Monday, 1 March 2010
The caravaners (Arnim) 314
What an absolutely wonderful book The caravaners by Elizabeth von Arnim is. The premise attracted me (husband and wife and friends go on a caravaning trip in the South of England), but quite apart from the story, the entertainment was in the execution of the novel.
The book is narrated by Baron Ottringel who has gone to England with his wife Edelgard and an otherwise ill-assorted group of characters (Edelgard's sister and English brother in law, another friend, and four English people). He is unprepared for the difference in English culture and the effect that this has on the party, particularly his wife. The Baron has very strong views on women and shares them quite freely in the text; Von Arnim effectively makes him a character of ridicule which seems to fit with the feminist theme that I've encountered in much of her writing - women are actually a lot stronger than the society of the time held them to be, able to discover themselves when they get away from men; so here, Edelgard is able to escape her conventional role by being in a different country.
The rest of the entertainment comes from the incidents of caravaning life. The book put me in mind of Three men in a boat. Even the haphazard cover image on the original Virago green edition (which is the one that I own) puts me in mind of the chaos and adventure. I'm not so sure about the second Virago cover as the country scene is far too serene for the novel contained within it!