Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Friday, 3 April 2015

"...she had wasted all this time being beautiful."



"She did not like her name. It was a mean, small name, with a kind of facetious twist, she thought, about its end like the upward curve of a pugdog's tail. There it was, however. There was no doing anything with it. Wilkins she was and Wilkins she would remain; and though her husband encouraged her to give it on all occasions as Mrs. Mellersh-Wilkins she only did that when he was within earshot, for she thought Mellersh made Wilkins worse, emphasising it in the way Chatsworth on the gate-posts of a villa emphasises the villa. 
   When first he suggested she should add Mellersh she had objected for the above reason, and after a pause - Mellersh was much too prudent to speak except after a pause, during which he presumably was taking a careful mental copy of his coming observation - he said, much displeased, 'But I am not a villa,' and looked at her as he looks who hopes, for perhaps the hundredth time, that he may not have married a fool. " 

You will have recognized it, Dear You: a quote from my annual read of "The Enchanted April" by Elizabeth von Arnim - and of course, though it is quite lovely too, you see at a glance why the film they made of it (and which I watch every year too) cannot transport a quarter of the wit of this novel.
Elizabeth von Arnim was a writer who wrote lots and lots of books - which, at their best, were as entertaining as enlightening (she wrote trash too).

I love all the characters: Mrs. Lotty Wilkins who often "sees" something which later really comes true (we share this virtue); Mrs. Rose Arbuthnot - with the face of a sad madonna - is a bit far from me, as is Mr. Briggs, but the old cranky Mrs. Fisher is wonderful. Till she comes to San Salvatore, she prefers to live in the past.

"Carlyle had had scowled on her; Matthew Arnold had held her on his knee; Tennyson had sonorously rallied her on the length of her pig-tail. (...) 
Indeed, she seemed to think that they also were widows, for on enquiring who the fourth lady was to be, and being told it was a Lady Caroline Dester, she said, 'Is she a widow too?' And on their explaining that she was not, because she had not yet been married, observed with abstracted amiability, 'All in good times.' 
(...) 'Did you know Keats?`eagerly interrupted Mrs. Wilkins. 
Mrs. Fisher, after a pause, said with sub-acid reserve that she had been quite unacquainted with both Keats and Shakespeare. 

But (of course) Lady Caroline Dester is the one I'm most fond of!
She is tired of social life and of men, who all want to possess her, grab her.

(...) she had wasted all this time being beautiful. Presently she wouldn't be beautiful, and then? (...) to become inconspicious, to fade, to grow shabby and dim, would probably be most painful. And once she began, what years and years of it there would be! Imagine (...) having most of one's life at the wrong end. Imagine being old for two or three times as long as being young. Stupid, stupid. Everything was stupid. 
(...) If nobody at San Salvatore had ever heard of her, if for a whole month she could shed herself, get right away from everything connected with herself, be allowed really to forget the clinging and the clogging and all the noise, why, perhaps she might make something of herself after all. She might really think; really clear up her mind; really come to some conclusion. 

 Of course they'll all do - I see it!




14 comments:

  1. Ah Britta, we were definitely separated at birth - or perhap you are like I, a displaced Maritimer and therefor acquainted with the phenomenon of 'kindred spirits' as outlined by Anne Shirley (well, by Monrgomery, but I know you know). You see, I LOVE the novel and when we bought our first DVD player Enchanted April was my first purchase. I watch it at least once a year, usually alone on a dismal spring night. I must take it out when I go home. I have always recognized Lottie, though I could never have ended up with such a husband. My comprises have been many but never in relationship.
    PS the novel always affirmed my satisfaction (or so I told myself) in not being burdened with beauty!

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    1. Dear Pondside, your words made my heart swell with warmth and joy, thank you - and yes: I think so too, kindred spirits at least.
      I always wanted to give you feedback on the book - I haven't yet have it finished (566 pages are a lot for me at the moment, when I have to read so much professional stuff - but I like it very much, and will continue with the Mermaids).
      As to Mellersh: I agree - just think of: "Mr. Wilkins, a solicitor, encouraged thrift, except that branch of which got into his food. He did not call that thrift, he called it bad housekeeping." :-)

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  2. The films are never, ever as good as the books. Yes, it's a tip-top book, Uplifting and delightfully giddy but with a lovely grounding wit and observation. I also love her German sort-of-memoirs.

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    1. Such a great word, giddy. It doesn't get used nearly enough these days.

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    2. Dear Mise, I love her German Garden books too very much (and read them too each year). Funny is also her sort of autobiography about her diverse husbands - the book is called "All my dogs" (which she owned too).

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    3. Dear Rachel: Then you will enjoy "The Horologicon" by Mark Forsyth (A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language), - best enjoyed while "grufeling".

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  3. It's wonderful when someone can say so much with such a light touch, isn't it?

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    1. Dear Sue, that is the high art of good entertainment, I believe - one feels - in a light way - satiated, without the nausea after too much candyfloss.... :-)

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  4. I think we all know someone who relies on their beauty to get by. When the beauty fades as it does with all of us those people are truly lost.

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    1. Dear Emma, the good thing is, that Lady Caroline Dester started with 28 to reconsider her way of life - thus, being clever too, she will have reaped all the fruits of beauty and brain in old age.

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  5. I have seen the film several times, missed the book, but enjoyed excellent performances. I have wasted very little time being beautiful but the story itself has showcased the useful beauty of an excellent cast. Can you tell I'm a Polly Walker fan?

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  6. Dear Geo., I'm glad to find finally a man who has seen the film, and yes: Polly Walker is utterly beautiful! Men usually wasted not much time on being beautiful :-), the cosmetic industry has thought about that deeply and now bombards men with photos and (hidden) messages, and the result is a very disturbing trend in male models to become anorexic, normal men shaving away all their body hair, and spending most of their time in fitness-studios, trying to get a sixpack instead of a diploma.

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  7. Britta... Your post prompted the desire to reread this charming book. I immediately searched Amazon and like magic... There it was all safe and snug in my Kindle library.. With the added bonus of von Arnim's Elizabeth and Her German Garden! Almost halfway through the latter and I am enjoying it so! Now I can revisit that enchanted April whenever the need for happy arises... For to be happy, one needs "harmony in one's surroundings... Happiness that asks for nothing...accepts..just breathes..just is."

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    1. Dear Susan, isn't a Kindle a wonderful "wand"? To think of a book - or even two, in your case - and whoosh - it is there! I enjoy Her German Garden very, very much, I read that even twice a year. It instills such a longing for solitude and simpleness. The quote is wonderful, thank you for it!

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