Getting Used To The Happiness You’ve Got {Book Club}

Last week we had a lively discussion in the comments about spiritual abuse, growing up in a sheltered environment, life as a PK, family patterns and the fact that maybe one or two iffy meals were eaten as people made time for reading. And a lot more! If you want to read the conversation or add to it, do! ūüôā

Today we come to part two of The Pastor’s Wife¬†¬†by Elizabeth Von Arnim and if you haven’t gotten the book yet¬†here are¬†various forms for free¬†here,¬†on kindle, or¬†audio.¬†

This book does it all. I laugh out loud, I want to scream words of warning to Ingeborg or Robert, I relate to being an adult woman in a foreign land trying to make your way, marvel at the sentence construction and want so much for basically everyone in the book. 

“Ingeborg drank it in eagerly. She was zealot to learn; resolute to be a helpmeet. Had not he delivered her from the immense suffocation of Redchester?” The joy Ingeborg tastes almost brings a flavor to my mouth as she revels in her freedom and the joys of housekeeping and cooking. This brought back memories from high school of what I thought I’d be like as an adult. I had this one green sweater I thought was¬†exactly what a college student would wear. I’d picture myself walking across campus on my way to an enlightening conversation. It seems Ingeborg hadn’t had the luxury of picturing herself anywhere but serving her father. I imagine those early days were like heaven on earth to her.

How about you? What did you picture about your future?

“Oh?” said Ingeborg, surprised. “Have you got one?” For he somehow produced a completely motherless impression. I smiled!

When my sister got married it was the first time we met many of my brother-in-law’s family in person.¬†Most of what we learned was innocuous, but there were one or two things we asked her, “Did you know¬†that?”¬†Um, no. She was young and I thought it wouldn’t really effect them. And¬†we will never know everything, that’s Okay. I just laughed when the lightbulb went on for Ingeborg.

What did you think of Robert’s repeated calling his mother a “simple woman?” ¬†Why didn’t he tell his mother he’d gotten married? I know he’s self-absorbed and distracted by his scientific experiments, but please. He could have told her! I felt sorry for Ingeborg as she looked forward to her pastor wife duties¬†and ways she could understand Robert’s work so that she could connect with him.

And then the whole nightmare with having her mother-in-law for tea! I went back and forth with being so annoyed with Robert. Why didn’t he talk with Ingeborg? But just this week I sat in a lecture about schools; it was given by an American to visiting Chinese scholars and he’d use words like “kindergarten” and everyone nodded assuming they had similar pictures in their heads. I kept interrupting and “translating” back and forth to each side — “When an American says X, they mean¬†this.” “When a Chinese says X, they mean¬†this other idea.”¬†

Many light bulbs went on. But how did I become this kind of “translator?” More than twenty years of life and exposure and stumbling through my own experiences! Maybe Robert didn’t know how very different her ideas of what having tea meant. ¬†And then she¬†figured it out. After having tea with his patron when Ingeborg thought she’s cracked the code, who else could relate to the conversation about beds? Ha!¬†What are you talking about beds?! The phrase “If Ingeborg had known” could have been said about us all.

If you’re in a cross-cultural marriage (and to an extent any marriage is cross-cultural!), I love to hear about your experiences in learning new customs to better connect with your in-laws.

In the comments let’s talk about the assumptions Robert and Ingeborg make about children. She had just been “getting used to the happiness [she’d] got,” yet Robert wanted children so much and then was praised so highly by his parish when Ingeborg was pregnant.

“I’d like some chloroform,” said Ingeborg. “It is against nature,” said Herr Dremmel…”When it comes to the highest things,” said Herr Dremmel severely, “and this is the holiest, most exalted act a human being can perpetrate, all men are equally believers.”

“I expect they are,” said Ingeborg. “But the others — the ones who’re not men– they’d¬†like some¬†chloroform.”

I watch Ingeborg trying to navigate all that is thrown at you as a second culture woman and daughter-in-law and mother and I have more compassion for myself, for us. This is running long, but let’s also talk about her birth experience and how afterwards was nothing like Robert expected. Her abscess and post-pardum depression were painful to read.

