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Books Read In 2019 > Elizabeth & Her German Garden - Spoilers - Discussion Leader - Jenny

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message 1: by Loretta, Moderator (new)

Loretta | 5983 comments Mod
Please use this thread to discuss the book freely!

Member Jenny has asked to lead the discussion!

Take it away Jenny! 😊


message 2: by Jenny (last edited Sep 01, 2019 03:23PM) (new)

Jenny | 345 comments I felt like from the beginning of the novel you get a real taste for Elizabeth’s personality. How do you like the diary format of the novel? What do you think of Elizabeth’s mildly mocking, sarcastic tone and her sense of humor?


message 3: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany | 553 comments I actually really like Elizabeth's voice in here. It's really refreshing to see such a witty female character in fiction. As for the diary format, I think it gives us more of a personal connection to the character. I don't know how else to describe it. When I went into a book and realized it was written in letter format or diary format, I used to get so annoyed (The Dear Canada series is an exception to this), but in recent years I've come to appreciate books that are in this type of format.


message 4: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments I agree, Tiffany, I’m enjoying her humor very much. She seems very modern.


message 5: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments I think it interesting that she calls her husband The Man of Wrath, but doesn't seem to be affected by his attitude.
It's a fun read so far.


message 6: by DebK (new)

DebK | 339 comments “How cruel it was of me to put those poor little owls into a cage even for one night! I cannot forgive myself, and shall never pander to the Man of Wrath's wishes again.”

I’ve enjoyed her humor about her gardener and how he threatens to leave her every month, especially the part about her reading to him from a gardening book! What a hoot!

However, she can be very childlike. I did not find her treatment of the baby owls very impressive. In the statement above, she projects her guilt off onto ‘the man of wrath.’ On the one hand, she wanted to please him with the baby owls and on the other ... well, she’s worse than a child. Not admirable.


message 7: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments Elizabeth’s relationship with her husband and children is pretty central to her diary. And yet she never mentions their names! The only characters whose given names are used are the two adult women in her life. I noticed this even extends to the roses in her garden. When Elizabeth discusses in depth the varieties of roses she is planting, the vast majority are named after women. Two of them are named after men- and they are the two varieties that she claims almost perversely refuse to thrive!
What do you think this says about Elizabeth and her garden?


message 8: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments I also very much enjoyed Elizabeth’s description of her relationship with her gardener. I’d love to hear your thoughts when this relationship comes to a head.


message 9: by DebK (new)

DebK | 339 comments I don’t think she likes people very much. She speaks of flowers as her friends and lovers.

“Even in a thunder storm, when other people are running into the house, I run out of it.”

Notice how her family and friends run one way while she runs another. Even to a muddy, rainy garden!


message 10: by DebK (new)

DebK | 339 comments Does anyone know what a clowslip ball is?

“We made cowslip balls sitting on the grass.”

Maybe Suri knows?


message 12: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments What a sweet picture Deb!


message 13: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments I wasn't impressd by the baby owl incident either.


message 14: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments So the first gardener lost his mind, poor man.


message 15: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments That section cracked me up. How do you go about driving a gardener completely crazy? I loved how Elizabeth mentioned that she left off reading to him once he started carrying a gun.
But seriously, how does everyone feel about the possible reasons for his madness? He seems to have thought Elizabeth’s requests were unfathomable. And it’s sad that she even needed a middle man between herself and her flowers when she would have preferred working in the dirt. But because of her position, it wasn’t acceptable.


message 16: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments It is really sad, but the society of the time was very rigid.

Elizabeth von Arnim(her married name) was actually married to a German aristocrat, but they eventually got divorced. His family did not approve of her unconventional ways.

I wonder how much of this novel is autobiographical?


message 17: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments I wouldn’t be surprised if there was quite a bit of truthfulness in her character’s frustrated independence.


message 18: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Rosemarie wrote: "I wonder how much of this novel is autobiographical? ..."

I read that it's very autobiographical.

I just received the book and am trying to catch up.

I love how she makes mistakes in her garden and learns from them. It's an analogy to life ...... you keep making mistakes, learn from them and hopefully make life better.

I can't wait to get to the thunderstorm part!


message 19: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments Deb wrote: "Does anyone know what a clowslip ball is?"

