Editor’s note: In this short blog series, artist and von Arnim fan Carol Chappell explores a taxonomy of the writer’s most memorable female characters. In this post she draws our attention to…The Betrayed.
The betrayal of women is common terrain in von Arnim’s novels, a theme that re-appears in various forms over the course of her career. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s painful. But it’s always the basis for good fiction.
In my opinion, one of the worst-betrayed of von Arnim’s heroines has to be Rose-Marie Schmidt. Being left at the altar is the ultimate betrayal for a woman, but we might think that Rose-Marie has it even worse in von Arnim’s Fräulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther , because she is betrayed twice over: first as a friend and then as a lover. But betrayal can lead to unexpected endings for von Arnim’s female characters: Rose-Marie is a case in point.
Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther is the story of a young German spinster, Rose-Marie Schmidt, and her developing relationship with Roger Anstruther, a young Englishman who has come to spend a year living in the Schmidt household to study with Rose-Marie’s father. The story is told through Rose-Marie’s letters to Roger, correspondence that begins on his departure and which reveal the friendship that grew up between them over the course of his stay in Germany, as well as Roger’s hasty and unexpected proposal of marriage in the last hours before his return to England.
At first, the letters are love letters, and Rose-Marie signs hers intimately with ‘ R.M.’ and includes little notes about her love for Roger as well as details of her daily life. However, as time goes by it becomes clear that the relationship is under strain. There are fewer references to the prospect of Rose-Marie and Roger’s marriage and a new formality creeps into them: they are signed “Sincerely, Rose-Marie Schmidt” and eventually, are left unsigned altogether. When it becomes clear that Roger is attached to another woman, Nancy Cheriton, Rose-Marie changes tactics and sets out to make Roger jealous with flattering accounts of her neighbor’s accomplished and handsome son. News of Roger’s engagement to Nancy Cheriton arrives and the betrayal seems complete. Still, somehow Rose-Marie manages to move through bitterness to a kind of stoicism and finally to a generosity of spirit that appears to allow her to extend dispassionate friendship and sympathy to a past love.
Ironically, the betrayer is himself betrayed when Miss Cheriton throws Roger over to marry a duke and it isn’t long before he realizes that his true loss was that of Rose-Marie’s affections. When he returns to Germany to take up a post in Berlin, he is determined to renew his addresses to Rose-Marie’s affections, but she is no longer interested in him. She tells him not to come to Germany. She will not see him. She doesn’t love him. She will not marry him. In fact, she threatens to stop writing altogether if he persists in love-making, and the novel ends with her final letter: ‘I shall not write again’.
The novel’s ending can read like the tragic culmination of betrayal: Rose-Marie has been jilted by Roger and will be alone for the remainder of her life. But the epistolary form of the novel leaves a great deal open to the reader’s interpretation and there is more than one way to read the ending of this novel. Just like Baron von Ottringel’s first-person account in The Caravaners , in Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther we only know one side of the story, Rose-Marie’s side. While the Baron’s account of his trip to England unwittingly exposes his prejudices and rude behavior, Rose-Marie’s writing is a cover for her plan to win back Roger’s affections. Rose-Marie warns Roger to stay away but ‘Methinks the lady doth protest too much’. She knows exactly what she is doing, using various tactics to remind Roger of her intelligence, the great discussions they had together, and all that he was missing when he jilted her for Nancy Cheriton. By running away from Roger in her letters, she forces him to pursue her until she catches him. In fact, if there were a sequel to Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther, I surmise that we would find Roger coming to Jena to woo Rose-Marie and that in a short time they would be married.
How do you read the ending of this novel? Does the romantic betrayal at the heart of this novel end in tragedy, or do you see the possibility of a renewed romance for Rose-Marie Schmidt and Roger Anstruther in its final pages?
What do you think? Is Rose-Marie in fact the worst-betrayed of von Arnim’s protagonists? Are there other contenders for the title? Are there also some men who have been betrayed?
Name the other betrayals in Elizabeth’s works. Which ones might be as egregious or more so than that of Roger to Rose-Marie?