We can picture the scene one hundred years ago outside a smart registry office in Henrietta Street, London. It is a dismal wet, cold day.
The elegant fifty year old Countess von Arnim (‘Elizabeth’), her hair especially ‘done’ the preceding day for the occasion, arrives by car (called Naomi) with her sister Charlotte. There they meet Bertrand Russell and his older brother, Lord Francis John Russell. They had all just been to Burton’s, the solicitor’s, where the will and marriage contract had been signed.
Her journal for that day relates:
- ‘Pouring wet. Went with Tit early to Mr Burton’s … where met F. and Bertie who signed the document. Then drove with Tit to Henrietta Street… where again met F. and Bertie and married F. or he married me anyhow somebody did. He and I then went to G’s. to change our festal garments and drove in Naomi in pouring rain wet and thick yellow fog to Jane’s where Tit was. Jane incredulous. We left her quickly and drove to T.H., lunching at the Hut. Very happy.’
(Notes: F. is Lord Francis Russell, Bertie is Bertrand Russell, G. could be H. G. Wells who had a flat nearby and is known as G. in the journals; Jane is Louey Beauchamp, Tit is Charlotte Waterlow, T.H. is Telegraph House, the Hut was The Hut Hotel, Wisley, now demolished. The registry office in Henrietta Street closed in 1934).
Thus the Countess von Arnim became the Countess Russell. But her happiness was brief. Before the year was out, she had sought refuge from endless quarrels with an intransigent Lord Francis by travelling to the United States to spend time with her daughter Liebet. In 1919, she left him permanently but the couple never divorced and she remained the Countess Russell for the rest of her life.
‘Elizabeth’ often noted anniversaries in her journals. Twenty years later, on 11 February 1936, she writes:
- ‘A thick yellow fog and drizzle in London. Burton’s office. Myself in it, and Francis very jovial with a wedding buttonhole. Will-signing and marriage contract. Burton [the solicitor] too very jovial as befitted, he supposed, the occasion. Then to the registrar’s in Henrietta Street, then to little Jane’s to surprise her with the news. She was immensely horrified – and then to that awful T.H. The beginning, this was, of years of acute misery. In other words my wedding day – twenty years ago.’
Jennifer Walker (author: Elizabeth of the German Garden – A Literary Journey. Available at a discount price from the website shop of the Katherine Mansfield Society).
February 11, 2016
 The Journal extracts appear by kind permission of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California