The Benefactress by Elizabeth Von Armin

In this amusing yet insightful story of good intentions gone horribly wrong, Elizabeth Von Armin takes a slightly darker turn than her usual light musings.  Though the world has changed much in the hundred years since this was written, people definitely have not.

Anna comes from a good English family but like many, have no money left and rely on marriage to get it. Her sister-in-law Susie has lots of money and took it upon herself to provide opportunities for Anna to get to that state all girls need to be in. Marriage. And not just anyone you happen to fancy. A proper marriage is to someone with money, no matter how old, awful, or undesirable they may be.

Though very pretty, Anna somehow does not marry, and prefers to spend afternoons in a beautiful church rather than interminable hours socializing with the rich yet unpopular Susie.  What she wants in life is both unheard of and dreadful. Anna wants to help others. When she inherits a property in Northern Germany she feels this is the answer to her prayers. But even out in the country with one’s own money and home Anna cannot escape the drama that others fill their lives with. The story is very amusing and quietly moving.

Elizabeth von Armin is one of those people I wish I knew in real life. Her love of nature, simple living, and solitude finds a kindred soul within me. Like no one else she understands women and the pressures they are under. In her writings, she creates beautiful sanctuaries for herself and invites us to join her. Here in the Benefactress, the haven designed to give a good life for others doesn’t go as she planned; in fact, quite the opposite. Giving seems so noble, in reality Anna’s life becomes enmeshed with drama queens, a power-hungry misogynist, envious neighbors, and plots to steal her money. There was also a hint of anti-Semitism from one of the characters, which given what happened a few decades down the road, was quite disturbing indeed.

I dream about solitude these days. How I would love to have time to center myself in a beautiful garden setting and become me again. But life thrusts its way into everything and responsibility weighs me down. I wonder what would happen if I were to inherit a self-sustaining property out in the country.  Would it be wonderful forever or fraught with difficulties like Anna’s little haven? Since you can’t escape problems or people, I have a feeling more of the latter.

But that’s ok. I’ll read Enchanted April where everything was perfect. Because we all need a daydream escape.


One Response

  1. I love Elizabeth von Arnim for exactly those reasons too. I wonder if this is as enjoyable, since things go wrong?

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