Tuesday, January 19, 2010

All the Dogs of My Life – Elizabeth Von Arnim

I’ve wanted this book for ages but despite heavy hinting no copy was forthcoming for either Christmas or birthday so as a sort of back to work present I ordered it when I got home last week. After only half an hour queuing at the parcel office on Friday evening I finally got my hands on it. One of the reasons I waited so long to buy this was the lack of cheap copies - at £9 it felt like too much of an indulgence - but finally the time was right.

I wish there were cheaper copies, the only ones I’ve seen are Virago print on demands - clearly everybody who has it is keeping hold of it, an attitude I can well and truly understand. This book really wasn’t meant for the top of the to be read list; I only meant to have a quick look whilst I was waiting for the kettle to boil before I put it on a shelf to wait it’s turn but one thing led to another and I’d read most of it by the time I finally went to sleep.

As a definite dog lover I was hooked from the start;

“I would like, to begin with, to say that though parents, husbands, children, lovers and friends are all very well, they are not dogs. In my day and turn having been each of the above,-except that instead of husbands I was wives,-I know what I am talking about, and am well acquainted with the ups and downs, the daily ups and downs, the sometimes almost hourly ones in the thin skinned, which seem inevitably to accompany human loves.
Dogs are free from these fluctuations. Once they love, they love steadily, unchangingly, till their last breath.
That is how I like to be loved.
Therefore I will write of dogs.”

Maybe it wouldn’t be much of a book for a none dog lover (though given Elizabeth Von Arnim’s lightness of touch and overall humour I think it would be a hard book not to love anyway) but if you’re a dog person I should think it irresistible.

All the Dogs of My Life’ is described as autobiography though never by Von Arnim who’s at pains throughout the book to point out that it’s not. It isn’t. No more than ‘Elizabeth and Her German Garden’ is, but like any of her books I’ve read it’s full of details of her life, there are perhaps more details and more personal philosophy in ‘All The Dogs Of My Life’ but it’s still a highly edited (I’m guessing mostly by omission) version.

14 dogs measure out an extraordinary life – catapulted from a sheltered childhood to rural Pomeranian grandeur then widowed with 5 children before building a Swiss mountain idyll (the idyll destroyed by the war and a disastrous second marriage) all followed by more dogs and wanderings until a final (at the point the book ends) settling in the south of France. None of this really matters though; it’s the humour that makes the book. Like ‘Elizabeth and Her German Garden’ this is one I will read over and over. It doesn’t take long and it’s strangely satisfying for something so light. Marriage number one come across as basically happy and affectionate, marriage number two is mostly ignored, lovers are not referred to (although they existed) but there are plenty of dogs in a string of perfectly delivered vignettes. Von Arnim has aged more than gracefully, she feels far fresher than I would reasonably expect and I will continue to search out and work my way through her books – but I imagine I’ll carry on preferring those that stray furthest from fiction.

This dog is Jamie, sadly not mine but my fathers; he's a remarkably handsome and engaging beast when he wants to be so I think he deserves a picture...

1 comment:

  1. Intriguing! Not at all a dog fan but big Elizabeth von Arnim fan.