So much here to think about and tease out with each other :),¬†See you in the comments! And next week we’ll finish the book with Part 3.


Photo Source : Unsplash


  1. Brittany February 17, 2015

    I don’t think Robert likes people. ¬†Like, at all. ¬†He has no respect, or even regard, for his mother. ¬†And he seems to despise his own flock. ¬†Even Ingeborg, though there are times he likes her, doesn’t tolerate her much.

    I could identify (I’m sure we all could) with Ingeborg’s struggles in this new culture. ¬†Yes, how many times has someone said something, and I thought I understood, only to find out our ideas of what that means are totally different!

    My heart hurts so much with Ingeborg as such expectations are placed on her regarding children. ¬†I absolutely believe children are a gift and I can’t imagine not having that desire to be a mother from the time I was a child. ¬†But, bless her heart, she had no experience with children! ¬†I found myself getting so angry at her mother. ¬†The mother was so wrapped up in her self, confining herself to the couch, that poor Ingeborg knew little of being a wife and mother! ¬†And Ingeborg’s mother-in-law was no help! ¬†Such pressure on her to produce many children and we see what effect that had on her little body.

    I think this part of the book really shows that Robert¬†did love Ingeborg, but I feel like his love was limited. ¬†He only loved her if she did exactly as he expected her to. ¬†Conditional love must be so nerve-racking! ¬†(I guess one could argue that conditional love isn’t really love…)

    1. Amy Young February 18, 2015

      Brittany … I think you may be right about Robert! No one seems to penetrate into his inner circle. At times I feel sorry for him, but then I look at Ingeborg wanting in so much I ¬†am annoyed with Robert.

      And Ingeborg did seem to be done wrong by almost every significant adult in her life. Like you, I want to tell her mother, “GET UP off the couch and help your daughter!”

  2. T February 17, 2015

    Of course she wants the chloroform!¬† Really, her sister has servants and wealth in a big, beautiful house, with modern conveniences, and all Ingeborg wants of that modernity is chloroform!¬† Poor her.¬† I was glad that she finally felt a bit better when she’d gotten some iron.¬† It is kind of cautionary about roughing it when it isn’t necessary.¬† They could have had the doctor out instead of just the midwife, and then he would have been able to help earlier.

    I wonder if any of you have been treated badly because you were “wimpy foreigners” with regards to different birth practices?¬† Thankfully, I was weird in the other way…because I didn’t want an epidural at the private hospital (anyone else here who can afford the private hospital goes there so that they can get an epidural!) I was considered the “super tough foreigner”.¬† Poor Ingeborg who is looked down on, just for being slim (and thus not having those good child-bearing hips!).

    I also felt bad for Ingeborg as she tried to decipher the cultural norms for visits.¬† I wish she could have found a friend.¬† And couldn’t she have asked her househelper(s) for some advice?¬† I liked her reasoning that they put the nap in the middle of the exhausting visit on purpose!¬† And I think I would have welcomed being put to bed during some visits I’ve been on!¬† ūüėČ

    1. Amy Young February 18, 2015

      T, I like your point about this being cautionary when we don’t need to rough it. Wise counsel and ties into the theme this week of “comfort” and when to take care of ourselves in ways those around us might not get, and when to “rough it.”

      AND yes to welcoming a bed on some of the visits I’ve had :). While I haven’t given birth, I have had minor surgery without anesthesia (worst experience of my life) and had school official pushing pressure points in my hands as the surgery went on and could not understand why I didn’t “bear the pain better.”

      1. T February 19, 2015

        Oh, Amy!¬† Eeek on that painful experience!¬† And I’m terribly sorry if I halted any additional comments because of my placenta question!¬† Did I send everyone running away?

    2. Brittany February 19, 2015

      I’m pregnant with #4 and we have chosen to go back to our passport country to have the baby. I kind of expected the women here to call me crazy, but they tell me is be crazy to stay here to birth. I think it’s some of our supporters who consider me wimpy for coming home a year and a half into our first term to have a baby. But for me, I can handle birth without the chloroform but what I can’t handle is not having my family around! For me, birth is a family (mom, mother in law, sisters, husband, closest friends) experience. Not so in this country


  3. T February 17, 2015

    Oh!¬† One more thing I have to ask:¬† (while thinking about iron) (because some of you live in very interesting places where meat isn’t very affordable) did any of you eat the placenta post labor?

