Saturday, 2 January 2021

Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim + #FreeBook

Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim
First published in 1921.

How I got this book:
Downloaded a copy free from Project Gutenberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lucy Entwhistle is swept into marriage by rich charismatic widower, Everard Wemyss. Together they live in The Willows, an old sprawling mansion which they share with the specter of his dead wife…

John Middleton Murray famously described Vera as “Wuthering Heights by Jane Austen.” True, the novel does feature an intense, tempestuous romance at its center but fans of Elizabeth Von Arnim’s famous work Enchanted April will recognize the same mordant wit on display in this tale of mismatched lovers – a wit that is perhaps more biting and bittersweet than Austen’s.

Vera is the first book I have read by Elizabeth von Arnim but, on the strength of this darkly humorous tale, I am looking forward to discovering more of her novels in due course. This book is partly autobiographical in that it strongly reflects the circumstances of her second marriage - the scandal of her airing her dirty landry this way being even more accentuated by the character of Everard Wemyss apparently being instantly recognisable as von Arnim's husband, Frank Russell. That the real life marriage didn't last long is quite understandable if Vera is half the truth of it and I would offer this novel as a cautionary tale to anyone swept off their feet by finding their perfect love! I could see what the synopsis means by evoking Jane Austen in that Lucy Entwhistle's submissiveness was reminiscent of Fanny in Mansfield Park however, for me, the strongest literary connection was to Daphne Du Maurier's classic Rebecca. We have a similar naive young heroine marrying an older widower after a whirlwind courtship, and a return to the home he shared with his former wife. Unlike Max de Winter though, Wemyss hasn't even thought to redecorate Vera's rooms before Lucy's arrival. The two novels do take very different directions from that initial premise, but I couldn't help but wonder if du Maurier had read von Arnim?

Of the three focal characters in Vera, I can honestly say that only poor put-upon Aunt Dot is remotely likeable, yet there is something horribly compelling about watching Lucy's changing demeanour as Everard worms his way into her affections and then reveals the truth of his ignorant, arrogant self. Von Arnim herself can see the black humour of the situation so keeps her tone light enough to be obviously enjoying the writing of this story, while at the same time allowing readers to be disconcerted at pretty much every turn. I loved how she uses elements such as the weather to accentuate tone and atmosphere. And what a moment to choose for the ending! I don't usually talk about endings in book reviews so as not to inadvertently spoiler anything, but I will just say that I really liked the timing of this one. A brave author!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Elizabeth von Arnim / Contemporary fiction / Books from England

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