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[252] The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim

“Yet the four visitors, while their bodies sat—that was Mrs. Fisher’s—or lay—that was Lady Coraline’s—or loitered—that was Mrs. Arbuthnot’s—or went in solitude up into the hills—that was Mrs. Wilkins’s—were anuthing but torpid really. Their minds were unusually busy.” [136]

One a rainy day in February an ad for a castle to let in Italy on The Times captures the listless eyes of Lotty Wilkins, who no sooner has read the ad does she settle on spending a month in Portofino. Unbefit to a solicitor’s wife, Lotty is a sadly insignificant lady married to a man who dominates her even as he barely notices her. Her vacation plan appeals to Rose Arbuthnot, a sternly good church lady who shuts out everything that would remind her of beauty and happiness. She has turned away from her husband because he writes biographies of the mistresses of kings—a lucrative business, but in Rose’s eyes, improper and vulgar subject. After Lotty convinces Rose that the trip doesn’t perpetrate the husbands, they set out to inquire after two more ladies of similar desires of their own with whom to share expenses at San Salvatore.

Clearly Mrs. Wilkins was unbalanced, but Mrs. Arbuthnot had met the unbalanced before—indeed she was always meeting them—and they had no effect on her own stability at all; whereas this one was making her feel quite wobbly . . . but to suppose that she would ever forget her duty to the extent of drawing it out and spending it on herself was surely absurd. [14]

The Enchanted April follows four women, each escaping her own particular loneliness and reconnecting with herself as she succumbs to the warmth and magic healing power of San Salvatore. Joining Lotty and Rose are the absurd Mrs. Fisher, obsessed with her own desiccated respectability, and Lady Caroline, a young aristocratic beauty who has only known privilege and admiration. As von Arnim playfully reveals to readers the individual quirkiness of the women, she also demonstrates a sensitivity to the subtle differences of one woman’s unhappiness from another’s. The underlying basis of the novel, as the interaction of these women shows, is love and happiness. They all somehow rebel against men and take refuge in the castle.

Lotty escapes from her husband, who “encouraged thrift, except that branch of it that got into his food.” [4] Rose escapes from the numbing goodness of her life, in which “she had taken care to have no time to think.” [144] Lady Caroline, who is “afraid of nothing in life but love” [215] wants to be away from everybody and the admiration. She is Mrs. Fisher wants to withdraw into the imaginary Victorian past.

Her happiness, she felt, and her ability to be friends with everyone, was the result of her sudden new freedom and its peace. [130]

The Enchanted April is about freedom and transformation. The four women come together at the castle and find rejuvenation in the tranquil beauty of their surroundings, rediscovering hope and love. I feel a strong sense of personal enlightenment reading through the book. What amazes me is that it only takes one person (Lotty Wilkins) to expand and open up to make the joy contagious for the others. It’s a novel about senses, and it’s very sensual. It’s a comedy of errors.

247 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

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17 Responses

  1. I’ve never heard of this one, but you make it sound really good! The subject matter sounds really interesting, but above and beyond, I’m always a fan of a good comedy of errors!

    • I read about it on JoAnn’s blog, who was reading books about Italy. It’s treasured find and there is a movie adopted from the novel. It’s published under NYRB classics. It reads almost like a fairy tale but characterization is excellent!

  2. I’m so glad you liked this! Your review makes me want to pick it up for a reread. Have you seen the movie?

    • Thanks for pointing this book to my direction. I enjoyed it profusely and the movie is well-done and humorous! It’s such a comedy of errors.

  3. I’m very intrigued by your thoughts on this one. I just may have to investigate it further!

  4. I’ve seen the movie, and indeed it is enchanting! I’m sure I would love this book…you have brought it to life.

    • Miranda Richardson delivers a stellar performance in the film! David put the movie on during Christmas while I was half way through the book. I kept getting distracted by the scenery in the film…Darn David!

  5. This is one of my all-time favorites. If you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it too.

  6. This book really shocked me–it was so much more than what the back of the book suggested! Your lovely review makes me want to reread it.

    • I’m sorry if I have disclosed too much about the novel. NYRB is usually very succinct and discreet about the story on the back. It’s a great read–filled with love and happiness.

  7. This is definitely a favorite of mine, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Such a quiet little story, really, but it has so much to say and such interesting characters. The film is wonderful, and does the book justice.

    • I’m sure I’ll re-read the book and re-watch the film in the future. “Quiet” would be the perfect word for it. Each of the ladies want to get away from their lives dominated by male. They seek the quiet refuge that the castle offers them and for the first time think on themselves and get in touch with their own soul.

  8. […] [252] The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim […]

  9. This was one of my favourite reads of last year; I read it in April, at the burgeoning of spring, and I felt the sense of renewal and transformation that the novel evokes.

    • I feel a strong sense of personal enlightenment reading through the book. What amazes me is that it only takes one person to expand and open up to make the joy contagious for others.

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