Here's what I found out:

Until about the Second World War the making of cowslip (Primula veris) balls " tissty-tossties – which could be made to foretell the future was a popular childhood pastime. Gertrude Jekyll, in her Children & Gardens (1908), described how these were made:

‘You prepare the flowers by cutting the stalks just under the heads, and stretch a bit of very fine string by tying it to the backs of two chairs … Then you take the prepared flowers one by one and make them ride along the string, heads downwards. When there are as many on the string as you think will be enough to make a ball, you press them up together as they will go, bring up the two ends of the string and tie them.’

In Herefordshire early in the 20th century the balls were tossed while reciting: ‘Rich man, poor man, beggar man, farmer, tinker, tailor, ploughboy, thief’, to indicate the occupation of a future lover. Or, the ball might be tossed to ‘Tisty-tosty, tell me true, Who shall I be married to? followed by a list of potential suitors [1]. Similarly, in west Dorset, in c.1930, the ‘Tinker, tailor’ rhyme would be recited, and the occupation of the lover was recited as the final flower fell from it.

In the Severn Vale, Gloucestershire, in the 1920s and 30s, cowslip balls were tossed to the rhyme:

‘Tisty tosty cowslip ball; tell me where you are going to fall?
Dursley, Uley, Coaley, Cam; Frampton, Fretherne, Arlingham’
and the suitor was expected to come from the village named [when the ball fell?].

Early in the 20th century girls in Wales tossed cowslip balls using only their right hands to predict life expectancy; the ball fell at the fatal number [2].



message 20: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) | 563 comments Cleo wrote: "Deb wrote: "Does anyone know what a clowslip ball is?"

Here's what I found out:

Until about the Second World War the making of cowslip (Primula veris) balls " tissty-tossties – which could be mad..."


Wow, thanks so much for this detailed clarification! This looks very intersting. I didn't know what a cowslip ball was, either.


message 21: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) | 563 comments I started reading this book yesterday and am about 20% in. I believe it must be quite autobiographical.

I agree with Rosemarie when she says that Elizabeth calls her husband "the Man of Wrath" but doesn't seem to be much affected by his "wrath" after all. I thought it might be sort of an endearing name. Like, he's wrathful, so to speak, but she doesn't find it very distressing, on the contrary she finds this quite cute in a way. Like he's not really wrathful at all, just maybe a bit prone to nervousness. That's what I thought.

I find it weird that she doesn't name her children but only calls them "the April/May/June baby". Also, as a non-native English speaker I was wondering about her calling them "babies" while in actual fact they're 3, 4 and 5. I thought the term "baby" was only used when talking about a very young child, maybe up to one year of age or so. What can you English native speakers tell me about this? Am I wrong?

I find the author's humor to be quite enjoyable. I especially liked when, at the very beginning, she says she has once danced out of sheer joy, but she did it behind a bush so as not to affect appearances. She definitely IS unconventional, and doesn't seem to regret her ways, which I find great.


message 22: by DebK (new)

DebK | 339 comments Did you notice that her plan was to take only one of her babies to her dream cottage in the woods? The other two would be allowed to visit. I really get the sense that child rearing is a real annoyance to her. Perhaps an inconvenience?


message 23: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) | 563 comments Deb wrote: "I really get the sense that child rearing is a real annoyance to her. Perhaps an inconvenience?"

Might be. I believe she just likes to be alone in her garden with her flowers and her books. She's not a lonely person, just someone who really enjoys me-time. And she enjoys it so much that, as you say, her children seem almost to be an inconvenience.


message 24: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments Marina- you are right that technically a baby is a child up to about a year old. A mother might call her children her “babies,” most especially her youngest, she might always refer to as her “baby.” It could imply a few things. Possibly wistfulness - “I wish my babies never had to grow up.” Or playfulness. That’s in American English anyway. I assume it’s the same in British English.
So it’s not necessarily odd but it could have been a conscious word choice to imply their reliance on her?

