My mother asked me to get a copy of this short book at our local library. She had some difficulty getting through it, but since I am an environmental historian who studies urban farming, I thought that I would try my hand at it. I have to say that I encountered much the same difficulty: it's definitely a historic account, having been written in the latter nineteenth-century, from a decidedly particular perspective, but that offers pretty limited value. It's yet another of the (rare) books that I essentially had to force myself to finish, however, and even then only in small doses, having committed to completing every one that I start this year. Fortunately for me, this one is only about a hundred pages or so; if it were a full-length novel, it would be interminable.
I just couldn't relate to the material, which seemed to me to comprise little more than incessant whining. I get the sense that both the author and her "semi-autobiographical" character were world-class enfants terribles, but not terribly gifted ones at that, who never grew out of it, or grew up, for that matter. The following may explain things somewhat: "Elizabeth" wrote of an experience when the "character" basically demanded that her father take her to church, at age four, where, *gasp*, she was forced to BEHAVE, and sit still - when she failed to do so, daddy dearest meted out some much-needed discipline, which was the shock of her young life: "up until then, he had been my willing slave, and after that I was his." Yep, that's the problem!
She definitively thinks and behaves like an adult child who never stops complaining: indeed, most of the content of this dull and uninspiring book is comprised of her discontent. From whining about her harsh governesses who refused to indulge her every whim (which she suggests at one point her father did, which no doubt contributed to her maladjustment), to the guests that she hosts whom she wishes never darkened her doorstep, to her difficulties as a child in gardening a patch graciously bestowed upon her to tend, to her description of her husband as the "Man of Wrath" (which suggests that, barring physical abuse, apparently, hopefully, he didn't put up with her BS or tolerate childish antics, which is why she started writing this soul-purging invective in the first place - like her father, let's hope he made her "behave," or at least to feign courtesy), the whole reads as the journal of some bored socialite "aristo" (which means "best," in Greek, but they definitely aren't; these spoiled, entitled "richies" are usually the *worst*) who hides in her garden because she can't get the type of attention she craves and covets from the people around her.
I'm trying to potentially look at this as some kind of critique of the upper classes of the day, consisting of stock characters constituting a stereotypical portrayal of what the author thought they were like, but I think that's giving it too much credit. It would have to actually be clever and poly-dimensional to pull that off, and even a rudimentary sense of irony is well beyond her. The fact that it was reissued something like twenty times is also pretty disheartening: apparently it struck a chord with someone, or quite a few someones. I'm kind of disappointed that I got sucked into consuming this drivel, honestly, which perpetuates it. Frankly, it shouldn't really survive at all, but, hey, at least I can warn others: proceed at your peril, and be prepared to be bored out of your mind.
The "character," and I think by extension, at least to some degree, the author, wants to give the impression that she's *above* being lonely, and that her garden (writing?) is the only thing that she cares about or that gives her solace, but it's total pretense. She is indeed a weak, very lonely individual, but it's largely due to the fact that she's such an a**hole that no one can stand her or wants to be around her, so she retreats in a cloud of self-pity to her flower beds to write about her contempt for the people around her who deign to actually enjoy their privileged lives and value relationships. Case in point:
"Sometimes callers from a distance invade my solitude, and it is on these occasions that I realise how absolutely alone each individual is, and how far away from his neighbour; and while they talk (generally about babies, past, present, and to come) [read: you mean, not about YOU - you're NOT the center of attention, which you can't stand] I fall to wondering at the vast and impassable distance that separates one's own soul from the soul of the person sitting in the next chair. I am speaking of comparative strangers, people who are forced to stay a certain time by the eccentricities of trains, [and how sorry they must be! They'll never miss a train again!] and in whose presence you grope about after common interests and shrink back into your shell on finding that you have none." Alrighty, then. Speaking of babies, since she clearly resents and can't stand her own, probably on account of their drawing attention away from HER: she can't even be bothered to name them, simply calling them the "April," "May" or "June" baby. Mother of the year, this.
There are extreme introverts; I get it. Selective mutism and whatnot. But as a general rule, introverts don't engage in this type of rampant self-pity and blame. They just don't overly enjoy the company of others. They don't simultaneously covet and resent it, and then gripe about how lonely they are, all the while making everyone around them feel unwelcome, which they clearly *are* to "Elizabeth." Has that eccentric train showed up yet? It can't get there fast enough! She doesn't have common interests with her guests because she thinks they're all beneath her, and they don't all place her on a pedestal and fall at her feet like her parents apparently did. She doesn't have "common interests" with people who don't consider her the center of attention, and who dare to engage in conversations that don't feature her as the principal. Again, some people state that this book is semi-autobiographical. I think it's just straight-up autobiographical, and that's tragic. Perhaps substitute "writing" for "gardening," and you may be on to something.
I also think that the premise of the whole book is that she's been robbed: that's somewhat legitimate, as, being female, the last child in a family of girls, she wasn't entitled to inherit the property and the house they grew up in. Her ancestral home was thus granted to a cousin, as neither she nor her sisters could inherit the family homestead. That's a legit complaint, even if it was a common practice of the day, but despite the fact that the cousin repeatedly reached out to her, attempting to include her in family functions and interactions, holidays, festivals, celebrations... NOPE! She preferred to cling to her identity as a poor, pitiful victim, and refused to reciprocate or even extend some common courtesy to or communicate with them - again, the self-pitying, self-imposed isolation. After years of invitations, they stop trying, which is when she decides to trespass on their property to relive old times, which, as I noted above, is simply comprised of more wallowing in self-pity and complaining.
Apparently she married fairly well, however, so money was never really the issue. You think you have it rough, bourgeois "richie?" Try working 18-hour days in a nineteenth-century textile mill, alongside "April" and "May" and "June," Missus von Whatever; see how much time you have for your flower beds then.
I just can't say anything for this one. I did enjoy the descriptions of the gardens, which is why it's a two- and not a one-star rating, but that's about it. Frankly, it's certainly not worth subjecting yourself to this bored woman's self-inflicted depression. This book is little more than the musings of an incorrigible, spoiled brat. Save yourself the time and misery, and pass this one up.
Oh, and one more thing: Grow up, "Elizabeth": both of you!