    1. Jenny February 28, 2015

      I never consumed my placenta, nor was it done where we lived in INdia but it is a rising trend among many who choose out of hospital birth here in the US.¬† I’m a midwife and have seen this increase the past few years.¬† Most women who choose this hire someone to dehydrate and encapsulate it so there is no taste or feel, just capsules.¬† ūüôā


  4. Brittany February 19, 2015

    T, I never consumed my placentas and it is not cultural here at all. However, I had non-typical births in the States (out of hospital water births) and I know that there is a growing number of women in the States who are doing it.

  5. Ruth February 21, 2015

    I don’t know what I expected from it, but I am totally loving this book! ¬†It is hilarious and infuriating and so honest in it’s portrayals. ¬†I can definitely relate to the cultural confusion – the awful tea and the moment Ingeborg thinks she has figured out being put to bed and then the horribly confusing conversation later when she tries to describe her discovery to Robert.


    I really was infuriated by her horrible birth and postpartum experience. ¬†The lack of care from her midwife and husband was terrible! ¬†It seems like the doctor (yeeeeeeaaaars later) is the only one who seems to notice what is going on with her! ¬†And I don’t know if we’ve gotten to this point of the book yet, but I have been thinking that I am SO glad for the advent of birth control! ¬†I am miserable and sick when pregnant, and I cannot imagine being pregnant for almost 7 years straight. ¬†I can hardly bear thinking about it. ¬†I can’t imagine how different my life could be if I just lived a hundred plus years ago. ¬†I might die.


    T – I know some people who have done placental encapsulation. ¬†I didn’t because it was expensive (I think a couple of hundred dollars in the States?), but it seems like it can really be helpful. ¬†You can do it yourself, but I think it’s a real pain (and some people feel strange about a placenta drying in the oven!)

  6. Phyllis February 22, 2015

    This is so therapeutic for me. Just reading along, I feel like I’m reliving my life 10 years ago, my first before-pregnancy (every one expecting that I was), pregnancy, birth, after birth experience. Wow. Of course, Ingeborg has it worse than I did, and little details are different. It’s like reading an exaggeration of what I lived, but, so, so, so familiar!

  7. Esteci February 22, 2015

    I laughed out loud when Ingeborg wondered whether all her children would be little Germans!

    Robert assumes that motherhood will occupy and satisfy Ingeborg the same way that his scientific work satisfies him. Ingeborg doesn’t seem to know what to expect, but the physical and emotional trauma of birth and the post partum period are so debilitating that¬†motherhood is more about survival than joy. Plus, she has virtually no support system– especially on an emotional level.

    It’s both funny and tragic that the firstborn looks just like her mother-in-law! And it seems that his temperament is much the same, too. As Ingeborg was unable to connect meaningfully with her mother-in-law, in spite of her earnest attempts, the same proves true with her attempts to bond with her children.

    Neither motherhood nor marriage are very life-giving in this story, and how I wish they were, for Ingeborg is such a lovely person.

  8. Bayta March 1, 2015

    You know, thinking about Ingeborg’s experience of adjusting to a new culture does make me so very thankful for the training and preparation I had, as well as for ongoing “member care”!¬† And – maybe most importantly – for people who “get it”, who understand! Yes, there are a lot of people who have no idea. But I am so thankful to have always had the privilege of having at least a few people around me who do understand. People to laugh with and to cry with, people to be encouraged and challenged by.¬† And this has been true both in going overseas and in re-entry.

    Poor Ingeborg, she didn’t have anything of the kind. It seems that no one around her was in any way aware of cultural differences and how they affect people.¬† I guess in that day and age, most people would not have done much travelling or been confronted with people from different cultural backgrounds.

    Robert certainly seems to have no idea what he’s taken on in marrying someone from a different country.¬† In fact, he seems to have very little understanding of people as individuals, he just seems to see them as fulfilling a certain role, with all the expectations that come with that.

    BTW, how come Ingeborg has such a very German name, when she is actually English???

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.