Arnim, Elizabeth von (1866–1941)

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Arnim, Elizabeth von (1866–1941)

English novelist, author of Enchanted April. Name variations: Mary Annette Russell, countess Russell; Elizabeth Mary Russell; (pseudonyms) Elizabeth and Anne Cholmondely. Born Mary Annette Beauchamp in New Zealand on August 31, 1866; died in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 9, 1941; sixth and last child of Henry Beauchamp (an English shipping magnate) and Elizabeth "Louey" Lassetter (an Australian); cousin of Katherine Mansfield ; attended Miss Summerhayes' school in Ealing and the Royal College of Music; married Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin (a Prussian count), in 1891 (died 1910); married Francis, 2nd Earl Russell (separated 1919); children: (first marriage) five, including daughter Leslie de Charms (a writer).

Born in New Zealand, Elizabeth von Arnim was three when her family moved to London by way of Switzerland. At 18, while on a European tour with her father, she met and married a Prussian count and moved into his depleted estate in Pomerania, the setting of her best-known book, Elizabeth and her German Garden, which was published anonymously in 1898. Employing what would be a continuing theme in her writing, Arnim recounts with humor the restrictions and responsibilities of domestic life, the tyranny of marriage and motherhood, and the autonomy that can be found in nature. Most of her early books were published under the name Elizabeth: The Benefactress (1901), Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther (1907), and The Caravanners (1909). In 1917, Christine came out under the pseudonym Anne Cholmondely.

When her husband died in 1910, Arnim moved with her five children to a château in Switzerland but returned to England with the outbreak of World War I. Following an affair with H.G. Wells, she married Francis, 2nd earl of Russell, brother of philosopher Bertrand Russell. The marriage was a fiasco, and they separated in 1919. Continuing with the theme of marital tyranny, her books took on a bleaker tone as evidenced by The Pastor's Wife (1914), Vera (1921), and The Enchanted April (1923). In 1936, her memoir All the Dogs of My Life was released. With the rumblings of war, Arnim headed for America in 1938, settling in South Carolina. She died there two years later, in 1941, shortly after the publication of her last novel Mr. Skeffington. Shortly before, her daughter Leslie de Charms had published a biography of Arnim, Elizabeth of the German Garden.

Enchanted April, which was filmed by Miramax and produced by Ann Scott in 1992, is indicative of Arnim's views. Lottie (played by Josie Lawrence ) and Rose (Miranda Richardson ) are two proper, middle-class Englishwomen resigned to their staid lives and passionless marriages. Lottie sees an advertisement for the vacation of a lifetime: a month's stay at a medieval villa overlooking the Italian Riviera. Leaving their inattentive husbands behind, Lottie and Rose rent the villa, sharing expenses with two unlikely companions: an austere dowager (played by Joan Plowright ) and a beautiful, bored socialite (Polly Walker ). At first, the ladies are wary of each other and unsure of their roles at the villa. But the idyllic hideaway holds a certain magic, and as friendships flourish and hopes awaken, the visitors find ways to live and love that have long eluded them.

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Arnim, Elizabeth von (1866–1941)

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