Deb- as a mother I was a bit alarmed that she’d only bring one baby!
It almost seems like children are one more conventionality that Elizabeth resists. She loves them but their care is like cooking or cleaning.


message 25: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments I noticed that about the baby as well. And yet she has a nurse to look after her daughters, a cook and house staff to help. The only person she has real issues with is the gardener.
Do we have any idea how old she is?


message 26: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) | 563 comments Jenny wrote: "Marina- you are right that technically a baby is a child up to about a year old. A mother might call her children her “babies,” most especially her youngest, she might always refer to as her “baby...."

Thanks for explaining, Jenny :)


message 27: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments Rosemarie wrote: "I noticed that about the baby as well. And yet she has a nurse to look after her daughters, a cook and house staff to help. The only person she has real issues with is the gardener.
Do we have any ..."


I don’t remember any mention of age but she does seem to be “finding herself.”


message 28: by Ian (last edited Sep 05, 2019 03:52PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 153 comments Jumping in on the "babies" issue.

I've been following silently, but haven't read the book since around 1980, so I don't think I have much to add directly. But much more recently (like the last year or two) I've been reading a fair amount about nineteenth-century British (mainly English) child-care, including practices in upper-middle-class and upper-class families (and as far down the ladder as could afford to imitate them).

Young children were pretty much given over to the care of specialized servants, if they could be afforded, and were perhaps presented to their actual parents, or at least their mother, for an hour or so each day, if it was convenient for the adult's schedule. If possible, the house had a "nursery wing," with its own staff, which avoided annoying the grown-ups.

This is what we see in the present book, although on a smaller scale than the really rich and powerful.

The effects of this practice can be traced in biographies: the adult Winston Churchill adored his mother, but was fiercely protective of his nanny when she was about to be discharged (without a pension) because there weren't any more children for her to raise, and she cost too much.

A good deal of pertinent information can be found in chapters 4 and 5 ("Children" and "Homes and Houses") of The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain, by F.M.L. Thompson. Along with different issues for the lower-middle-class, the working class, and farm laborers (at pretty much at the bottom economically: but their children often had a better chance of survival than those in the filthy cities).


message 29: by Cleo (last edited Sep 05, 2019 02:17PM) (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments You're very welcome, Marina!

The Man of Wrath struck me as very grumpy. The comments he relays are always very negative towards her. She took the owls to please him, against her natural inclination and he can think of nothing but criticism. I wonder if she has simply resigned herself to a loveless marriage which is part of her withdrawal to the garden. As for the babies, she does seem to enjoy them when she has them and obviously has thought for their upbringing. In those days, others looked after the children and I think her attitude might be a reflection of that fact.

I've become used to referring to them as babies. It's kind of cute! Perhaps, since the book was autobiographical, she wanted to identify her children as little as possible to protect their privacy. That would make sense. I guess she could have given them fake names but I don't think it would be as charming.


message 30: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments Ian wrote: "Jumping in on the "babies" issue.

I've been following silently, but haven't read the book since around 1980, so I don't think I have much to add directly. But much more recently (like the last yea..."


Thanks for the info, Ian. That book sounds very interesting and informative. Great background for those of us reading plenty of novels from that era.


message 31: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments I so agree with her comments about breakfast. I am not a morning person, so having breakfast at someone else's house, who isn't a clost family member, is always a but awkward for me. I am much more cheerful by mid morning.


message 32: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments My husband would agree with you, Rosemarie! Whereas myself, the instant I open my eyes I’m awake and hungry!


message 33: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments I am usually hungry, but not very awake.

I just finished the section where she pays a secret visit to her old home and meets another Elizabeth, a girl who is probably a lot like her.


message 34: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) | 563 comments Jenny wrote: "My husband would agree with you, Rosemarie! Whereas myself, the instant I open my eyes I’m awake and hungry!"

As would my boyfriend! If he could choose, he wouldn't even want for people to talk to him for a while after he wakes up, lol! For me it's the reverse, I feel pretty energetic in the morning, so much so that (now that I feel better) I go for a long walk every morning just after breakfast and before starting work.


message 35: by DebK (new)

DebK | 339 comments And just what is a LIEBER GOTT? Not even Suri seems to be able to help me with this one!

Her questions about the lieber Gott are better left unrecorded, and I was relieved when she began about the angels.


message 36: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments Der Liebe Gott is what God is called in Sunday School. German nouns and adjectives have different endings depending on gender and number.
It can also be an expression equivalent to Dear God! Ach du lieber! Gott is implied.


message 37: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments Rosemarie wrote: "Der Liebe Gott is what God is called in Sunday School. German nouns and adjectives have different endings depending on gender and number.
It can also be an expression equivalent to Dear God! Ach du..."


