|The Italian cover. Great photo, but wrong era, it's off by about 50 years.|
It's funny how some authors are so strongly identified by a single work, when they often have lots of other books which are largely ignored. I feel like Elizabeth von Arnim is one of those authors. She's so well know for her delightful novel Enchanted April, yet so many of her other books are hardly discussed and mostly out of print.
|Author Elizabeth von Arnim|
Anyway, I've now read nine of her books and Father is near the top of my rankings, by far one of my favorites. Set between the wars, it's the story of Jennifer Dodge, the thirty-three year old spinster daughter of a famous writer. On her mother's deathbed some 12 years before, Jennifer promises to look after her father. Inevitably, she give up her youth and possibilities of any of her own hopes and dreams, devoting herself to Father so that his work is not disturbed.
|The only image I could find of an English-language edition|
All this changes when Father comes home one day and announces that he has remarried -- to Netta, a nineteen-year-old beauty, a girl young enough to be his granddaughter. Naturally, Jennifer is stunned -- then elated! With a new wife, surely she will be in the way? Now she can escape and have a chance at her own life. Though her father never paid her a cent for her hard work, Jennifer has a tiny income of her from her late mother, and decides to find a tiny cottage where she can garden and live happily in the country.
Minnie, the cook, suggests her home county of Sussex, and Minnie's copy of the local church paper provides two possibilities. After has Father whisked Netta off on a Norwegian honeymoon, Jennifer gets on a train to explore two cottages owned by neighboring vicarages. The first attempt is a disaster, and at the second, the spinster sister of the vicar agrees to rent Rose Cottage to Jennifer, simply out of spite to her brother, with whom she's just had a tiff.
|Great cover, but it doesn't represent the characters AT ALL. |
These people are far too glamorous and sophisticated.
Alice Ollier, the vicar's sister, quickly regrets her decision when it occurs to her that is distinctly possible that her brother James might fall in love with Jennifer! There's almost a bit of screwball comedy involved as Jennifer begins to settle into Rose Cottage and Alice attempts to thwart her. What would happen to 40ish Alice if James brings home a bride? Meanwhile, Jennifer's idea of a peaceful existence is frustrated by the sudden appearance of the child bride Netta -- apparently there's trouble in paradise. Jennifer's father is also none too pleased at her decision to -- gasp -- want a life of her own! The nerve!
Parts of this are quite funny, but there's an undercurrent of sadness in this novel, as it's mostly centered on men's expectations of the women in their lives, and people trying to manipulate one another. The character of the father in particular made me want to jump into the book and throttle him -- I have rarely read such a well-drawn, frustrating character. He is absolutely self-centered and self-absorbed. And I wanted to give Alice a good talking-to as well.
|A French-language edition. |
She looks like a dutiful daughter, but about 20 years too early.
This is clearly Edwardian.
I chose this book off my stack because I thought the title would make it a perfect fit for the Classic About a Family category in the Back to the Classics Challenge. It didn't turn out to be quite what I expected -- it is about families, but it's just as much as about the Olliers as it is the Dodges. I hope I'm not giving the impression that I didn't like this novel, because I really liked it, and it will probably be one of my top reads of the year.
I'm counting this as my Classic About a Family for the Back to the Classics Challenge.