I haven’t got around to reading these ones, now I’m not even sure that I read any of them although I definitely did read books by his brother Gerald.

The Edna Ferber books I read some years ago. I enjoyed them both but particularly Show Boat and that edition is particularly stylish I think as it’s a facsimile of the original 1926 book. Some of her books are available on Project Gutenberg too. I remember I enjoyed reading Roast Beef, Medium it’s a collection of short stories. You can download them here.

Show Boat cover

The Benefactress by Elizabeth von Arnim

The Benefactress cover

This last week has been Elizabeth von Arnim week on Facebook’s Undervalued British Women Novelists 1930-1960 group, which is the only reason I’m on FB really, well that and the Golden Age Detection group. I read Expiation and The Benefactress, both first time reads for me.

The Benefactress by Elizabeth von Arnim was first published in 1901 and it’s very much of its time, so quite different from The Enchanted April (1922) which I think is many women’s favourite.

Both of Anna’s parents are dead and at 18 she was taken in by her brother and his wife Susie. Susie is determined to get Anna married off well and begins to spend money on her on clothes and taking her around everywhere eligible men are found. Although Anna and her brother come from an aristocratic family they’re not rich, the money is all Susie’s and she is forever talking about it. Susie’s family comes from Birmingham which means they are trade – something that the snobs of the local society won’t forgive, she’s always being snubbed.

Seven years on Anna is sick fed up with being taken around in search of a husband, she has refused many offers because she isn’t in love with them. In protest Anna has taken to looking as plain as she can – the upshot of that is that she gets marriage offers from clergymen. Her salvation comes when an old uncle from the German side of her family dies and leaves her a small estate, but it’s in a remote area of northern Germany.

Travelling there with Susie and her daughter Letty it turns out to be an old, cold and run down house with unhelpful servants. Susie leaves shortly after getting there, leaving her young daughter behind for a holiday. Anna falls in love with the place and sets to brightening everything up but after having been miserable when she was dependent on Susie for money she decides that it would wonderful if she could share her good luck and happiness with twelve gentlewomen who are now in difficult circumstances money-wise.

That’s when all her troubles begin because of course it often doesn’t take long before people who are the recipients of charity develop a disagreeable outlook towards the person that they should feel grateful towards, such is human nature. The first three women to take up residence include two ‘vons’ a sign of German aristocracy. They despise each other and only agree over their attitude to Anna. There must be some nasty reason for her charitable actions, they decide that she must have been a society outcast, it’s implied that they think that Letty is her daughter. The baroness owed Anna everything – “and what more natural then, to dislike her? The rarest of loves is the love of a debtor for his creditor.”

Anna realises that she has made a mistake, but worse is to follow. Letty has decided to meddle in her aunt’s love life which leads to a lot of trouble for which she does get her come-uppance with the loss of her most attractive feature.

Although this isn’t my favourite and indeed near the end it did veer towards being disastrous in a Thomas Hardy sort of way, there are also quite a lot of moments of humour, as ever von Arnim is such a good observer of human nature, especially between men and women and more particularly husbands and wives. Worth reading.

Expiation by Elizabeth von Arnim

Expiation cover

Expiation by Elizabeth von Arnim was first published in 1929. The story begins with Milly Bott’s in-laws being desperately worried about her. Milly’s husband Ernest has just been killed in an accident and Milly seems stunned. She had married into the Botts family – a rather snooty one – and they are very much aware of their standing in the community, see themselves as being the creme de la creme of society. Milly has been a favourite, she’s childless and has spent her life moulding her personality to fit in with everyone else. She just agrees with them for an easy life but that has taken a toll on her.

From the outside it looks like she had a charmed life with a wealthy husband but he was a difficult man and the marriage was a failure. He had made Milly cut off contact with her only sister because she had eloped and had lived with her husband for three weeks before the marriage. The Botts couldn’t have anything to do with something so scandalous. Milly secretly writes letters to her sister who has settled in Switzerland with her Swiss husband.

Unknown to everyone Milly had been having an affair for over twelve years, so she feels she shouldn’t be receiving all the concern and condolences from people. But she gets a shock when her husband’s will is read out.

