Conference: Elizabeth von Arnim — Identities (2 July 2019)

International Conference, University of Toulon, 2 July 2019

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Kate Macdonald, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Bedfordshire and Director of Handheld Press, Kate Macdonald is a literary historian who focuses on British 19th, 20th, and 21st-century literature and publishing. She researches book history, particularly what she calls “the ordinary novel for the ordinary British reader from the beginning of the 20th century who didn’t have a lot of time or spare cash for books, but enjoyed what the library could offer.” She also researches and writes on British publishing during the First World War, and in the 1960s and 1970s in the permissive era. She publishes regularly on the web at Kate Macdonald about writing, reading, and publishing.


About the conference:

Mary Annette Beauchamp, Mary Arnim, Elizabeth, Countess Russell – during her lifetime Elizabeth von Arnim was known under many names, while the one we use today is a composite she never used. As an upper-middle-class girl from Australia, she managed to be first a German and then an English Countess, sometimes lived in Switzerland and built her last house in Southern France, near Toulon, where the university now holds a part of her private library. Von Arnim loved guises and usually signed her books “By the Author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden”, but also wrote under the pseudonym Alice Cholmondeley and published anonymously. She enjoyed playing with different personas in life as much as in her writing as G.B. Stern remembered:

“What a devil she was, but what good company! … – delicate & ironic: qualities she would have appreciated, though she would immediately have done her specialité de la maison act, wide-eyed & innocent & what-have-I-done-poor-little-me-of-all-people. … But she used to tingle & rejoice when occasionally she met her match.”

Although all her novels share a clearly distinctive voice, von Arnim’s works are more complex and multi-faceted than the existing scholarship would suggest. The autobiographical dimension of her most popular character, Elizabeth, has been quite well explored, yet von Arnim’s books have mostly been discussed in the context of feminist literary studies and the feminine middlebrow. More recent scholarship is now also beginning to consider her as a modernist and a political writer of transnational narratives.