The University of Toulon holds a sizable collection of Elizabeth von Arnim’s private library, which is accessible through their library catalogue. Many of the books have von Arnim’s ex libris “Chanterai ma Chanson”, and many are annotated. The university offers a very useful PDF of all annotations.
The University of Toulon bought von Arnim’s books several decades after her death in 1941. Von Arnim’ house, Mas des Roses, in Mougins near Toulon was sold by her second daughter Liebet, who also lived in the U.S.. While Liebet shipped a part of her mother’s library to the States, where it was later given to the Huntington Library together with von Arnim’s other papers, many of von Arnim’s belongings were sold at auction together with the house. At the sale, several hundred books were bought by a local English teacher, who stored the collection in his garage at Mougins. The books remained there for many years, sustaining some water damage, until the death of their owner. His widow did not want to keep the collection and offered it to the local library. Since the interest of Mougins’ readers in English books would be limited, the librarian referred her to the University of Toulon, which bought the collection.
Besides classics, like editions of Carlyle, Crabbe, Dickens, Milton, Thomas Moore, Shakespeare or Ruskin, the collection includes a range of broadly contemporary novelists, such as Priestley, Gissing, Kipling, Bennett, Delafield, von Arnim’s friends H.G. Wells and Hugh Walpole, and many more. The collection also includes a range of poetry including works by W. Owen, Rupert Brooke, Landor, Yeats, Swinburne, Arnold and others. Lovers of the Elizabeth novels might want to look at Alfred Austin’s Lamia’s Winterquarters, one of the main inspirations of von Arnim’s central protagonist.
Although von Arnim spent some time discussing Elizabeth’s favourite authors in The Solitary Summer, which seemed to include mainly classics like Goethe, Keats, Whitman, Austen and Heinrich Heine, her private library also included such enticing titles as E.F. Benson’s The Capsina, Gilbert Parker’s romantic novel The Battle of the Strong, or The Untold Half by “Alien,” the pseudonym of Alice Baker, who also wrote works with such intriguing titles as A Daughter of the King or In Golden Shackles. Some of her books bear the labels of Mudie’s. Lending Library.
However, the collection at Toulon also shows a keen interest in cultural criticism, history, biography and philosophy, as well as popular science with titles like Talks to Teachers on Psychology by William James, Henrik Ellwood’s Everyman’s Chemistry and an introduction to Charles Darwin. Von Arnim owned several works by Herbert Spencer, although in the guise of Elizabeth she once claimed that she had read “only as much of him as I hope I understand and am afraid I do not”. The collection includes a number of essay collections by Matthew Arnold, Robert Bridges, Joseph Addison and a range of others.
This collection is only a fraction of von Arnim’s actual library, which was extensive enough for her to advertise for a student to catalogue it as a summer job. The position was, of course, taken up by A.S. Frere, who became von Arnim’s last great love and lifelong friend. However, the books in Toulon offer rich material for von Arnim scholars and afficionados not just because they offer insights into von Arnim’s literary tastes and, through her comments, glimpses of her thoughts. Von Arnim often wrote down the year of purchase on the fly or title page, which enables us to trace her intellectual and aesthetic growth from the early years of her marriage to the end of her life.