Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Armin
"May 7th—There were
days last winter when I danced for sheer joy out in my frost-bound
garden in spite of my years and children. But I did it behind a bush,
having a due regard for the decencies..." In this novel, Elizabeth's
uniquely witty pen records each season in her beloved garden, where she
escapes from the stifling routine of the indoors—servants, meals,
domestic routine, and the presence of her overbearing husband.
I came upon this title when I was listening to one of NPR's weekly book podcasts. It was presented in the segment Cowslips to Kingcups: Finding Joy in the Garden and I was won over immediately. I downloaded the audio version from Audible and listened to it. What hooked me in about the book was the presenter's claims that the book represents happiness in solitude and overall contentedness in a way that virtually no other book can.
I was disappointed with the book possibly because of my high expectations. Elizabeth and Her German Garden has no plot which for my intents and purposes is fine but may be difficult for others. The book is a year in the life diary and reads more as slice of life than as a complete story. It's a semi-autobiographical tale of a woman named Elizabeth who lives in a country side abode in Germany and has a delightful garden. She lives simply and in happy solitude. It's the presence of her misogynistic husband the Man of Wrath, her children who are all referred to by the months they were born in and her two visitors that poke a hole in her bubble of happiness. If they would just let her alone to be with her garden, her birds, her salads and her solitude, she would be the most content.
What made me unhappy while reading this was the Man of Wrath's proclamations of what he considers the ineptitude of women. He basically thinks we are all morons who can't form intelligent thoughts and only want to gossip, sew and cook. It's comforting to see that the three women who are listening to the Man of Wrath's rant are horrified and know that what he is saying is based on male chauvinism rather than accepted ideas. Also, it greatly disturbed me that Elizabeth would capture a family of owls just because she can (they eventually come to a tragic end). It shows the mindset of the 19th century (the book was first published in 1898) in which man plays god with nature.
I love 19th century books and can usually place ideologies in context but this book was plain boring. I wanted it to be poetic prose about the solitude and splendor of living in the country than about the year in the life of Elizabeth and her motley crew.
On the audio version: I listened to the Blackstone Audio version narrated by Nadia May. I was disappointed in the narration. There were many (many many many) pauses in between sentences. It felt as though they recorded the book sentence by sentence and pieced it together. Nadia May does a good job with the German accents but otherwise it was a poor narration overall. This is one of the few times that I think it would have been better if I read the printed version instead of the audio.