Expiation by Elizabeth Von Arnim


Expiation is the seventh title by Elizabeth Von Arnim that I’ve read. Published in 1929, it is written with Von Arnim’s typical humor and sharp observations of human nature. It begins with the death of Milly’s husband in a street car accident. A fairly well-off man, it comes as quite a shock when he leaves only 1,000 pounds to his beloved wife and the rest of his wealth to a home for wayward women. But it is not a shock to Milly. For she has “sinned” and she now knows that her husband was aware of it and has decided to punish her for it. His tight-knit family, the Botts, now have to decide how to think of this strange decision: think the worst of Milly (which most of the women do) or think the worst of her husband (which most of the men do). Unfortunately, their thoughts mean everything as Milly is now not only poor but homeless. It is up to the Botts to absorb her into their lives but how do they do this and maintain their standing in society? Milly does try to find her own way, to break from the Botts and make it on her terms but they ultimately hold her fate in their hands.

This book is an interesting exploration of polite society and how any deviation from the code of polite society causes turmoil and insecurity among its members. The Bott family nearly implodes with speculation and exaggerated fear of Milly and what they think she has done. Von Arnim is definitely damning this attitude, but attempts to do it with a light touch. However, though this novel is very funny in places, I felt a mournfulness to it that was quite heavy. I think it is sad on many levels. Sad for Milly, for her lack of choice, sad for the Bott women who can’t accept Milly out of fear, sad for the Bott men who want to help Milly but can’t risk being charitable to a sinner, sad for women in general for their lives being so strictly prescribed. Does Milly receive expiation? Is it something that is even possible or necessary? I will leave that for you to discover, but I will say that I left this novel with such relief.

Though not my favorite of Von Arnim’s books, Expiation is a novel that has left me thinking and has made me see that her books are so much more political and concerned with social justice (especially for women) then I have realized.

I read Expiation as part of the Mini Persephone Readathon a couple of weekends ago. I intended to also finish Young Anne by Dorothy Whipple that weekend, but I am a slow reader and it didn’t happen. Young Anne will have to wait for another day.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

Enchanted April

It feels so strange to be writing this post as I haven’t blogged in a year now – how did that happen? I can only say that 2017 was a year of readjustment for me. After having been diagnosed with cancer in December 2016 and receiving treatment at the beginning of 2017 it’s been a bit of an emotional and thoughtful year for me. Reading was not my top priority for a few months, however, I did get back into the swing of things and managed to read 60 books last year. But – I didn’t feel like writing about them except for small snippets on my Instagram page. Though I still feel somewhat shell-shocked by my ordeal (the emotional side effects are strange and powerful) I feel that I am ready to return to blogging in 2018.

My previous blog, Gudrun’s Tights, has permanently gone away and, sadly, I didn’t save any photos that I had posted over the years so all the photos that I transferred here are now gone as well. At first I was kicking myself for not backing up my work, but now I feel that it is somehow fitting. The past is the past – and I’m leaving it there! But I’m sorry if this blog looks a little bland – I’ll soon remedy that.

So, on to my first post of 2018 and it is about a book that I’ve tried to read several times over the years without success. Despite loving the film, I’ve always had such a hard time with The Enchanted April. I’ve found it sluggish and confusing. As a fan of Elizabeth Von Arnim I can only think that the reason I couldn’t finish it on my previous attempts was because it was known that I’d need the book now.

Most of you probably know the story – four women, previously unknown to each other, rent a castle in Italy for the month of April. They all suffer from various emotional struggles whether it’s boredom, unhappiness in marriage, too much male attention or loneliness. Almost immediately after they arrive at San Salvatore one of the women, Lotty, senses the healing powers of the location, of its flowers and plants and in being near the sea and from just being away from dreary, rainy London. And she blossoms. She really becomes a happier, more content, incredibly loving person, able to read the moods of her fellow travelers and help them to also let San Salvatore heal their wounds.

I think the book is funny and warm and lovely. In this equally dreary month of January I found it to be the balm I needed to relieve winter melancholy. I loved the characters and their desire to “find themselves” but I also loved that Von Arnim didn’t have them ditch their husbands or their old lives. It’s very much a fairy tale about rekindling the romance in a marriage and finding that one true love or the kindred friends who understand and support you.

The end of the book sees everyone off with their needs met and their hearts cheerful, but I did wonder – will their transformation survive when they get back to London? I truly hope so and I like to believe that they carry on loving and caring long after the book ends.

Have you read The Enchanted April?

Now, I’m on to Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain and I’ve also got Winter by Ali Smith on the TBR. What are you reading?

Sunday Bulletin – November 23


Yesterday I went in to work for a few hours to set-up a program on container gardening. We have an entire sustainability series at my library which I normally don’t have much to do with, but our two staff members who run the series were both on vacation so I was asked to fill in. And I’m so glad I did. My new found love of plants and gardening was really enhanced by learning about creating a beautiful garden using containers. As I don’t have a yard this is perfect for me. The class was taught by Master Gardener Cherie Czaplicki and she was wonderful. We learned all about the challenges to gardening in Phoenix and how to overcome them. And I left the class with my own starter plant – an elephant’s foot succulent. I can’t wait to buy some pots, plants and soil and start gardening!




