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In the Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim

In the Mountains (1920)

by Elizabeth Von Arnim

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Showing 5 of 5
This is the first novel I have read by this Elizabeth von Armin. Written in diary format, the opening chapter begins in Switzerland with a beleaguered female main character attempting to revive her spirits directly after WWI. The writing is quite descriptive, with many passages devoted to the beauty of the natural surroundings. Thankfully additional characters are eventually introduced into the mix, in the form of two sisters who lose their way while sightseeing. A respectful type of camaraderie and reliance upon each other develops between the women.

Based on the ratings and reviews, this isn't Elizabeth von Armin's most popular book. After reading some background information about the author, it seems many of her fictional stories are semi-autobiographical. This particular story moves very slowly but offers historical insights into the cultural and emotional aftermath of WWI. It isn't a deep or taxing type of book, which worked okay for me in this moment. I would consider reading The Enchanted April or Elizabeth and Her German Garden in the future. ( )
  This-n-That | Nov 7, 2018 |
ugh, so disappointed by the ending. ( )
  Chrisbookarama | Nov 26, 2015 |
An unnamed woman retreats to her summer home in the Swiss Alps in the summer of 1918. This is her diary, in which she relates the power of this peaceful place in helping her heal after the sorrows of the war. We never learn exactly what she has been hurt by, but we can guess at her losses. One day, not long after she arrives, two women, seeking relief from the heat in the valley, come up the mountain and stumble upon our diarist. She invites them to stay with her to keep her company, and in the months that they stay, a friendship develops and healing begins. Nothing much happens in this little novel, but von Arnim's writing is so lovely with descriptions of the flowers and the mountains, it pulls you through to the end before you know it. ( )
1 vote NanaCC | Aug 22, 2015 |
First published in 1920, In the Mountains was published anonymously to begin with, which seems a little odd, it is a very Von Arnim book (or so it appears to this non Von Arnim expert) and I am puzzled as to why it was deemed necessary.
In the Mountains was a joy of a read for me, not a huge amount happens in this little novel, everything is contained within the small cast of characters. There is though, a delightful calmness that infuses this delightful novel which sits beautifully alongside Von Arnim’s delicate wit. Narrated by an Englishwoman whose name we never learn, In the Mountains in written in the form of a journal. Taking place in the summer and autumn of 1919, the novel tells the story of the return of this Englishwoman to her Swiss mountain summer home, the home she left in 1914 and has not seen since. We know virtually nothing about this woman, except that in 1914 she left as part of a “we” and returns very much as I. Before the war, from which the narrator comes to be healed, the house had been filled with people, visited by friends, a place of laughter, now it is peace and solitude its inhabitant particularly craves.
During her absence the house continued to be cared for by Antoine, who is now married, and he and Mrs Antoine continue to care for the property, to feed their employer allowing her the peace and space she so obviously needs.

“If only I don’t think – if only I don’t think and remember – how can I not get well again here in the beauty and the gentleness? There’s all next month and September, and perhaps October too may be warm and golden. After that I must go back, because the weather in this high place while it is changing from the calms of autumn to the calm of the exquisite alpine winter is a disagreeable, daunting thing. But I have two whole months perhaps three. Surely I’ll be stronger, tougher, by then? Surely I’ll at least be better? I couldn’t face the winter in London if this desperate darkness and distrust of life is still in my soul”

Whatever her experiences and particular grieves incurred by the war were, we only know that she needs to be healed, and to do so she has returned to her beloved mountain, the paths and landscape of which she knows so well.

“At night the bottom of the valley looks like water, and the lamps in the little town lying along it like quivering reflections of the stars.”

swissmountainsAfter a few weeks, our unnamed narrator begins to feel the place is having an effect she starts to take an interest again in her books, delights in the beauty of her surroundings, and feel as if she might rather like someone (other than the Antoines) to talk to. Her wish is soon granted when two Englishwomen dressed in black appear outside her house, having walked up the mountain from where they are staying in the valley. The tone of the novel changes slightly at this point, the quietness and introspection of the first part of the novel replaced by the slight mystery which surrounds these two women.

The women are widowed sisters, Mrs (kitty) Barnes and Mrs (Dolly) Jewkes, who have been in Switzerland for some time, but who are finding the heat of the valley unbearable. The diarist invites them to stay, and they so they do for the next couple of months. Mrs Barnes is a kind, slightly reserved woman, rather managing, but devoted to her younger sister for Dolly has a secret, that her sister seeks to force her to keep. Kitty’s worries about Dolly dominate her thoughts and the way she deals with her generous hostess. Kitty tries not to leave Dolly alone with our diarist, but Dolly is irrepressible and sociable and the diarist is drawn to her endearing nature immediately. Dolly’s secret is a fairly innocent one (although one which in the climate of 1919 would have been of some small concern to some) but poor Kitty has been driven to distraction by the weight of it. Our intelligent narrator is quick to discover Dolly’s secret, but wise enough to shield her knowledge from Kitty. The two sisters have had some difficult years, years of exile and wandering, of loneliness with just each other for company. The three women are soon joined by a man, the diarist’s uncle, a lonely, widowed dean of the Church of England who has journeyed to Switzerland to bring his niece home. Just as the reader can’t help but be,the dean is enchanted by Dolly, and the diarist sees that if her uncle and Dolly were left alone long enough to settle matters – then both the sisters’ problems and her uncle’s loneliness would be at an end.

I have been reading quite a lot of books for the Great War theme read – the list of book were put together by members of the Librarything Virago group, and this book is on the list for September and October’s theme of the consequences of war. The war is only referred to as having taken place – the diarist returned to her Mountain home to heal herself, but never does she talk about what she actually experienced. Still, I loved reading it, and it has put me in the mood for a lot more Elizabeth Von Arnim, who I have read scandalously little of. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Sep 21, 2014 |
Written in the style of a journal, beginning soon after the end of WWI. The description of her garden is wonderful. It reminded me of all the plants, like delphiniums and lavender, that I too want to grow.The mountain descriptions give the reader a true sense of Switzerland. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Jun 26, 2012 |
Showing 5 of 5
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July 22nd.

I want to be quiet now.

I crawled up here this morning from the valley like a sick ant,—struggled up to the little house on the mountain side that I haven't seen since the first August of the war, and dropped down on the grass outside it, too tired even to be able to thank God that I had got home.
This little wooden house, clinging on to the side of the mountain by its eyelashes, or rather by its eyebrows, for it has enormous eaves to protect it from being smothered in winter in snow that look exactly like overhanging eyebrows...
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First published in 1920 by the author of "Elizabeth and Her German Garden."

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