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Love by Elizabeth von Arnim

Love (1925)

by Elizabeth von Arnim

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193561,059 (3.69)2



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It's hard to believe this book isn't better known. I loved it, especially what it had to say about the efforts of women to look younger. There were some very funny parts, too. Highly recommended. ( )
  Grier | Mar 29, 2018 |
I remember, many years ago, falling in love with Elizabeth Von Arnim’s writing as I read every one of her books that Virago republished. Back then I read library copies, and years later I started to collect her books for my own library, secure in the knowledge that I could happily read them over and over again.

‘Love’ was one of the most elusive titles, and even though many of the details had slipped my mind I remembered that it was a particular favourite, that it had an especially striking cover, and so I was delighted when I finally found a copy to keep.

This is the story of a romance between a young man and a somewhat older lady, and I on the second time of reading my love for the story grew and grew.

The young man is Christopher, who works in an office and shares a London flat with a friend. His favourite pastime is visiting the theatre, and there is one play he loves above all others and goes to see many, many times. He comes to realise that there is a lady who must love the play as much as he does, because he sees her there often; and one day, when they are sitting on the same row, Christopher broaches a conversation.

The lady is charmed, and the pair talk about the play and about many other things, but Christopher finds that she is reticent when it comes to talking about herself. All he learns is that she is Mrs. Catherine Cumfrit, and that she is a widow. He wishes she would say a little more, and that he could get to know her rather better.

When the perspective shifts it is easy to understand why Catherine is reticent. She had married a sensible, reliable man who was significantly older than her, and she had been a widow for a few years. He had been concerned that she might fall prey to fortune hunters when he was gone, and so he left his estate and his fortune to his daughter and just a small income to his wife.

His concern had been well-intentioned, but it had consequences that he hadn’t considered. He left his estate and his fortune to their daughter, rather than to Catherine herself, because he was anxious that Catherine might be taken advantage of by a fortune hunter. Catherine’s daughter, Virginia, had married at the age of eighteen; and that left Catherine in a rather uncomfortable position in the where she had once been mistress. She saw that her daughter was blissfully happy with the older clergyman who said that she made him feel young again, and she realised that it was time she found a new home of her own.

Her small income allowed Catherine to live modestly in a flat in London, with one servant to look after her. She missed her home, she missed the countryside, she missed having money to buy new things, but she told herself that she had to come to terms with a new way of life.

When Christopher came into her life, Catherine was flattered by his attentions, and she began to think that maybe she wouldn’t be a widow for the rest of her life. She was anxious though, because she knew that Christopher hadn’t really thought about how much older that him she was, and what the consequences of that might be. Not knowing quite what to do, she decided to escape to the country for a little while.

The household staff were delighted when Katherine arrived with two trunks, but Virginia and her husband, Stephen, were rather alarmed by the prospect of a long visit. They were too polite to say so, but their behaviour made their feelings clear, and Katherine was appalled to find herself considered of an age with Stephen’s mother when she was in fact a little younger than Stephen.

They completely forgot that Katherine had been mistress of the house for more than twenty years, until just a few months ago; and they didn’t give a thought to how she might feel. They were completely wrapped up in their own love story, and they were oblivious to anything else.

Katherine couldn’t explain why she had come to stay, and she began to realise that she was an unwelcome quest.

Then Christopher – unwilling to give up his pursuit – arrived with on his motorbike, with a sidecar to carry her back to London. Katherine was delighted, her family were scandalised, and the trip back to London put the relationship between the pair onto a new footing.

They married.

There would be drama in London as Katherine tried to keep up with her young husband and to be the kind of wife she thought he would want; and there would be drama in the country when the time came for Virginia’s first child to be born.

Would the relationship between come through the approbation of friends, family and society, AND all of that?

The answer wouldn’t come until the last pages, and I flew through the book until I got there, because I was so caught up with the characters and their stories. Those characters and their relationships are so well drawn; and there are many lovely reminders that love is blind, and that it can make us blind.

The juxtaposition of two relationships with age gap – one considered quite normal by society and one not – is particularly well done.

The plot is so cleverly constructed, balancing expected and unexpected developments, confirming some assumptions and overturning others, changing some things and leaving others just as they were. There are big questions and small questions to ponder, wrapped up in a wonderfully engaging story.

Best of all is the narrative voice. It has the warm, wry wit that is so typical of Elizabeth Von Arnim, and also has things it wants to say and points that it wants to make. I wasn’t at all surprised at all to learn that the author was inspired by a relationship of her own with a much younger man.

