The Solitary Summer | Elizabeth von Armin #CCspin

May 2nd.

Last night after dinner, when we were in the garden, I said, “I want to be alone for a whole summer, and get to the very dregs of life. I want to be as idle as I can, so that my soul may have time to grow. Nobody shall be invited to stay with me, and if any one calls they will be told that I am out, or away, or sick. I shall spend the months in the garden, and on the plain, and in the forests. I shall watch the things that happen in my garden, and see where I have made mistakes.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden (1898) was such a popular, runaway success story that Countess Elizabeth von Armin quickly followed up with The Solitary Summer, its companion volume a year later. At this stage she was still being published as ‘Anonymous’ or just ‘Elizabeth’, fueling a huge public debate about who the author might be.

I know how a viral tweet or meme works, spreading misinformation and gossip in the blink of an eye, but I wonder how this kind of world-wide intrigue manifested itself back in 1899? Was it opinion pieces and comments in newspapers and periodicals that took months to reach everybody? Was it people sitting around in drawing rooms debating who she was before writing letters that spread the debate across the world to family and friends?

I dug out my copy of The Countess From Kirribilli to see what Joyce Morgan had to say on the matter. Apparently, just before the publication of The Solitary Summer in May, The Athenaeum (an English literary journal) revealed her identity saying, “The author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden, who promises a new volume shortly, is said to be Miss May Beauchamp, now Countess von Armin.” Apparently Elizabeth was deeply upset, especially since May was a family nickname for her real name Mary, suggesting that someone in her family had leaked her identity.

She arranged for her publishers to issue a denial that was published in the next volume of The Athenaeum. It seemed to do the trick. According to Morgan, her identity continued to be speculated about in “literary pages or smart literary journals” but also in the “popular press” for another couple of years. In fact, ‘Elizabeth von Arnim’ was a name that only appeared on her books after her death.

The mysterious Elizabeth soon had another bestseller on her hands – The Solitary Summer reprinted seven times in four months.

The second story was even more of a homage to Nature than the first. The Man of Wrath and the three babies April, May & June were still to be considered and amused and appeased in turn, but mostly, as the title suggest, The Solitary Summer was all about Elizabeth and her search for purpose, fulfillment and identity via her garden. Written as diary entries, Elizabeth shared her thoughts and feelings about nature, being a woman and reading (please note the date of her first dairy entry with today’s date).

It would be very easy to fill this post with quotes and photos about flowers! But I will refrain…well, maybe just a couple. I would love to see a deluxe illustrated edition of both books though.

How very much more charming different-coloured tulips are together than tulips in one colour by itself! 

Colorful tulips in Keukenhof | Photo by M Ashraful Alam on Unsplash

After declaring her intention to spend the entire summer alone, with no visitors, she filled each page with glorious descriptions of her garden beds, the various walks, ponds and forests that make up the estate. The Man of Wrath doubted her ability to go the whole summer without company, which only made Elizabeth even more determined to do so.

Her battles continued with various gardeners who wouldn’t do what she wanted and her frustration at not being allowed do it herself because she was a woman obviously irked.

My hands were tied because of the unfortunate circumstance of sex, or I would gladly have changed places with him and requested him to do the talking while I did the planting….I sometimes literally ache with envy as I watch the men going about their pleasant work in the sunshine, turning up the luscious damp earth, raking, weeding, watering, planting, cutting the grass, pruning the trees….A great many things will have to happen, however, before such a state of popular large-mindedness as will allow of my digging without creating a sensation is reached….Yet I should love to weed.

Daffodils in Hyde Park | Photo by Chris Linnett on Unsplash

“They are to be in troops on the grass,” I said.

The Man of Wrath and the three babies do not feature as much as they did in the first book. However her love of books and reading featured again. A particularly lovely section of her diary talked about the books she read and reread and where she liked to read them best.

She read her books in much the same way I do now – certain books and authors for certain times of the day, locations & moods. For Elizabeth it’s Thoreau in the mornings by the pond, of course. Boswell in the library after lunch. Goethe in the afternoons on one special seat out of the wind. In the evenings by the roses, nothing but Whitman will do. A drive into the forest requires Keats while a visit to the Baltic sea is time with Edmund Spenser.

He [Thoreau] is a person who loves the open air, and will refuse to give you much pleasure if you try to read him amid the pomp and circumstance of upholstery; but out in the sun, and especially by this pond, he is delightful, and we spend the happiest hours together, he making statements, and I either agreeing heartily, or just laughing and reserving my opinion till I shall have more ripely considered the thing.

Her bookcases are also thoughtfully arranged. Those nearest to hand are dedicated to her very best favourites (i.e. Jane Austen). Those in the nearby bookcase are also favourites to be reread at some point. Books in the other room are banished – no longer of interest or maybe waiting for a different age or mood to be relevant again.

There are times when Elizabeth tries to convince us that she is German, but her style and tone is so English it’s hard to take these passages seriously.