Thanks for sharing that info, Rosemarie!


message 38: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments While religion doesn’t play a significant role in the story, the brief mentions are interesting. Elizabeth doesn’t attend church regularly and seems somewhat critical of her pastor. She describes her garden as a “paradise.” Elizabeth clearly feels very connected to nature. What, if any, importance do you give to this spiritual side of her story?
Could you add Elizabeth’s superstition in her childhood garden to this conversation? A belief in ghosts/ feeling like a ghost?


message 39: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments You're welcome!


message 40: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments I finished this yesterday and really enjoyed the part with the two visitors. It had some of the most vivid writing in the book.
I found that the part where she was describing the different sorts of flowers really made the story drag.


message 41: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) | 563 comments Rosemarie wrote: "I found that the part where she was describing the different sorts of flowers really made the story drag."

Agreed. I'm sure I would have appreciated it much more had I been a gardening person. On the whole, I liked the book and gave it 3.5 stars, rounded down because of this same reason. I guess people who love gardening will love this book.


message 42: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments It is too bad she had to rely on gardeners instead of being able to garden herself, but it just wasn't done back then.


message 43: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments Once the Man of Wrath finally speaks up, we really get an earful, don’t we? Very enlightening, in an infuriating sort of way, to hear his attitude toward women. This visit by Elizabeth’s two friends does bring the story out of her mind and garden and highlights her external life.
Do you think Elizabeth means it when she says she wishes she were a man? There are certainly perks to being male but the women vigorously defend their sex even if they don’t convince her husband.
(And I agree about the flowers- one rose is exactly like the next to me)


message 44: by DebK (new)

DebK | 339 comments She speaks about wanting to be a man because she would have inherited her father’s estate.


message 45: by Marina (new)

Marina (sonnenbarke) | 563 comments Jenny wrote: "Do you think Elizabeth means it when she says she wishes she were a man? There are certainly perks to being male but the women vigorously defend their sex even if they don’t convince her husband."

I think it might have been said in frustration. Obviously if she was a man she would have several perks as you say, but I don't believe she was thinking about inheriting the estate. However, I think she likes being a woman after all.


message 46: by DebK (new)

DebK | 339 comments I loved the scene where the governess is bad-mouthing her superiors to Minora, the guest who came for Christmas. It reminds me of all the travails of governesses (i.e., Jane Eyre) and was, no doubt, completely true. The fact that she lost her position shows that there is no pity for governesses!

Miss Jones (the governess) words:

“I know what I am saying when I affirm that there is nothing more intolerable than to have to be polite, and even humble, to persons whose weaknesses and follies are glaringly apparent in every word they utter, and to be forced by the presence of children and employers to a dignity of manner in no way corresponding to one's feelings.”

Minora’s response of glee is even more classic. I do think our author has a bit of satire going on here, but she could never appreciate what a snob she will be to a 21st c reader. I really dislike her at this point.


message 47: by DebK (new)

DebK | 339 comments The Man of Wrath finally speaks, and I think he’s hilarious.

“Minora was silent. Irais's foot was livelier than ever. The Man of Wrath stood smiling blandly down upon us. You can't argue with a person so utterly convinced of his infallibility that he won't even get angry with you; so we sat round and said nothing.”

Is he not, as we say in current vernacular, completely ‘jerking their chains’?


message 48: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 345 comments Deb wrote: "The Man of Wrath finally speaks, and I think he’s hilarious.

“Minora was silent. Irais's foot was livelier than ever. The Man of Wrath stood smiling blandly down upon us. You can't argue with a pe..."



It didn’t even occur to me that he might be joking!!
I took every word he said as his true beliefs about women.
Very interesting! Readers, what was everyone else’s take on this extremely interesting discussion between the Man of Wrath and the ladies?


message 49: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 1567 comments I think he was speaking ironically.


message 50: by Cleo (new)

Cleo (cleopatra18) | 363 comments I agree with Rosemarie although ..... I think there was a hint of his true beliefs in what he said.


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