Elizabeth von Arnim (31 August 1866 – 9 February 1941), born Mary Annette Beauchamp, was an Australian-born British novelist. By marriage she became Gräfin (Countess) von Arnim-Schlagenthin, and by a second marriage, Countess Russell. Although known in her early life as Mary, "after the publication of her first book, she was known to her readers, eventually to her friends, and finally even to her family as Elizabeth."[1] and she is now invariably referred to as Elizabeth von Arnim. She also wrote under the pen name Alice Cholmondeley.

Biography[edit | edit source]

She was born at her family's holiday home in Kirribilli Point in Australia. When she was three years old the family returned to England where she was raised. Her parents were Henry Herron Beauchamp (1825–1907), merchant, and her mother Elizabeth (Louey) Weiss Lassetter (1836–1919). Arnim had four brothers, a sister and a cousin from New Zealand, Kathleen Beauchamp, who later married John Middleton Murry and wrote under the pen name Katherine Mansfield.

In 1891 Elizabeth married Count Henning August von Arnim (1851-1910), a Prussian aristocrat, whom she had met during an Italian tour with her father. They married in London but lived in Berlin and eventually moved to the countryside where, in Nassenheide, Pomerania, the Arnims had their family estate. The couple had five children, four daughters and a son. The children's tutors at Nassenheide included E. M. Forster and Hugh Walpole.

Arnim would later refer to her domineering husband as the "Man of Wrath". Writing was her refuge from what turned out to be an incompatible marriage. Arnim's husband had increasing debts and was eventually sent to prison for fraud. This was when she created her pen name "Elizabeth" and launched her career as a writer by publishing her semi-autobiographical, the brooding yet satirical Elizabeth and her German Garden (1898). It would be such a success as to be reprinted twenty times in its first year[1]. A bitter-sweet memoir and companion to it was The Solitary Summer, (1899) and The Benefactress (1902), Vera (1921) and Love (1925) were also semi-autobiographical. Other titles dealing with feminist protest and witty observations of life in provincial Germany were to follow, including The Princess Priscilla's Fortnight (1905) and Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther (1907). She would sign her next twenty or so books simply as written, "by the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden" and later simply "By Elizabeth". In 1908 Arnim left Nassenheide to return to London.

Count von Arnim died in 1910, and in 1916 his widow married John Francis Stanley Russell, 2nd Earl Russell, elder brother of Bertrand Russell. The marriage ended in acrimony, with Elizabeth fleeing to the United States and the couple separating in 1919, though they never divorced. In 1920 she embarked on an affair with Alexander Stuart Frere Reeves (1892–1984), a British publisher nearly 30 years her junior; he later married and named his only daughter Elizabeth in her honour.[2] From 1910 until 1913 she was a mistress of the novelist H.G. Wells.

Elizabeth died in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1941, aged 74.

Literary career[edit | edit source]

In 1898 von Arnim started her literary career by publishing Elizabeth and Her German Garden, a semi-autobiographical novel published anonymously. She went on to write another 20 books.

Her 1922 novel, The Enchanted April, has been adapted five times: as a Broadway play in 1925; an unsuccessful feature film by RKO in 1935; an Academy Award-nominated feature film by Miramax in 1992; a Tony Award-nominated stage play in 2003; and a musical play in 2010.

Her 1940 novel, Mr. Skeffington was made into an Academy Award-nominated feature film by Warner Bros. in 1944, starring Bette Davis and Claude Rains; and a 60-minute "Lux Radio Theater" broadcast radio adaptation of the movie on 1 October 1945.

Select bibliography[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ Usborne, Karen (1986). "Elizabeth", the author of Elizabeth and her German garden. London: Bodley Head. ISBN 0-370-30887-5. 

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • de Charms, Leslie [Liebet Butterworth]. Elizabeth of the German Garden: A Biography (of Mary Annette Beauchamp, Countess von Arnim). London: Heinemann, 1958.
  • Eberle, Iwona (2011). Eve with a Spade: Women, Gardens, and Literature in the Nineteenth Century, with a Focus on Works by Elizabeth von Arnim. Munich: Grin. ISBN 978-3-640-84355-8
  • Juengling, Kirsten and Brigitte Rossbeck (1996). Elizabeth von Arnim; Eine Biographie. Frankfurt: Insel. ISBN 978-3-458-33540-5
  • Elizabeth of the German Garden (1958) (Leslie De Charms, a pseudonym for Elizabeth's daughter, Liebet)
  • Uncommon Arrangements, Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910–1939 (2008) (Katie Roiphe)
Persondata
NAME Arnim, Elizabeth von
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Beauchamp, Mary Annette; Arnim, Mary Annette Gräfin von
SHORT DESCRIPTION Author
DATE OF BIRTH 1866-08-31
PLACE OF BIRTH New Zealand
DATE OF DEATH 1941-02-09
PLACE OF DEATH United States
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