.Book Thursday.

My great friend Ursula (movie-night soon!) recommended “The Enchanted April” by Elizabeth von Arnim and I have to say that it was a delightful little story that I highly recommend.

What the book is all about:

Four women, previously unknown to one another, leave a dreary winter in England behind to take a one-month April holiday in a small, charming Italian castle after responding to an advertisement in a newspaper. The descriptions of the landscape are very lush and made me wish that I could make such an escape myself after a seemingly never-ending winter. 

“By the end of the week the fig-trees were giving shade, the plum-blossom was out among the olives, the modest weigelias appeared in their fresh pink clothes, and on the rocks sprawled masses of thick-leaved, star-shaped flowers, some vivid purple and some a clear, pale lemon.”

The novel is also sprinkled with humor throughout as the four very different personalities either bluntly clash with one another or surreptitiously try to avoid one or another of the group. I often found myself smiling at some of their little antics and remarks. Each woman begins with her own struggle, discontent, and preconceived notions of what is expected of her as a female member of society.

Lotty Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot lived a life of relative obscurity in the Hampstead section of London. Both were virtually ignored by their husbands and had the longing to get away from it all. One day, Lotty Wilkins noticed an advertisement in The Times to rent an Italian villa named San Salvatore in April for 60 pounds. Mesmerized by the idea she recruits Arbuthnot to join her. Later, the women ask Lady Caroline Dester and a Mrs Fisher to join them as well, making the pair into a foursome, and, more importantly, making the castle rental into an affordable getaway. 

Even though Wilkins and Arbuthnot made the initial arrangements, Mrs Fisher and Lady Caroline shrewdly arrive at the castle first to claim the better rooms for themselves. The latter two women enjoy a higher standard of living than the former and want to ensure that they have an enjoyable holiday. Almost instantaneously, San Salvatore works its magic on all four women. An air of happiness overtakes them and rather than being bitter with their station in life, they talk of love being in the air. Wilkins and Arbuthnot originally came to the castle to get away from their husbands, but within a week, both women write their husbands asking them to join them in this enchanting setting. 

Within the month, all four women are the best of friends, although this takes time, especially with Mrs Fisher. Mrs Fisher, the elderly widow, leaves England for Italy with the notion that “Hardly anything was really worthwhile, except the past… She had not come away from these friends (in London), these conversable ripe friends, in order to spend her time in Italy chatting with three persons of another generation and defective experience; she had come away merely to avoid the treacheries of a London April.”

And finally, the beautiful, unattached Lady Caroline, never without a suitor to her own exasperation, believes “Worse than jokes in the morning did she hate the idea of husbands.”She wishes to be left completely alone and yet she seems to attract everyone to her, and her coldness and biting remarks towards others go unnoticed due to her overwhelming beauty. “People were exactly like flies. She wished there were nets for keeping them off too. She hit at them with words and frowns, and like the fly they slipped between her blows and were untouched.”

Ultimately, no one is immune to the enchantments of Italy and companionship and each undergoes their own individual transformations. They learn the value of friendship and that “Beauty made you love, and love made you beautiful.”

I thought the writing was basic yet descriptive and the plot to be straightforward with few twists and turns along the way. Von Arnim was writing from personal experience and recreated the Portofino castello where she enjoyed a monthlong holiday. This book was originally published within a year of her excursion, so the memories were fresh, especially the descriptions of the sea air and ever changing flowers. These amazing descriptions of time and place ended up working for me much better than the plot developments. I felt it was a breath of fresh air and a great reminder that a little respite and new acquaintances can help immensely to renew a dampened spirit.

I read a bit about the author Elizabeth von Arnim who strikes me as an interesting person. A writer brought up in influential circles, she married no less than five times in her life, and also enjoyed an affair with writer H.G. Wells after he ended his own affair with Von Arnim’s rival Rebecca West. When one of von Arnim’s disastrous marriages ended in 1921, she decided to spend a month at Italian castello Portofino as a way to clear her head. The idea for The Enchanted April has been born.

Leave a Reply

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

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

Follow by Email