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“If Eve Had Had a Spade in Paradise . . .”: Elizabeth von Arnim and Her Gardens (1898–1914)

Francois Dupuigrenet Desroussilles, Florida State University, Summer Fellow 2015–2016

One of the most unexpected literary successes of the period before the First World War was Elizabeth and Her German Garden, a chronicle of the life of the English spouse of a Prussian aristocrat in their Pomeranian Schloss, where she created a garden in her own image—wild and free. It became rapidly known that the author was a British woman in her thirties, Mary Beauchamp, who had become Gräfin von Arnim-Schlagenthin upon her marriage. She published twenty highly successful novels under the pen name “Elizabeth,” working until her death in 1941. Her literary oeuvre was rediscovered in the 1980s thanks to Virago Press, which republished her novels under the name Elizabeth Von Arnim. Historians of literature hence read her works, focusing on issues of feminine writing, but no one has endeavored to study what the German garden represented for contemporaneous garden writers and creators (such as Ellen Willmott or Gertrude Jekyll) and, more generally, for the women who identified in droves with her brand of “gardening feminism.”  This is what I did during my sojourn at Dumbarton Oaks, after having studied the sources of the novel in the Arnim literary archive at the Huntington Library in May 2015. An article entitled “A Garden of One’s Own: Elizabeth and Her German Garden” will present the results of this research, along with an unknown chapter of the “German Garden” that I discovered during the course of my research.