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von Arnim, Elizabeth (1866–1941)

from Times (London)

Mary Countess Russell, widow of the second Earl Russell, has died in hospital at Charleston, South Carolina, from complications following influenza. She became known for her book Elizabeth and Her German Garden, published in 1898. She was at that time the wife of Count von Arnim, who left her a widow in 1910.

"Elizabeth", by which name she was referred to by her many readers, was described by the late Alice Meynell as 'one of the three finest wits of her day'. She had great vitality and an innate kindliness shot with irony. With her first book, Elizabeth and Her German Garden, she became a highly popular authoress, and that delightful sketch of her life in East Prussia has run into many editions, being counted a minor classic.

Born in 1866, she was Mary Annette, daughter of the late Mr Herron Beauchamp, and a cousin of the late Katherine Mansfield (whose real name was Katherine Beauchamp). Before she had finished her schooling she went on a holiday in Italy with her father and met Count von Arnim, a wealthy East Prussian landowner, who proposed marriage to her. He was 25 years older than she. After five years of town life they went to live on a remote and large estate not far from the Baltic Sea. She had three daughters (later to figure in her book as the April, May and June babies) and a son, and for a long time was chiefly occupied in looking after her children, in gardening, and in presiding (with a certain inward amusement) over the formal routine of a great house. Her garden and her babies were her chief joys, and in 1898 she wrote her first book, Elizabeth and Her German Garden, in which everyday events, local life, and wise, homely, unsentimental philosophy are compounded with gentle fun, making up a work that was twice reprinted in its first autumn, eight times in 1899, and thenceforward nearly every year. The Solitary Summer followed in 1899, and several more in a similar vein, finishing with Adventures of Elizabeth in Rügen in 1904.

The next year "Elizabeth" branched out into fiction with Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight. She found herself quite at home in the form and went on producing novels until 1914. Perhaps the most notable of them was a comedy in letters called Fraülein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther (1907). Count von Arnim died in 1910. He had expressed a wish that his children should be educated in England, so in 1914 the Countess came back to her native country and sent her son to Eton. When the war broke out the youngest daughter was still in Germany, where in due course she married. The other two and the son were sent to America, their journey forming the framework of Christopher and Columbus (1919). "Elizabeth" had meanwhile married in 1916 the second Earl Russell. Unfortunately they proved incompatible and separated in 1919, and he died in 1931.

After the last War Lady Russell continued to win the esteem and regard of a considerable public, producing a book every year or so. Vera (1921) had rare gifts of humour and satire; Love (1925) treated the problems of a man’s relationships with a woman older than himself; Father (1931) was a selection of the American Book-of-the-Month Club. In 1929 "Elizabeth’s" works were collected in 14 volumes. The Enchanted April (1922), a charming Italian holiday book, was dramatized by Kane Campbell.

Everything that "Elizabeth" wrote was interpenetrated by her unusually vivid and lovable nature and her pervasive sense of fun. Words flowed easily from her pen and she could write almost anywhere and at odd moments. She had in her later years a cottage in the Rhône district and another in the Home Counties, but she was often in London and attracted friends to her everywhere. Her literary success pleased her, of course, but far from seeking fame she shunned it, refusing to see interviewers and bringing out all her books anonymously. Small and blonde, she had good, regular features and a frank gentle expression indicative of the peaceful beauty of her temperament.

Original publication

  • Times (London), 11 February 1941

Other Obituaries for Elizabeth von Arnim

Additional Resources

Citation details

'von Arnim, Elizabeth (1866–1941)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/von-arnim-elizabeth-13549/text24269, accessed 19 September 2019.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2019

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Russell, Countess Mary Annette
  • Beauchamp, Mary Annette
Birth

31 August 1866
North Shore, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

9 February 1941
Charleston, South Carolina, United States of America

Cause of Death

influenza

Occupation