She really was inspired, and I really think that ‘Love’ is a marvellous novel. ( )
  BeyondEdenRock | Sep 4, 2017 |
Whenever I read an Elizabeth von Arnim novel – I am aware I haven’t read anything like enough of them. Which means of course, that I have plenty left to read which I am delighted about. Love is hugely compelling, it’s a little over 400 pages, but I fairly flew through it.
Elizabeth von Arnim’s voice is as delicious as ever in this novel – but there is a sharpness underlying her engaging humour. In this novel von Arnim highlights the hypocrisy of her society – which dictated how women should behave – who they should love.
“It was not he supposed, quite so personally awful as if it were one’s wife, but on the other hand it had a peculiar awfulness of its own. A young woman might descend declivities, impelled by the sheer momentum of youth; but for women of riper years, for the matrons, for the dowagers, for those whose calm remaining business in life is to hold aloft the lantern of example, whose pride it should be to be quiet, to be immobile, to be looked-up to and venerated, – for these to indulge in conduct that disgraced their families and ruined themselves was, in a way, even more horrible and terrible.”
Catherine Cumfrit and Christopher Monckton, meet at a production of a play The Immortal Hour, playing to reduced audiences, the pair have each attended numerous performances. Recognising each other among the dedicated followers of The Immortal Hour Catherine and Christopher move to sit near to one another. Christopher is pretty much immediately smitten, Catherine aware of his interest is flattered. Christopher is twenty-five, Catherine is in her mid-forties, a young looking widow, with a newly married daughter. While Christopher believes Catherine is probably a little bit older than him – he is sure it is nothing much – Catherine is very aware of the age difference – but enjoys being assumed to be much younger.
Catherine is living alone – with a loyal housekeeper – in a London flat, free and alone for the first time in her life. The large country home she shared with her much older husband – had passed to her daughter upon her recent marriage. The daughter; Virginia – just eighteen, although often appearing rather more middle aged – has married a man a year older than her mother Catherine. Virginia tells her mother how age doesn’t matter when one is in love. Catherine’s son-in-law is Stephen – a clergyman, pompous and self-righteous, does love Virginia madly, she makes him feel young again. In their relationship (about which I felt a bit yucky) von Arnim reminds us that those of us on the outside looking in, can never really see what feeling there exists between two people.
Meanwhile – Catherine is a typically vague slightly flaky von Arnim heroine, and Christopher; her annoying Tiggerish suitor, is oblivious to the disparity in their ages. As Catherine begins to worry that Christopher is really starting to get a bit ridiculous she flees to Chickover; her daughter’s home – which only three months earlier she was mistress of. The servants greet their former mistress with enthusiasm, while Stephen’s dragonish mother and Virginia herself are slightly put out by Catherine’s arrival – with two trunks – indicating a prolonged visit. Tensions between everyone – who are far too polite and English to just say “mother we’re newlyweds, go home” – percolate beneath the surface – while poor Catherine is oblivious to how, in the way she is.
“Vanity had been the beginning of it, the irresistibleness of the delicious flattery of being mistaken for young, and before she knew what she was doing she had fallen in love – fallen flop in love, like any schoolgirl.”
Christopher is never far from her thoughts – although she insists on telling herself that he is absurd. By now Christopher is aware just how big the age difference is – but it appears this has made no difference to how he feels. At Chickover everyone insists on treating Catherine as if she is ancient. Living close by; Mrs Colquhoun, Virginia’s mother in law, seems to believe they are of an age – when Catherine is in fact a year younger than her son, and in this atmosphere Catherine starts to feel her age.
Her family are astounded, when, just as Catherine is contemplating returning to London – saddened at finally realising Virginia doesn’t want her there – Christopher turns up complete with motorcycle and side car. Catherine finds herself happy in his company – and allows herself to be persuaded to allow him to drive her back to London in his sidecar. Naturally they run out of petrol – so far so comic, and a little predictable. However, son-in-law Stephen’s reaction to what is at worst (even in 1920’s Britain) is an embarrassing accident – is completely over the top – and ensures that Catherine and Christopher have to marry. Much to Christopher’s delight and his friend Lewes’s horror.
“Christopher loved her with the passion of youth, of imagination, of poetry, of all the fresh beginnings of wonder and worship that have been since love first lit his torch and made in the darkness a great light.”
Catherine loves Christopher, more and more – and as she does she becomes more and more aware of the age difference. In fact with her increasing love, Catherine actually begins to age. Catherine goes to all sorts of lengths to hold back time, and exhausts herself trying to keep up with her young husband. Naturally there are occasions when meeting new people leads to the obvious misconceptions, which hurt Catherine terribly but of which Christopher is either unaware or unconcerned by. Will Catherine and Christopher be able to find their way through the difficulties and prove the doubters wrong?
I don’t want to risk spoiling this novel for anyone by talking about the ending. However, I was slightly surprised by the turn the story takes and the more sombre tone. It is interesting to note that five years before this novel was published Elizabeth von Arnim had a relationship with a man around thirty years her junior – this relationship was of course the inspiration for this novel. For me this is a wonderful novel – it is a novel about age and ageing every bit as much as it about love. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Oct 14, 2016 |
This is my second Elizabeth von Arnim novel. I listened to this book and it was read very adroitly and with great humour and pathos by Eleanor Bron. It is a story about a young man who falls in love with a much older woman. Not such a great drama in this day and age but the novel is set in 1925 when it was much more of a scandal.

