Book Review: The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth Von Arnim

The Solitary SummerThe Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I began this book in October 2015, however had to set aside by page 34 due to problems with my eyes. I coincidentally picked almost exactly a year later, when I was able to read again. During my first go, I noted, “Very wise – many quotes could be pulled from the pages,” and then followed this with two:

pg. 4: “They found it dull, I know, but that of course was their own fault; how can you make a person happy against his will? You can knock a great deal into him in the way of learning and what the schools call extras, but if you try for ever you will not knock any happiness into a being who has not got it in him to be happy. The only result probably would be that you knock your own out of yourself. Obviously happiness must come from within, and not from without; and judging from my past experience and my present sensations, I should say that I have a store just now within me more than sufficient to fill five quiet months.”

pg. 32: “I know what I would do if I were both poor and genteel — the gentility should go to the place of all good iliities, including utility, respectability, and imbecility, and I would sit, quite frankly poor, with a piece of bread, and a pot of geraniums, and a book. I conclude that if I did without the things erroneously supposed necessary to decency I might be able to afford a geranium, because I see them so often in the windows of cottages where there is little else; and if I preferred such inexpensive indulgences as thinking and reading and wandering in the fields to the doubtful gratification arising from kept-up appearances (always for the bedazzlement of the people opposite, and therefore always vulgar), I believe I should have enough left over to buy a radish to eat with my bread; and if the weather were fine, and I could eat it under a tree, and give a robin some crumbs in return for his cheeriness, would there be another creature in the world so happy? I know there would not.

Shortly after this I stopped and, as I mention above, resumed October 14, 2016. It’s a short book and I devoured the rest. My thought coming away was, for the first time in my 47 year (other than one of the Alcott girls), “if I could be anyone from the past, I think I should like to have been Elizabeth von Arnim.”

In her own words: (pg.73) “Keep quiet and say one’s prayers — certainly not merely the best, but the only things to do if one would be truly happy; but, ashamed of asking when I have received so much, the only form of prayer I would use would be a form of thanksgiving.”

She was not a Buddhist, but she and her husband we voracious readers and she has a wide philosophy. This little book will stay near me.

Read 2015-2016, this book remains special to me.

From GoodReads: Hailed as “one of the three finest wits of her day,” the Countess Elizabeth von Arnim cemented her literary reputation with this companion work to her extraordinarily popular first novel, the semi-autobiographical Elizabeth and Her German Garden (also available from Cosimo Classics). First published in 1899, this is a proto-feminist account of one woman’s attempt to carve out of a space of her own-away from the husband she only half jokingly refers to as her “Man of Wrath”-in the rambling gardens of the family’s county estate. By turns bitingly satirical and achingly lovely, this will delight fans of von Armin’s friends and fellow writers E.M. Forster and Katherine Mansfield. British novelist ELIZABETH VON ARNIM (1866-1941) is also the author of Enchanted April.

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