The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim


Penguin, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-14-310773-6

Summary, from back of book:
Escaping dreary London for the sunshine of Italy, four very different women take up an offer advertised in the Times for a “small medieval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April.” Among them are disheveled Mrs. Wilkins and sweet-faced Mrs. Arbuthnot, both fleeing unappreciative husbands; ravishing socialite Lady Caroline, sick of lovestruck men; and Mrs. Fisher, a formidable widow who reminisces about the “great men” she knew in her Victorian childhood. As each blossoms in the warmth of the Italian spring, quite unexpected changes occur. An immediate bestseller upon its first publication in 1922, The Enchanted April set off a craze for tourism to the Italian Riviera and inspired the beloved 1992 film of the same name.

My thoughts:
At first, I did not enjoy The Enchanted April, but after making it through halfway, I started to enjoy it. I disliked Lady Caroline throughout the whole book. Yet, Lady Caroline held a lot of power over the narrative. Like Elizabeth and her German Garden, this book was full of stunning imagery. By the end, Mrs. Wilkins was my favorite character, and I am glad that each woman “bloomed” in her own right.

In the beginning, I felt as if von Arnim was warming up to writing rather than actually writing. The first five chapters (up until arrival to San Salvatore) were slow and dreary. Upon further thought, this may have been a writing tactic on von Arnim’s part. The rest of the book, in increasing measures, has an airier and lovelier vocabulary. Sentences changed from being tedious descriptions of preparation to airy, delightful thoughts. I imagine this reflects the difference in character’s lives before and after arrival. Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot led claustrophobic lives in London- and then an open and adoring lives in San Salvatore. Much is true for Lady Caroline and Mrs. Fisher, but it’s most evident for Lotty and Rose.
Lady Caroline annoyed me from beginning to end. I loathed how she held an absolute power over the characters and the narrative. While beautiful, Lady Caroline is also very selfish. She doesn’t respect Mrs. Wilkins or Mrs. Arbuthnot in the slightest. I felt that Lady Caroline was mocking Mrs. Wilkins by laughing at her, treating her as amusement and not a friend. The only blooming moment for Lady Caroline was at the very end. Her “manly manner” in treating Mr. Arbuthnot as a friend revealed how generous Lady Caroline could be... but also how little she respected the others until she needed to.
As the summary suggests, the Italian Riviera became popular after publication. According to Wikipedia, von Arnim used Castello Brown as an inspiration for San Salvatore. I hadn’t looked anything up about the Italian Riviera before this book- and boy, does von Arnim do it justice! From a quick image search, the city of Portofino (the location of Castello Brown) is gorgeous. The Enchanted April is supplemented by luxurious descriptions of the many gardens of San Salvatore. While reading, I felt as if I could smell and feel the flowers underneath my fingertips. The only misfortune is that I couldn’t go out and see these flowers with my own eyes!
Mrs. Wilkins was my favorite character. I felt that she needed San Salvatore the most, even if she opened up straight away. None of the events would have ever happened if she hadn’t acted upon the advertisement. She was the most open-hearted character in the whole book. If San Salvatore was a person, Mrs. Wilkins would be it! She blossomed in San Salvatore, speaking and acting as freely as she could. Mrs. Wilkins definitely wanted the respite and freedom of San Salvatore. Her actions throughout the book came from a place of total joy. Even inviting her husband- and she was even right about him needing San Salvatore! Mrs. Wilkins was full of action, and kept the narrative moving.
Overall, I enjoyed The Enchanted April. While it was not my most favorite book of the year (so far!) it comes as a Top Five. My misgivings with Lady Caroline were eliminated by scenery and Mrs. Wilkins. I am even glad I read this book in the month of April- it gave me hope that eventually, spring will reach Pennsylvania!

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