Mrs Alfred Sidgwick (c.1850-1934) and Cousin Ivo (1899)

Cecily Sidgwick published 41 novels and collections of short stories over her long career from 1889 until her death in 1934. She was born in London to a German Jewish family, and frequently wrote about Germany and German characters. She  married a philosopher, Alfred Sidgwick, and converted to Christianity.

I would be fascinated to learn more about her, for there seems very little information around. The most detail on the web is from this blog:

Her early works were published under the pseudonym Mrs Andrew Dean, then, when she had achieved success as Mrs Alfred Sidgwick, were reissued under that name. Sidgwick wrote witty incisive romances; with the German connection we were immediately reminded of Elizabeth von Arnim. Thanks to the Spectator archive it is easy to find contemporary reviews of her novels, and they too made this comparison. Reviewing The Professor’s Legacy by Sidgwick alongside Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight by von Arnim, The Spectator writes,

Mrs Sidgwick, like “Elizabeth”, knows the strength and the weakness of the German and English character, she deals faithfully with both races, and her sharply contrasted and clear-cut portraits of various social types are done with admirable verve. (16 December 1905, p. 19)

And later, reviewing The Lantern Bearers,

Mrs Alfred Sidgwick is not a great novelist in the strict sense of the phrase. She does not deal in elemental passion, whelm us in the depths of inspissated gloom, or lift us to the exalted plane frequented by geniuses of the first order. She is not given to heroics, and deals for the most part with quite ordinary middle-class people. But when criticism has done its worst, how much remains that is wholly admirable in her work! There are very few novelists living on whom one can count with greater certitude for a good story brilliantly told. ( 24 September 1910, p. 25)

I read one of her early novels. Cousin Ivo (1899). It was a charming, easy read.

The story is told by Jem Heriot, a young lawyer, who has been sent by his firm to Germany to find the beneficiaries of the will of Mr Berneck, who has made his fortune in Berneck’s buttons. Mr Berneck came from an aristocratic family in Germany, and was entitled to call himself Graf, but his relatives disowned him because he had gone into trade.

Jem quickly find the beneficiary: the rather beautiful Hulda von Arach. His story is then interspersed with excerpts from her diary. Hulda lives in the Castle of Rabenfels, near the town of Erach.

Hulda’s Cousin Ivo, a domineering, militaristic character in the best German tradition, decides that he will marry Hulda for her money. In Hulda’s diary she describes Ivo as a ‘fine-looking man and a splendid rider’, on his dangerous black horse, Sultan. This is all very romantic, but she does not love him. She finds out that until Ivo found out about her money he was going to marry, shamefully, into trade. Much is made a of the vulgarity of the Zipp family, local manufacturers whose money Ivo was after to pay his debts.

Instead, of course, Hulda falls in love with the Englishman who treats her like a human being, Jem. The story then takes a very dramatic turn! Duels are threatened, drinks are poisoned, and someone falls down a well. I won’t give the ending away…

The comparisons between Germany and England, the romantic plot, and the domineering German man make this novel similar to early von Arnim, but it is not as witty, in my opinion, or as sharp. Still, a very enjoyable read.

4 thoughts on “Mrs Alfred Sidgwick (c.1850-1934) and Cousin Ivo (1899)

  1. I’ve looked up Sidgwick reviews in the Manchester Guardian archive, and found an interesting account of ‘Karen’ of 1918. It’s about an English girl who visits Germany in the early years of the century. She meets and marries Graf Wolfram von Hohenrode,suffers from anti-English prejudice and has a tough time during the war years. I think I’d like to read this one.

    • Yes, indeed, we have it and Kath in the Tuesday group read it and wrote a review (which I will post soon). It does sound a very interesting portrayal of Germans and Germany during the war – though Kath’s account is rather different from the one you’ve found.

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