Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim (1922)

The novels of Elizabeth von Arnim are often marked by their dry wit and charm, plus a touch of autobiography. Vera obliquely refers to the author’s disastrous second marriage to an Earl, but unlike her references to her first husband, who she referred to as “The Man of Wrath,” Elizabeth saw no humor in the situation.

Vera is arguably this author’s darkest novel, a psychological thriller that in a unique way is a predecessor of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.


Another dead first wife

In this novel, Vera is also a dead first wife whose presence continues to be felt in the mansion that the second wife begins to inhabit. And like the nameless heroine of Rebecca, Lucy Entwhistle is hopelessly naïve as the story begins. And as it unfolds, she becomes obsessed with the departed wife.

Taken under the wing of Everard Wemyss, a widower, Lucy soon begins to understand that her husband, who she hoped would provide security, is a sociopath who wants nothing less than full control over her and her every move.

Elizabeth von Arnim was unlucky in love, and in Vera, she expresses fully her dark view of the institution of marriage. Following is a review of Vera from the year in which it was published, 1922. Apparently, she was still attempting to publish anonymously, as she had from the start of her career with Elizabeth and Her German Garden.

 

A  1922 review of Vera

From the review of Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim in the Oakland Tribune, January, 1922:  “Elizabeth” has written a story of a wife who sees refuge from the overwhelming personality of her husband.

The clever author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden and other stories which have proclaimed her as a successful student of human nature has given us a new novel which is quite as good as were those delightfully illuminating views of male nature.

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Vera by Elizabeth Von Arnim

Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim on Amazon

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A first wife’s accidental death

Vera is the latest novel by the anonymous author whose previous works have been so widely acclaimed. In the newest book we have the story of the husband of Lucy Entwhistle, Everard Wemyss, whose first wife Vera met accidental death in the garden of their beautiful home on the river just outside of London.

Lucy is the raison d’etre for the story. It is into her suddenly grief-stricken world that Wemyss, also recently bereft, entered on that hot day following Lucy’s father’s sudden death while they were on holiday in Cornwall.

With a dominance and a self-assertion almost beyond belief, Wemyss steps up and takes command of the life of the girl and her aunt, her only relative, who comes upon news of her brother’s death.

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Elizabeth and Her German Garden

See also: Elizabeth and Her German Garden
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The nature of a controlling man

Lucy, a girl always looked out for by her father, always planned for, never left to her own initiative, found in Wemyss’s presence the prop she needed.

The rest of the story is a vividly realistic and convincing unfolding of the nature of a controlling man who always required the piano to be kept covered in the linen case, who always had Christmas at his river house, allowing to variations, and whose birthday was always ushered in and observed with just the same salutation and the same number of flowers on his breakfast table.

It is such a life-like portrait of this type of man as only the author of the Elizabeth books with their German atmosphere can execute. And it is all done with the restraint the bit of veiled satire, the “sly dig” at that type of masculine nature which characterize the earlier books.

 

A bond with the dead wife

Vera, who fell to her death, was always a trial to her husband. She was always saying the wrong thing, putting the wrong flowers on the table, leaving the piano uncovered, so the Everard Wemyss had a double burden of responsibility thrust on him, or so he thought, for the proper conduct of his home and servants.

To Vera, this unknown woman who had lived with Wemyss before her, Lucy turns often for comfort and guidance.

The two women, one a memory, become friendly allies in the face of the husband whose home is his kingdom and who will not be denied the right and opportunity to rule in his castle as he wishes.

Aunt Dot, Lucy’s aunt, is the only obstacle in the way of Wemyss’s dominance, and even she is only partially successful in her attempt to preserve some semblance of her individuality in his presence.

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More about Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim

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