September 9th—I have been looking in the dictionary for the English word for Einquartierung, because that is what is happening to us just now, but I can find nothing satisfactory. My dictionary merely says (1) the quartering, (2) soldiers quartered, and then relapses into irrelevancy; so that it is obvious English people do without the word for the delightful reason that they have not got the thing. We have it here very badly; an epidemic raging at the end of nearly every summer, when cottages and farms swarm with soldiers and horses, when all the female part of the population gets engaged to be married and will not work, when all the male part is jealous and wants to fight, and when my house is crowded with individuals so brilliant and decorative in their dazzling uniforms that I wish sometimes I might keep a bunch of the tallest and slenderest for ever in a big china vase in a corner of the drawing-room.

The mocking humour evident in the first story is still here, but more tempered. This Elizabeth seems more at peace and relaxed than the earlier Elizabeth. I think she also realised that two books about her garden were enough. Although this was a lovely treat to while away a rainy day or two in autumnal Sydney, it started to wear thing by the end.

Title: The Solitary Summer
Author: Elizabeth von Armin
Imprint: Project Gutenberg
Published: 1st June 1 2004 (originally published May 1899)
Format: ePub
Dates Read: 6 April 2023 - 29 April 2023
Origin: Online
This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.

21 thoughts on “The Solitary Summer | Elizabeth von Armin #CCspin

  1. A great many things would have to happen before she could do her own digging – like two world wars? Another fascinating post, thank you. I haven’t read her books but need to add them to my list.


    1. Her stories are so heavily related to events going on in her life at the time, I recommend reading a bio about her life at some point. They give her books context which I find fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. And here I was thinking you loved gardening Lisa! I’m with you … love beautiful gardens but only want to garden when I feel like it, like when the weather is perfect!

      Thanks Brona for reminding me of this delightful book. I do remember enjoying it but had forgotten more of its details that it’s predecessor.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Whereas I am an avid gardener, or I was.

        When I lived in Mudgee, I created three gardens in the three homes I lived in there. The first two in rentals were basically vegie/herb patches with a few pretty annuals. But when I bought my first home, I went all out and created a huge garden from scratch. It was exhausting but I loved it. Not sure I have that kind of energy now. After Covid we had to pay someone to help us get our mountains garden back under control – it’s now back to a managable maintenance level for the two of us.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s when the weather is perfect that I dislike gardening most of all!
        I had an almost maintenance free garden… twice a year in the winter and summer holidays I would attack anything that was in the way with the secateurs, and that was it. It was planted so densely with Australian natives, no weed would have dared to grow.
        But The Spouse came along… and he thought a fernery would be nice outside the bedroom window, and then there was a little patch by the front gate crying out for some roses, and then of course any decent cook needs a kitchen garden, and the next thing you know it’s a garden that needs more attention than before!
        I do like it. The fernery is lovely and so are the roses and of course the vegetables and herbs bring much pleasure, but still…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yep, I understand that “but still”. My father was a big rose grower but they need too much attention for my liking and they are very pretty, pretty flowery flowers. I like natives … they are intriguing.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t know there was a followup to the German garden! And yes, her attempt to sound like a German fails utterly. I’ll want to read this! (I’m much better at reading about gardening than I am at actually gardening. Once the heat hits, I turn into a sad puddle and stop going outside. My mom, meanwhile, has a good acre of garden and spends most of her free time in it. But we’ve both done plenty of weeding.)


    1. The link attached to my first mention of The Solitary Summer will take you to the Project Gutenberg online version of the book.

      I’m not so fond of the weeding myself, but I love doing it after the rain when it’s much easier to ease them out the ground. Pruning is my favourite job in the garden.


  3. I love that she arranged her bookshelves in such an order, from Austen to those she wanted to reread. I have all my translated literature books in my study, but they aren’t arranged in any particular order other than country. My mother, though, has all her favorites on shelves in her kitchen.

    I have always thought of Elizabeth von Armin as English. ☺️


    1. I cannot imagine any other way to sort translated fiction than by country!

      My shelves also tend to be by region – Australian fiction on the top shelf, follwed by the UK, then US then translated fiction. Bio’s are on the bottom shelf together. My small poetry selection is on the bottom shelf of my bedside table, and my lovely matching sets are together on a small shelf under the window. The TBR pile of contemporary stuff from work is stacked under the bed 😀


  4. I loved her first book, so this is a must read. It is calming to read her books, because her words give us a calmness, also when reading her. She describes the gardens so well, that you are almost there with her, in all her tranquility. Great post.


  5. I really enjoyed this years ago when I ran through these. I am an unwilling gardener, too – today, for example, I didn’t successfully eradicate some sycamore seedlings, just gut them back as far as I could, and trimmed my St John’s Wort when it shouldn’t be trimmed and into a weird shape because it was getting in the way of taking the bins out between it and the house and spilling over the wall to obstruct people walking along the pavement!


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