Category Archives: von Arnim, Elizabeth

Father by Elizabeth von Arnim

by Elizabeth von Arnim
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1931
Genre: fiction
Pages: 304
ReRead?: No
Project: a century of women

There came a moment, she imagined, in the lives of most unmarried daughters, and perhaps in other people's too, when they must either bolt or go permanently under.'

Since her mother's death Jennifer has devoted years of her life to her father, managing the family home and acting as his secretary. After the sudden announcement that he has taken a new wife, Jennifer, at 33, seizes the opportunity to lead an independent life. Quickly she secures the lease of Rose Cottage and turns her attention to her own needs and interests.

Published in 1931, Father explores the concept of spinsterhood in a time when the financial and social status of single women were often dependent on male family members. While Jennifer is desperate to experience life on her own terms within her reduced financial means, her neighbour Alice is pre-occupied with ensuring her position as head of her brother's household is never challenged.

I have read several books by von Armin since I fortuitously picked up old green-cover Virago edition of The Enchanted April many years ago and fell in love with it. I read Elizabeth and her German Garden and The Solitary Summer several years later and loved them, too – albeit not quite so much as The Enchanted April, which has made it into that quite limited pantheon of books I have read more than 3 times.

I had never heard of this book until I saw it was reissued by the British Library in their British Library Women Writers series. Since I love their BLCC series, and since it was completely free through the Kindle Unlimited Library, I decided to read it on a whim.

I am even more convinced that The Enchanted April, written in 1922 is her fictional masterpiece. This one was written in 1931, and it was delightful in a lot of the same ways. I could hear echoes of Lottie in the character of Jennifer, and her rapid evolution from indenture to freedom.

I’ve realized that there are few tropes that are as immediately appealing to me as “unmarried/spinster woman who has sublimated her entire existence to caregiving for other people breaks free.” This was what I loved about All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West, and, as well, Persuasion, by Jane Austen. Women whose entire lives have been dominated by other people because they are surplus, they don’t have husbands or homes of their own (or they do have husbands or homes, but because of social pressures are still expected not to possess a shred of individuality or personal ambition), suddenly decides that they just aren’t going to put up with that anymore – this is something I love to read about. And if they can annoy the shit out of the people who have taken them for granted and expected them to forgo all freedom or individuality, all the better from my perspective.

So, the first 3/4 of the book really revolved around this theme. But the ending, whoa? I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or be completely appalled by what happened to the titular father. Von Arnim has a dark side, for sure.