Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Nobody Bought My Viragos! And a Look at "The Caravaners" by Elizabeth von Arnim


The Book Sale

We went to the Planned Parenthood Book Sale on Half-Price Day. Surely we would find one or two books, we thought. And yet... we did not.  If your book club wants to discuss Cormac McCarthy's The Road or Sue Monk Kidd's The Mermaid Chair,  this is the place to get multiple copies.  You read them years ago? I thought so.  Too bad they did not have Sue Monk Kidd's latest, The Book of Longings. a fascinating historical novel about a rebellious Jewish woman who is a writer and a scholar during the first century A.D., in the reign of Tiberius.

One happy note:  I found at least 10 Viragos, all of which I have read.  Oh, how wonderful, I thought.  Someone will love these.   Then I realized they were my books.  I HAD  DONATED THEM.  I hastily arranged them attractively at the front of the table, so somebody might find them.    

The volunteers ran hither and thither, but did not stop to neaten the books.  As a result, by this fourth day of the sale, there were leaning hardcovers with cocked spines and paperbacks with bent covers.  Old book club editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald and W. Somerset Maugham dominated the classics section.  I did see  some very nice annotated University of Nebraska editions of Willa Cather, but we have annotated Library of Americas of Willa at home. 

When the only book you consider is a 25-cent first edition  of Jacqueline Susann's The Love Machine, you know it's time to go home.  Valley of the Dolls is one thing.  I suspect The Love Machine is going too far. 

SPEAKING OF VIRAGOS.  You may have read Elizabeth von Arnim's The Enchanted April, a delightful novel about a group of women who share a house on vacation in Italy.  But have you read The Caravaners,  Elizabeth von Arnim's charming feminist novel about a vacation in England?

Here is a short precis of this delicious book.  A  German couple decide to take a caravanning vacation in England with a small group. Cheapness is the operative motive of the pompous narrator, Baron Otto von Ottringe, a Prussian officer who keeps his wife Edelgard on a tight rein.  Although the travelers have their own horse-drawn caravans, the weather is wet and dispiriting: it rains every day and  is  muddy.  Instead of sitting inside the caravan in relative luxury, the Baron must trudge through the mud beside the horse. He also finds himself holding umbrellas over the cooking pots and washing up.  And he does not at all like the English. 

 Meanwhile, Edelgard blossoms.  She loves walking through woods and fields, despite the rain, and is stimulated by the  conversation of her progressive Anglicized German sister, Mrs. Menzies-Leigh, and Jellaby, a socialist.  Edelgard shortens her dresses so she can move more freely.  The freer she becomes, the more the Baron sulks. 

A light, lovely, humorous book, my favorite by von Arnim.  I have an old Virago edition, but  Handheld Press has also reissued an edition with an introduction by Juliane Römhild.   

What is your favorite book by von Arnim?  I have read quite a few of her books, but more and more keep being reissued by small presses.  


  1. In other words no one was buying books openly by women about women's issues -- which is what Viragos are? That's a bad sign.

    1. I was surprised they weren't snapped up. Different times...