I finished Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim last Thursday on my way home just as the metrorail train I was on pulled into the station. I have been reluctant to write about the book, not because I didn’t like it–oh I loved it!–but because I wanted the book’s spell to last as long as possible. Since it has now been wrapped into the spell that is Rebecca I figure it is safe to write about.
There are so many of you who love this book that I was worried about what might happen if I didn’t like it. But from the first paragraph I knew there was no way I was not going to love Lotty or Rose and later Scrap and even Mrs. Fisher.
Since I can’t assume I am the last person on earth to read the book, it is the story of Mrs. Wilkins–Lotty–who, while sitting at the club, reads an ad in the newspaper about an Italian castle for rent for the month of April. Outside is dreary, cold and rainy London March, and Lotty dreams of a vacation from her life. She notices that Mrs. Arbuthnot–Rose–is reading the paper too and is looking at the very spot on the page where the ad for the castle is. Lotty has scrimped and saved and put by a little nest egg but it is not enough for her to finance the trip on her own, so she gets up the nerve to approach Rose.
One thing leads to another. They decide to let the castle and through an ad of their own, bring on board two other women amongst whom expenses can be split. None of them have known each other before, and all of them want to escape from something. Lotty, who is miserable because she has been so good, is certain that Rose is even more miserable because Rose has been very, very good tirelessly helping the poor.
The castle is at San Salvatore, and it turns out to be everything they had imagined and more. The sun shines, the sky is blue, the gardens are forever surprising with something new and beautiful in bloom, and the sea calls out for notice too. The women are all transformed in ways they least expected. And dear Lotty who seems so dingy and dull in London, becomes a shining butterfly filled with life and love for all. San Salvatore may be the catalyst for all four women, but it is Lotty’s transformation and her charming ability to see what is going on with each of the women that makes it all so irresistible.
When Lotty invites her husband I thought it would be all over. But Mellersch (what a name!) turns into a humorous character, completely clueless as to what is really going on with the women around him. There were so many times that I worried something would spoil the Italian idyll, but nothing ever did. It was beautiful and charming to the very end.
Even in all the book’s lightheartedness, it still manages to incorporate serious ideas. Lotty saying they were miserable because they have been so good is true. She means that they have worked so hard on the behalf of others, that they have taken nothing for themselves. With Scrap, a beautiful and wealthy woman, we are given to thinking about what it means to be beautiful and how beautiful women can be forced into being someone they don’t necessarily want to be. And Mrs. Fisher shows us that living always in the past isn’t really living at all. When she starts to feel as though she might burst out into green buds all over, I laughed with delight.
The movie version of Enchanted April should arrive from Netflix by Friday when I think I will be able to take a long enough break from school to watch it. I can hardly wait. My Bookman is reading the book now and so far he likes it.