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The Ordeal of Elizabeth by Anonymous

The Ordeal of Elizabeth (1901)

by Anonymous

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91950,433 (3.25)14
  1. 00
    A Pin to See the Peepshow by F. Tennyson Jesse (souloftherose)
    souloftherose: Although set 20 years apart, both books look at the restrictions society of the time placed on young women and the terrible and tragic events that can follow

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Thanks to LT, it's rare that I read a book 'blind', not really knowing anything about the type of story or the characters, but this was one of those rare occasions.

I came across this book because I've been trying to read Elizabeth von Arnim's novels in publication order and, according to Project Gutenberg and wikipedia, this novel was written by her and published in 1901. And that was all I could find out about it before I started reading.

Set in the US at the turn of the century, Elizabeth van Vorst is an orphan cared for by her two maiden aunts. Her father married below his station and the small town she lives in has never been able to let her forget it. At a young age she meets and falls for an aspiring artist, Paul Halleck. Her aunts disapprove of the relationship but Elizabeth is unable to see that her love can go nowhere. With no friends or other confidants to support her, she foolishly agrees to a secret marriage before Paul leaves to spend six months in Europe. At first he writes to her but gradually the letters trail off and Elizabeth comes to realise that she no longer cares for Paul in the way she used to.

At the same time, one of her wealthy neighbours decides to befriend the young girl and offers to take Elizabeth with her to New York for the season. Soon Elizabeth is living the life she always dreamed of; as a beauty with the right friends she's welcomed into the right social circles in New York but she remains strangely unhappy and distant despite all the adulation poured on her and her new friend is unable to understand why. The final straw for Elizabeth is when she starts to realise that she has truly fallen for her new friend's brother, that he returns her affection and that Paul Halleck has just returned to New York. What follows is a tale of murder and scandal that manages to avoid crossing the line into becoming a sensation novel.

The Ordeal of Elizabeth is a story about the restrictions fashionable New York society of the time placed on young women, and the tragic outcomes that could so easily follow. Whilst von Arnim's first two novels also focused on the restrictions upper class women of the time faced, these were more humourous with little or no tragedy and, from what I've read, autobiographical. As far as I know, The Ordeal of Elizabeth is not autobiographical, although I'm intrigued by the idea that an author would follow two autobiographical novels where the main character has the same first name as the author with a non-autobiographical novel where the main character also has the same first name as the author. In setting and theme, this book reminded me very strongly of Edith Wharton's novels about fashionable New York society (although The Ordeal of Elizabeth was written before most of Wharton's books were published). The murder and subsequent trial reminded me at times of A Pin to see the Peepshow. Whilst I wouldn't rate this book quite as highly as either of those I thought it was well done and in no way deserves to be as overlooked as it has been.

Edited to add: On reading a biography of Elizabeth von Arnim by Karen Usborne it's not clear whether this book was in fact written by Elizabeth von Arnim or not as it's not mentioned in Usborne's biography. It seems unlikely that it was written by Elizabeth as there is no mention of it in her diaries or in this biography. ( )
13 vote souloftherose | Mar 19, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anonymousprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Arnim, Elizabeth vonAttributed tosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The Van Vorst Homestead stands close to the road-side; a dark, low-built, gloomy old place.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Some websites attribute this novel to Elizabeth von Arnim. However, it was published anonymously in 1901, and neither Elizabeth von Arnim's diaries or biographies mention this novel among her works. It may be that it has mistakenly been attributed to Elizabeth von Arnim for some reason.
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