I’ve just finished reading a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1944). It was published by Virago Modern Classics. Called ‘Love’, the book seemed to combine mild feminism and humour quite effectively. However, it was very much a novel of its time. On the positive side, this meant it illuminated some interesting aspects of social history. More negatively, one of the themes was handled in a manner which appeared a little cruel from a modern perspective. This was because it focused on the subject of age in quite an insensitive way.
There were several passages of exquisite writing, which provided a lot of pleasure. Nonetheless, it was evident that the overall quality deteriorated slightly as the plot became more important than the character development. The novel became melodramatic towards the end.
In short, it was a book which made you think and which entertained. But it cannot be considered to be a great work of art- in part because of its lack of engagement with many layers of society. In terms of style, Elizabeth von Arnim was very skilled indeed, but if ‘Love’ can be taken as a representative sample of her work, her relative Katherine Mansfield was her superior in that department.