WordPress tell me that today is this blog’s second birthday. So Happy Birthday Reading 1900-1950! Thank you to everyone who has written reviews and everyone who has read and commented on them! It is a real pleasure to run this blog.
There’s 180 posts, most of them book reviews. See the page for a full list by Author.
Here’s a late entry to our run of Elizabeth von Arnim reviews.
Review by Helen N:
I found this a delightful book. It surprises and pleases with the changes of plot and descriptions of characters. It is a book composed of letters but they are the letters from one person only, Rose-Marie Schmidt.
At the opening of the book she has just been proposed to by the Mr Anstruther of the title, an Englishman who has been studying English in Jena and staying at their house. Her first letters are spontaneous and happy, enjoying her new-found love and finding the world around her beautiful.
Then her not very nice stepmother drops the news that Mr Anstruther’s father has great hopes of him joining the diplomatic service and will be so pleased that his son has not formed any unsuitable attachment while staying in Jena, because he must marry someone with wealth and status “Luckily” she concluded ”there are no pretty faces in Jena right now.”
So there is no surprise when suddenly there are no letters from Roger, then the letter arrives breaking off the engagement. But the book has only reached page 65 and the letters continue, now addressed very properly to Mr Anstruther. The ecstatic young girl has gone, to be replaced by a more interesting person, Rose-Marie Schmidt, reader and observer.
As the letters continue we are able to get to know Roger as a shallow and selfish young man, as at the same time we experience Rose-Marie’s unquenchable spirit and curiosity. With growing apprehension we hope that he will not succeed in renewing the relationship. We become aware that the new fiancée, Miss Cheriton is nowhere near as delightful a person as Rose-Marie and we gather hints that he is trying to get back to Jena again.
Although Rose-Marie seems to have led a sheltered life we gradually learn that she is not as naive as might be expected. She has read widely and counts her favourite authors as her teachers. Because she is open and receptive she makes friendships with all sorts of people and unlike Roger does not judge them by their class and appearance. In her lively defence of her taste and ideas she shows herself to be dignified and independent. Each letter reveals her directly and him indirectly, as she argues with him and attempts to help him to a greater maturity
Her unpleasant stepmother dies and Rose-Marie and her father have to move to a smaller and more humble home. There are new neighbours to encounter and be described. She engages a new servant and makes new friends. Particularly Vicki who has been sent home in disgrace because she has been jilted. Rose-Marie immediately makes friends with her and tries to aid her recovery. The poor girl is being treated very unpleasantly by her family who are predicting that her life has been ruined. Her mother who treated her well when she was engaged now almost rejects her. Vicki is able to confide in Rosemarie and Vicki’s mother accepts the friendship by pretending that Rose-Marie is her daughter’s companion.
Papa also takes in a new Lodger, Mr Collins. Mr Collins is a fool; he is rich but a fool. However he falls in love with Vicki and is joyfully accepted by her family. Along the way there are amusing conversations where Papa’s plain speaking completely confuses the other family.
While all this goes on and the seasons change, through the letters we learn that Mr Anstruther’s engagement has been broken off and he even comes to Jena looking for Rose-Marie but she is out and misses him. She is very angry with him and we begin to hope very much that even if he tries to resume his courtship, she will refuse to have him. All her heart-felt responses to things he has written show her to be in every way far pleasanter, more intelligent and honest than he is and we know that she could never be happy with him. And it is with relief that we find that the story ends, not with a romantic happy ever after, but with a complete separation. She has the last word “I SHALL not write again” and the reader cheers loudly!
This story unfolds slowly but is never boring, there are constantly new things to be learnt and the character of Rose-Marie is so charming and individual that by the end of the book it is almost as if one has a new friend.