Elizabeth von Arnim (1866–1941) was born Mary Annette Beauchamp to a prosperous English family living in Australia. The Beauchamps returned to England when “May” was still young, and she spent her formative years there. In 1891 she married Count Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin, a widower twice her age. The two settled on his family estate in Pomerania, where they raised five children and employed both E.M. Forster and Hugh Walpole as tutors. Von Arnim’s first book, the autobiographical novel Elizabeth and Her German Garden, was an enormous success, and most of her twenty subsequent books were published under the pseudonym of “the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden.” In 1912, following the Count’s death, von Arnim set up house in Switzerland. There she became close to her cousin, the writer Katherine Mansfield, who was convalescing nearby, and began a romance with Francis, the second Earl Russell, (brother of Bertrand Russell) whom she married in 1916. The marriage quickly turned rancorous, but the Russells never divorced. At the start of World War II, von Arnim moved to the United States; she died in Charleston, South Carolina.
Four women who share only their unhappiness and a love of wisteria flee 1920s London and converge on a magical villa in Portofino Italy in this charming comedy of manners that has been called “a feast of flowers”—Times Literary Supplement.