This was probably the highlight of my week as I had some unpleasant things going on otherwise such as a heated argument in my book club that almost led to a member quitting, horrible allergies and an incredibly painful tailbone situation.

Books finished this week:

The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth Von Arnim – In this sequel to Elizabeth and Her German Garden, Elizabeth decides to spend a whole summer alone with her family and her garden – no visitors, no house parties. Her husband, The Man of Wrath, doesn’t think she can last a whole summer without people, but she manages to get along just fine even though she does have a few unwanted visitors who interrupt her peaceful idyll. I enjoyed this book, though it is quite thin on plot. Most of the book is Elizabeth’s musings on plants, books and reading, her children and philosophy. It is very amusing and very lovely – just the kind of book for a week when you are feeling low. Von Arnim always makes me laugh and makes me think – two things I highly esteem.


Is anyone else on Librarything? I noticed that the Persephone group there is not very active. If anyone wants to join the group to discuss all things Persephone you can go here.

Have a great Sunday!

Quotable Elizabeth Von Arnim

006“What a blessing it is to love books. Everybody must love something, and I know of no objects of love that give such substantial and unfailing returns as books and a garden. And how easy it would have been to come into the world without this, and possessed instead of an all-consuming passion, say, for hats, perpetually raging round my empty soul! I feel I owe my forefathers a debt of gratitude, for I suppose the explanation is that they too did not care for hats. In the centre of my library there is a wooden pillar propping up the ceiling, and preventing it, so I am told, from tumbling about our ears; and round this pillar, from floor to ceiling, I have had shelves fixed, and on these shelves are all the books that I have read again and again, and hope to read many times more – all the books, that is, that I love quite the best. In the bookcases round the walls are many that I love, but here in the centre of the room, and easiest to get at, are those I love the best – the very elect among my favorites.” -from The Solitary Summer

Isn’t this a great idea? Do you have any “pillar” books? Which ones are the very elect among your favorites? My pillar authors are Elizabeth Von Arnim herself, Barbara Pym, Mary Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather, and my Persephone collection.

Sunday Bulletin – November 9

Old Filth

I was right about the correlation between watching less TV and finishing more books. In the evenings I now settle down with my book after dinner rather than flipping through the channels all night long and it has been wonderful. I love the quiet, the concentration and the joy of slipping into a story rather than reading snippets of chapters during commercials. I’m enjoying what I read and I’m also remembering more.

When I was younger I could watch TV, listen to music and read at the same time, remember everything and take it all in. Not so any longer. I have an older brain and it needs coddling and assistance in order to work decently. If I try to do multiple tasks now I feel like I’m on the brink of a mental breakdown and I berate myself for eating too much sugar and rotting my brain (I always blame my fogginess on sugar). Now I know I just need to do one thing at a time and I’ll be fine. But I can always stand to eat less sugar.

Books finished last week:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – I read this for my November book club meeting. I found the first person narrative rather trivial at first and hard to grasp, but the second half of the book moved more quickly. A group of students grow up at mysterious Hailsham school and are groomed for a special purpose (I won’t say what in case you want to read it yourself). There are definite moral and ethical issues here and heartbreaking choices, but in the end I was unsatisfied. I think it will be a good book to discuss, though.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim – When I first started reading this I thought it was going to be a nice, charming little story about a woman’s love for flowers and solitude and communing with nature. It is certainly about all of those things, but it has an undercurrent of acidity that is quite funny and sometimes alarmingly mean and a wise and insightful tone that made me stop to think about what the author was really saying under all this talk about roses. I read a few passages to a co-worker and she was instantly intrigued and wanted to know what this wonderful book was. When I told her she wasn’t necessarily turned off, but she didn’t want to borrow it from me either. Her loss, really, as this is so amazingly good with gorgeous writing about gardens (my new passion) and devastating opinions on marriage and the relations between the sexes. I’m so glad that I already have The Solitary Summer on my shelves and will be reading it soon.

Old Filth by Jane Gardam – This book is very hard to describe because it has a seemingly slight plot: elderly ex-judge mourns the loss of his wife Betty while remembering his early childhood in Malay, his brutal time spent as a foster child in Wales, his golden school years and the ocean voyage that nearly killed him in WWII. However, this very layered novel takes the reader on a journey that, to me, is always more interesting than a book full of plot twists – a novel that examines the growth of a character from childhood to dotage. Edward Feathers (also known as Filth for Failed in London, Try Hong Kong) is an old man living in retirement in the country. His wife has just died and his mind is slipping back into his past, into the events and choices that shaped his personality and his fate. He’s a rather reserved and cold man, but he does have a streak of romanticism that runs through his soul and colors his memories. I found this book to be very stirring as it says so much in a very simple and sometimes really amusing way about love, death, survival, friendship, loss and grief. It’s about an ordinary man who weathers the storm the best way he knows how. And I loved it.

So, two great books and one so-so book finished last week and two started: One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Cutting down on my TV time is one of the best decisions I’ve made lately.

Have a wonderful Sunday!