The Tale of Anna Estcourt – The Benefactress by Elizabeth Von Arnim

A beautiful female protagonist, who even in her mid- twenties, refuses to get married in her deep desire to be free. A benign, indifferent brother with a philosophical bend of mind. A bossy, pretentious sister-in-law who is finding it difficult to comprehend why a young girl blessed with good looks, will not use them to her advantage to find a suitable match. A maternal uncle from Germany who in due course turns out to be an angel of wealth. A stable and responsible young gentleman who falls in love with the protagonist and desperately tries to conceal his love for her, for fear of being rejected. Set in London and Germany, The Benefactress by Elizabeth Von Arnim is the tale of Anna Estcourt and the people who play an influencing role in her life.

Raised by her nonchalant brother and overwhelming sister in law Susie, Anna dreams of breaking free from their clutches to lead an independent life that is truly hers. However, lack of money holds Anna back, till one day, her maternal uncle Joachim comes visiting the family. They strike a chord with each other and soon become good friends. Though differing in ideals, Uncle Joachim understands the situation that has given rise to Anna’s desire for independence and hopes that, she too, one day will agree with his ideology that “It is a woman’s pride to lean on a good husband. It is her happiness to be shielded and protected by him.” With this belief, Joachim leaves all his possessions to be inherited by Anna, including a sprawling Pomeranian Estate in Germany, and she becomes aware of her new found wealth after Joachim passes away a couple of months later.

Without second thoughts, Anna sets out to locate the property and with difficulty, shifts to her new home. She is initially unable to comprehend the social customs and hierarchy in her new place of dwelling and her relationship with the locals turns a rocky one. However, she falls in love with her new home pretty quickly and decides that the best way to put her good fortune to use is to throw its doors open to the gentlewomen of the locality. All of her energy gets devoted to these distressed ladies and the project takes a physical and emotional toll far greater than what she imagines. Her only respite among the group of unwelcoming neighbors is Axel Lohm, a young man in his early thirties. He owns an estate and all the independence that Anna dreams of, except that he leads a lonely life. He soon falls in love with her, but refrains from letting her know, very well aware that she would not reciprocate the feeling for him.

Anna’s troubles soon begin to pile up and she slowly begins to realize that true freedom is extremely demanding and isolating. In the absence of a companion to share her worries with, it finally dawns on Anna that her dream of absolute independence has its own limits.