Classic Women 2020 Part 3: A Simple Story, Elizabeth and her German Garden & Middlemarch

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At the end of last year, I decided I really wanted to dig into classics in 2020. I challenged myself to read two classics a month, at least one of which was by a female author. I picked twelve women and created the Classic Women Reading Challenge. All the details are in this post. Check it out and feel free to join me!

I’m setting myself a personal target to try at least one novel by a ‘classic’ woman writer and at least one other classic (of any type/ author) each month next year. I’ll be combining my personal goals with some existing readathons: #Victober, #Georgianary, #ClassicsCommunity and #JaneAustenJuly. *Phew!*

I’ve picked 12 female authors who published work pre-1914. They’re all pretty prolific and pretty well-known — I think — so should be easy enough to find a good selection to choose from. 

From January to March, my classic female authors were Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth and Emmuska Orczy. Check out my thoughts on those here.

From April to June, my classic female authors were Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Margaret Oliphant.

From July to September, my classic female authors were Elizabeth Inchbald, Elizabeth von Armin and George Eliot.

July:  A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbald

August: Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Armin

September: Middlemarch by George Eliot

My Thoughts on the Books

A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbald

I read this in the same month as two Jane Austen books (LADY SUSAN and NORTHANGER ABBEY) and I think it says an awful lot that I found this the most interesting. It’s a story of two halves (two generations, think WUTHERING HEIGHTS) each was compelling in it’s own way. Miss Milner not only falls for her guardian (a priest), she’s mercenary about ensnaring him and makes a lot of interesting points about women, courtship and marriage. The second half has the more traditional, meek protagonist but a great sense of place — Matilda is allowed to stay in her fathers house on the condition he never lays eyes on her — and an action-packed ending. The first half has a protagonist who fascinated me.

Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Armin

The stand out winner of this challenge so far! I wasn’t actually going to pick this books as I’m not a fan of memoirs (I was planning to read THE ENCHANTED APRIL) but I’m so pleased I did.

von Armin’s prose is beautiful without being overwritten, her observations sharp and her stories of the April, May and June babies (with appearances from her husband, The Man of Wrath) are hilarious. I think this is the first time I’ve genuinely laughed out loud at a classic.

I read the sequel in Septembers and bought four of her (fiction) novels in physical copies and the rest of her writing on my kindle. I fully plan on reading the 15 or so books in her bibliography.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Okay, so I didn’t dislike MIDDLEMARCH, but I was definitely underwhelmed. Perhaps as ‘the greatest book ever written’ as I’ve seen it called several time, I just expected too much. I didn’t fall for Eliot’s writing and despite the 900+ pages I couldn’t really pick out a memorable plot — more a series of interlinked vignettes — and I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters. I think I like Rosamund the best, and perhaps if we’d seen more of her than the too good to be true Dorothea, I might have been more intrigued.

I wouldn’t say that I’d never read another Eliot novel — I’m interested in Daniel Deronda — but I wouldn’t rush into it, especially as the books are so lengthy.

Plot Summaries

A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbald

When Miss Milner announces her passion for her guardian, a Catholic priest, she breaks through the double barrier of his religious vocation and 18th-century British society’s standards of proper womanly behavior. Like other women writers of her time, Elizabeth Inchbald concentrates on the question of a woman’s “proper education,” and her sureness of touch and subtlety of characterization prefigure Jane Austen’s work.

Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Armin

“Elizabeth and Her German Garden,” a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, was popular and frequently reprinted during the early years of the 20th century. “Elizabeth and Her German Garden” is a year’s diary written by Elizabeth about her experiences learning gardening and interacting with her friends. It includes commentary on the beauty of nature and on society, but is primarily humorous due to Elizabeth’s frequent mistakes and her idiosyncratic outlook on life. The story is full of sweet, endearing moments. Elizabeth was an avid reader and has interesting comments on where certain authors are best read; she tells charming stories of her children and has a sometimes sharp sense of humor in regards to the people who will come and disrupt her solitary lifestyle.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Taking place in the years leading up to the First Reform Bill of 1832, Middlemarch explores nearly every subject of concern to modern life: art, religion, science, politics, self, society, human relationships. Among her characters are some of the most remarkable portraits in English literature: Dorothea Brooke, the heroine, idealistic but naive; Rosamond Vincy, beautiful and egoistic: Edward Casaubon, the dry-as-dust scholar: Tertius Lydgate, the brilliant but morally-flawed physician: the passionate artist Will Ladislaw: and Fred Vincey and Mary Garth, childhood sweethearts whose charming courtship is one of the many humorous elements in the novel’s rich comic vein. 

5 thoughts on “Classic Women 2020 Part 3: A Simple Story, Elizabeth and her German Garden & Middlemarch”

  1. This is such an amazing idea! I myself have been trying to get more into classic books, but I never knew exactly where to start. I’ll check these books out for sure. Glad you enjoyed your reads, and I can’t wait to see what you’ll pick out next.

    Liked by 1 person

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