A few years ago, the BBC did an audio production of the book, “Elizabeth and her German Garden,” but weeded it so thoroughly there was nothing left but pretty descriptions, idle conversations, and warnings about the burdens of marriage.

There is more to “Elizabeth and her German Garden” than the BBC would have you believe. The book has a depth and humor that makes it as beloved now as when first published back in 1898.

To be fair, the BBC version is wonderfully read, and you can find the audio for free by searching archive.org for the title. You can download the one-hour mp3 file to enjoy on the go or you can listen at the site without downloading anything.

Perhaps listening to the condensed version will make you add the book to your reading list and bump it up towards the top.

The author, Elizabeth von Arnim, was born Mary Annette Beauchamp. Her family was English, but she spent her first three years of life in Australia. In 1891, at age 24, she married Count von Arnim-Schlagenthin, and they lived on a family estate in the German countryside.

Though she had always enjoyed writing, when her husband was sent to prison for fraud [on a trumped-up charge, it appears], Elizabeth began writing in earnest. Her first book, “Elizabeth and her German Garden,” was published anonymously and became an instant hit, going through 20 reprints in its first year.

Written in the form of a diary, the book begins in May and runs through the following April. During that time, the main character, Elizabeth, writes about learning to garden, documents conversations with friends, makes observations about life, comments on the follies of society and on the beauty of nature, reminisces about her childhood, talks about her own children, and expresses dissatisfaction with the fashions of the time.

Her snarkiness and honesty are delightful.

The book is a novel, but I suspect that the two Elizabeths, the one who is writing the book and the one who is a character in it, are much the same in outlook and temperament.

Be prepared. Looked at with 21st century eyes, some of the book’s attitudes and practices don’t conform to our modern sensitivities. But if we only read what doesn’t prick our attitudes, we’ll never learn about other times and places.

The Elizabeth in the book says, “A garden, I have discovered, is by no means a fruitful topic, and it is amazing how few persons really love theirs – they all pretend they do, but you can hear by the very tone of their voice what a lukewarm affection it is.”

I’m not much of a gardener, but my affection for “Elizabeth and her German Garden” is not lukewarm. And even if all I had was the sanitized BBC version, I would still love it.

Should this book be to your liking, there is good news. Von Arnim wrote several other novels featuring this same Elizabeth. She also wrote “The Enchanted April,” which was made into a thoroughly enchanting movie.

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