It seems that he had changed his will the previous year and Milly realises it must have been because he had discovered she was having an affair. The details of the will make it plain, he has willed most of his money to a home for fallen women. Milly gets only £1,000 from him and is left homeless. Realising that the Botts are unlikely to want to harbour their unfaithful sister-in-law, not that she wants to live with any of them, Milly decides that her best bet will be to travel to Switzerland to live with her sister who according to her letters is living a wonderful life as the owner of a popular and successful hotel. It turns out that she has been economical with the truth.

Nothing is as Milly expected it to be. After having led a life of luxury and comfort she’s thrown into a world of penury and even hunger.

I don’t want to say too much more about the book except that you should read it as it’s really good despite featuring a very unlikely coincidence. Milly is trying to make amends for being unfaithful but she really only develops a guilty conscience about it after her disagreeable husband is dead. For me there wasn’t a lot of humour in this one, except maybe when the sisters-in-law start speculating about who Milly’s lover was – was it one of the husbands?! In parts it’s quite heartbreaking for Milly who has to pay dearly for her occasional bouts of happiness over the years.

I don’t know a great deal about Elizabeth von Arnim’s life but I feel that her later books don’t have as much humour in them, I suspect that she was one of those women who didn’t cope well with her ageing process.

Luckily I have a nice old copy of Expiation but I’m now reading The Benefactress which I’ve downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

Reading My Own Damn Books – in March

I decided to join in the Reading My Own Books Challenge at Estella’s Revenge in the hope that it would make me concentrate on my books rather than books from the library. It sort of worked, although I did request some books from the library because other bloggers had loved them. Anyway, in March I read eleven books and of those eight were my own. They were:

1. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
2. Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne
3. The Edge of the Cloud by K.M.Peyton
4. Crossriggs by Jane and Mary Findlater
5. Introduction to Sally by Elizabeth von Arnim
6. Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart
7. Cork on the Water by McDonald Hastings
8. The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens

I had been aiming to read at least six of my own books so I’m very happy with eight although I didn’t manage to read Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston as I had planned, that one will be carried forward to be read in April. I’m hoping to read at least six of my own books in April, I’ll definitely be reading Oblamov by Goncharov because I got that one in the Classics Club Spin.

I have a horrible feeling that I actually bought more than eight books in March though, so the TBR pile is still increasing!

Introduction to Sally by Elizabeth von Arnim

Introduction to Sally cover

Introduction to Sally by Elizabeth von Arnim was published in 1926, but of course von Arnim was being coy about it as it only has that

To begin with I thought this was going to be a sort of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady rewrite but it turned out to be quite different.

Mr Pinner is a shopkeeper and is married to a very pretty woman and they live in London. After ten years of marriage they still have no children which is a huge sadness to Mr Pinner in particular, that coupled with the fact that Mrs Pinner is argumentative leads him to think that given his time again he wouldn’t have married her. Eventually Mrs Pinner does get pregnant and has a little girl who turns out to be even prettier than her mother. Mr Pinner wants to call her Salvation as he feels she has saved their marriage as Mrs Pinner is now too taken up with her baby to quarrel about anything. They compromise and call her Salvatia, but of course that is shortened to Sally, much to her parents’ annoyance.

As Sally grows up she attracts too much attention from men, they come into the shop just to catch a glimpse of her, it’s good for business but Mr Pinner can’t stand all these men lusting after his daughter and they end up trying to hide her from them. When Sally is sixteen her mother dies and so Sally has to help in the shop, the business turnover doubles overnight but Mr Pinner can’t take the strain of looking after Sally on his own. The Pinners are a God fearing family and it grieves Mr Pinner that even the local doctor and vicar are lusting after his daughter. – These married gentlemen – what could it be but sin they had in their minds? They wished to sin with Sally, to sin the sin of sins, with his Sally, his spotless lamb, a child of God, an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

Mr Pinner decides to move out of London for Sally’s sake. He finds a shop in a teeny village which is owned by a man who wants to move to London and they exchange premises. The village of Woodle seems ideal to Mr Pinner, but he doesn’t realise that it is close to Cambridge and when term time begins it has students going through it. When one particular ogling student Jocelyn Luke sets eyes on Sally he’s so overcome by her beauty that he mentions to her father that he wants to marry her. Mr Pinner can hardly believe his luck and in no time he has married Sally off to him. He’s keen to pass the responsibility of looking after Sally on to a husband.

