by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Publication Date: January 1, 1922
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Folio Society
Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot, cowed and neglected by their husbands, make a daring plan: they will have a holiday. Leaving a drab and rainy London one April and arriving on the shores of the Mediterranean, they discover a flower-filled paradise of beauty, warmth and leisure. Joined by the beautiful Lady Caroline and domineering Mrs Fisher, also in flight from the burdens of their daily lives, the four women proceed to transform themselves and their prospects.
I liked this book way more than I should have. Arnim’s ability to write a single moment right into the ground is admirable in a contrary sort of way – I mean, entire pages dedicated to describing one brief span of time, and it’s very stream-of-consciousness at times as well. And Lotty, who starts off realistic if a bit pathetic, opens her eyes her first morning in Italy and turns into a character Disney himself would envy. The only thing missing was somebody singing Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. And the ending is the shallowest, basest, most unrealistic Happily Ever After I’ve ever read. How is Frederick going to explain that unopened letter when he and Rose go home?
But in spite of all of this, the book was as enchanting as its title. Were I but rich and idle, instead of just temporarily idle, I’d have jumped a plane for Italy before I got so much as 100 pages in. Arnim wrote such a backdrop for these women that it was hard not to smell the wisteria as it dropped its accumulated rain drops on your head. Even the castle, which Arnim spent little time describing overall, felt lived in. And in spite of all the faffing stream-of-consciousness and Lotty’s Disney-esque departure from reality-land, I found myself liking, or at least sympathising with, all four women. The men … not so much. Even though they were supposed to have been ‘saved by love’ (ugh!), I still found Wilkins a condescending, pompous ass, Frederick pathetic, and Briggs a massive disappointment. Somebody should have slapped that boy upside his head.
Arnim was a gifted writer, creating characters with a lot of character, so to speak, but she really shines – is absolutely brilliant – when it comes to writing about gardens, so I suspect that when I remember The Enchanted April it will be the gardens of San Salvatore that come through best and most vividly.
NB: I read the Folio Society Edition from 2002, and it included the most charming colour illustrations; they perfectly complemented the text.