Catherine, a widow, attends with great fervour a play rather aptly entitled "The immortal hour". She and a band of stalwarts regularly attend the matinee performances and share a strict code of devotion - no late entrances, no talking, no rustling of paper etc. One of the band of devotees is a young man about town - Christopher.

At first I wanted to strangle both characters. Catherine is so - well - flaky. And Christopher is like an over-enthusiastic puppy.

Christopher finds Catherine a great companion - a very good listener. At first she is amused by this young man's attentions but then things become awkward. Christopher for his own part is "surprised" by what he is forced to confess is his burgeoning love for Catherine. And Christopher is determined not to be thwarted - by Catherine, his well-meaning friend or anyone else.

Catherine, to date, has led an exemplary life as wife, mother and widow. She is remarkably agreeable and rational. In her own way, she too is "surprised" by love. When it hits her, it hits her hard.

The foil for this deceptively simple plot is the simply marvellous character of Catherine's son-in-law and curate Stephen.

As things become abundantly clear and Christopher's love encourages Catherine to stand up for herself and stake out her territory to her bullying in-laws, Stephen swings into action.

I gasped with horror, indignation and anticipation at this story. And I laughed out loud at the characters' foibles and inner thoughts - right down to Catherine's housekeeper - who desperately trys to adjust and come to grips with her "betters" change of heart and situation.

I shan't spoil the ending for you but it left me thinking for many days. Let me know what you think if you do read it. I was particularly fascinated with the tragic account of Catherine's search for a youthful complexion. ( )
1 vote alexdaw | Dec 16, 2011 |
I read the early part of this book on the underground, and I was shaking with laughter in my seat and occasionally even chuckling aloud. Christopher has fallen exuberantly in love with Catherine, but she is all-too-conscious of the age gap between them, and hopes to cool his ardour with politeness.

"I've always known you", he said solemnly; and at this she rather quickly offered him some cake, which he ignored.

Spoiler alert: At this point I imagined that Love was going to be one of those delicious, escapist books, like Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day or Mrs 'Arris Goes To Paris, in which quiet, patient virtue is finally rewarded and a dusty existence comes to life. And that does happen in this book. But the trouble is, the story continues on afterwards, and reality comes rushing back in with a vengeance. For Catherine is 47, about to become a grandmother, and Christopher is 25. Social disapprobation is one thing, but Catherine's own consciousness of the gap in their ages (which Christopher is blithely unconcerned about) leads her to ever more desperate measures. I found this part of the story almost unbearably sad.

The blurb is very much focused on the romance and the comedy and barely hints at poignant undertones. I kind of hope that was a sales-pitch thing - that's much better than the possibility that someone could read this and see it as a comedy throughout! ( )
3 vote wandering_star | Nov 21, 2009 |
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Elizabeth von Arnimprimary authorall editionscalculated
White, Terence de VereIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The first time they met, though they didn't know it, for they were unconscious of each other, was at The Immortal Hour, then playing to almost empty houses away at King's Cross; but they both went so often, and the audience at that time was so conspicuous because there was so little of it and so much room to put it in, that quite soon people who went frequently got to know each other by sight, and felt friendly and inclined to nod and smile, and this happened too to Christopher and Catherine.
When Michael Frere came to see Elizabeth about her autobiography All the Dogs of My Life she found him 'such a boring little man. But it is because we are all growing old, and the bones of our inadequate minds come through the flesh that hid them.' (Introduction)
When he went there she was five and he was thirty-four. Dear little child; he played with her. Presently she was fifteen, and he was forty-four. Sweet little maid; he prepared her for confirmation. Again presently she was eighteen, and he was forty-seven. Touching young bud of womanhood; he proposed to her.
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From the book jacket: Catherine becomes aware of Christopher on her fifth visit to "The Immortal Hour", playing to empty houses at King's Cross. It is his thirty-second. He is a glorious young man with flame-coloured hair. She is the sweetest little thing in a hat. Some performances later, they are sitting side by side and all seems set for the perfect romance -- but for the small matter of age. Chris is in the first flush of manhood and Catherine is just a little bit older. For a woman in her forties, with marriage and motherhood behind her, the notion of being thought younger than her years adds an extra thrill to courtship. But there are unforeseen obstacles to such pleasures... Beneath the humour of this engaging novel, originally published in 1925, lies a sharper note, as Elizabeth Von Arnim uncovers the hypocrisy of society and the codes it forces women to ascribe to in the name of 'love'.
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A gentle romance begins innocently enough in the stalls of a London theatre where Catherine is enhoying her ninth and Christopher his thirty-sixth visit to the same play. He is a magnificent young man with flame-coloured hair. She is the sweetiest little thing in a hat. There is just one complication: Christopher is twenty-five, while Catherine is just a little bit older. Flattered by the passionate attentions of youth, Catherine, with marriage and motherhood behind her, is at first circumspect, but finally succumbs to her lover's charms - container.… (more)

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