Too late Mr Luke realises that although Sally looks like a dream, she sounds absolutely dreadful. He tries to improve her speech but Sally is unable to pronounce an ‘h’. In fact she seems not to realise that there is such a letter in the alphabet and she has no interest in improving herself. Usband – as she calls Mr Luke seems always to be angry with her, except at night time when he is too busy – Oh Sally-ing! as Sally calls it.

I began by thinking that this book was just a bit too daft but in the end I really enjoyed it. It’s all a bit of a hoot as the very innocent Sally continues to wow all the males she comes into contact with, without even trying, and despite her obvious ‘common’ background.

It is of course all very wrapped up in snobbery and the differences between working class people and the various other types, up to ‘the pick of the basket’ as Sally’s parents had described the aristocracy.

There’s an article from The Independent here in which they seem to think that Elizabeth von Arnim has been unknown to readers for years, but we know differently don’t we?!

One other thing I want to mention – this book has a rubber stamp inside it saying: Josiah Parkes & Sons Ltd

The book was published in 1926 and I couldn’t help wondering what the company actually did, so I Googled them and came up with this.

They made keys and locks amongst other things and I love the old photos of the workforce and their surroundings. Real social history going back to the time when to work for a company was like being part of a big family with a library for the workers and no doubt lots of clubs for them all to socialise in. Mind you standing on those cobbles all day must have been hard on the feet!

I read this one for Reading My Own Damn Books and the Classics Club and also The Women’s Classic Literature Event.

Forthcoming Bookish Attractions

Ten days ago I got a message from WordPress congratulating me on 7 years of blogging. I knew that the anniversary was coming up, but I had been under the impression that it had been 6 years – ah well, numbers have never been my strong point and time flies when you’re having fun! When I started ‘Pining’ I was very loath to stick my head up above the parapet on the internet and I was determined to be more or less anonymous, hence at the beginning I didn’t even put my own name on any comments, just the blog name. The photograph of me wasn’t really recognisable – I hope. But I’ve sort of got over my shyness now (probably an age thing) and I’m out there and I just don’t care! I’ve ‘met’ some lovely friends from all over the place through the blog and I just never would have met them otherwise. It has been a life enriching experience. Anyway …

I haven’t been one for joining in many challenges, in fact I’m not a big joiner of anything like clubs, but this year I hope to join a few more, certainly the Reading My Own Damn Books Challenge hosted by Estella’s Revenge – because I really have to concentrate on my books rather than reading those from the library.

To encourage me and make my reading a bit less – hmm what shall I read next … decisions decisions -ish … I’ve decided to publish a list of books I intend to read soon. So starting with March, yes amazingly it’ll be March in just over a couple of weeks, I’m going for six must reads although I know I’ll be reading more than that within the month.

Books Again

1. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (I’ve had it over a year)
2. Introduction to Sally by Elizabeth von Arnim (over two years)
3. Crossriggs by Jane and Mary Findlater (around about eight years)
4. Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston (a recent purchase)
5. The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens (fairly recent)
6. Cork on the Water by Macdonald Hastings ( I have no idea how long)

Have any of you read any of them?

If anyone wants to share their ‘forthcoming bookish attractions’ then feel free to do so via the comments. Or you might want to read one of my March books so we can compare notes when the time comes.

Christmas Books

Christmas Books

Above is a photo of the books which I bought over the weeks before Christmas – and said to Jack, just wrap those up for me! After so many years it isn’t crucial to get a sumptuous present and I’m in the happy position of not really needing or wanting anything expensive.

You’ll have noticed that my cache of books leans heavily towards children’s publications, that was just luck or serendipity, not something which I set out to do.

1. Crime Out Of Mind by Delano Ames. He was a 2014 discovery for me and I’ve read a few of his books, I’ve enjoyed them all and this is another Dagobert and Jane book, his married sleuths, so I have high hopes of it. It was published in 1956.

2. Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald. First published in 1879 this is a children’s book by a Scottish writer who used to be very popular but is now hardly read.

3. Love by Elizabeth von Arnim, published in 1925. I already have a copy of this but I had to buy this one when I saw it in its green binding, I have most of her other books in this guise and my other copy of Love is a modern paperback.

4. Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office by Hugh Lofting, first published in 1924. This is another children’s author which I missed completely as a youngster. There are a lot of books in the series and the Doctor Dolittle film was based on them.

5. Whizz for Atomms by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, published in 1956. I bought this because of the Ronald Searle cartoons, it’s a similar idea to the St Trinian’s books, it looks like a good laugh.

6. In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor, published in 1961. I have read a fair few of her books and enjoyed them.

7. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming, this is an omnibus of the three stories which Fleming wrote in 1964 – 1965, but this book was published in 1971. I’ve already blogged about this one.

8. Not a Bad Lad by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman, published in 2010. I’ve not read anything by Morpurgo yet (I think) and it’s about time I did but to be honest I would have bought this book just for the illustrations because I’m a Foreman fan.

9. Last but definitely not least is Edmund Dulac’s Picture Book for the French Red Cross, published in 1915. As it says on the front cover, all profits on sale given to the Croix Rouge Francaise, Comite de Londres. Obviously to help with the First World War casualties. I was lucky to get this one at St Andrews for a reasonable price, there are people online asking silly money for it. Some of the stories are old faithfulls like Cinderella but there are a lot which I hadn’t heard of before. The illustrations are lovely and if you are interested you can download it free from Project Gutenberg here.

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.

Love by Elizabeth von Arnim

Love cover

Love by Elizabeth von Arnim is the book which I got in this month’s Classics Club Spin. I’m quite late in getting around to writing about it, but you know what it’s like, sometimes life just gets in the way of what you really want to be doing!

I really enjoyed this book although it is quite a sad read because Elizabeth von Arnim was writing about her own experience of having a relationship with a much younger man, which ended badly. This book was first published in 1925.

Catherine was obsessed with a play called The Immortal Hour which has been playing at King’s Cross. She had seen it umpteen times and eventually she strikes up a friendship with Christopher who shares her obsession. Christopher had noticed Catherine long before she was aware of him. He was drawn to her petite figure and beauty and took her to be a young woman who didn’t have much money as she always wore the same clothes. He wasn’t to know that Catherine had a married daughter and she was only hard up because her late husband had been so afraid that if he died she would attract fortune hunters that he decided to leave everything to his daughter, and left his wife to struggle along on a very small annual allowance. It didn’t seem to occur to him that his daughter would eventually become heir to his large fortune and in turn would be the target of fortune hunters, particularly one local vicar!

By the time Christopher saw Catherine in the cruel light of day he was already in love with her and was just shocked at how tired she was looking. As you would expect Catherine is charmed when she realises that he thinks she is much younger than she is and her happiness means that people see only laughter lines, not the age wrinkles which are really there.

So begins a battle with gravity and time and Catherine ends up spending time and money on the artistry of a marvellous make-up woman to try to be worthy of her younger man.

When Catherine’s son-in-law, who is a clergyman, finds out about her friendship with Christopher he is absolutely appalled, but Catherine points out to him that her daughter is actually over 30 years younger than he is. Surely he should be the last person to complain about an age gap between a couple, but he doesn’t see it that way.

This novel is all about hypocrisy, what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, but somehow often isn’t. The relationship between Catherine’s daughter Virginia and her husband Stephen is really much worse as Stephen had dodged marriage over the years, much to his mother’s chagrin, but she wasn’t to know that her son had been eyeing up young Virginia since she was in short socks! Nowadays we would say he had been grooming her and he married her as soon as she turned 18, Catherine could have been bloody minded and made him wait until her daughter turned 21, hoping that by that time she had seen sense and wasn’t so enamoured by what she obviously saw as a father figure, something which she lacked due to her own father’s early death.

Well, I don’t know about you but I feel that when the age gap between a couple is so large that one of them is old enough to be the parent of the other, then it is distinctly weird, and the few such relationships which I’ve had experience of viewing from a distance have definitely been paternalistic/maternalistic. But I suppose if that’s what makes them happy then who am I to complain.

Mind you, although I never had a daughter I must admit that if I had had one then if a man old enough to be her father had come sniffing around after her – I would have beaten him off with a brush!

Another great read from Elizabeth von Arnim.