The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

1922. Virago. Paperback. 361 pages.

From: the public library

In a nutshell: Two lonely Londoner housewives, Lottie and Rose meet each other after reading a classified ad about an Italian castle for rent in the month of April. They discover a shared dream of vacationing on the coast of Italy. To share the cost of renting the castle, they advertise for two more female renters. Beautiful young Lady Caroline Dester and the elderly widow Mrs. Fisher respond to the advertisement. Each woman has her own reasons for renting the castle and for escaping their lives in London – and in the case of Rose and Lottie – escaping their husbands as well.

Review:

I picked this book up because I’d heard good things about the author’s writing and about this book in particular. I’m not sure the plot would have drawn me in on its own. The introduction by Terence de Vere White mentions a “a flurry of contrivance” in some of the plot developments. And certainly, once the husbands, and the castle owner, start showing up in The Enchanted April, there is an element of contrivance in that. I think I forgive contrivance more in older books than in more recent books, perhaps a kind of snobbishness on my part?

My favorite section of the book starts at the arrival of the women to Italy up until the first husband arrives to visit. I enjoyed the other parts too, but I think von Arnim’s insight into her characters’ minds is best showcased when the characters are becoming acquainted with each other and the castle. Almost all of them are in reflective moods.

I identified with Lottie’s rapture on her first day in Italy. She absolutely luxuriates in the beauty of the location. It reminded me of the energy and wonder I felt on the first day of my vacation to San Francisco last year. After all the planning, I was finally there experiencing it.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum, I also identified with Lady Caroline Dester’s reflection:

Once more she had that really rather disgusting suspicion that her life till now had not only been loud but empty. Well, if that were so, and if her first twenty-eight years – the best ones – had gone just in meaningless noise, she had better stop a moment and look round her; pause, as they said in tiresome novels, and consider. She hadn’t got many sets of twenty-eight years.

p. 128

I am about the same age as Caroline, and while I haven’t thought of my life as completely “meaningless noise”, I do sometimes wonder if I should have done it differently.

I liked von Arnim best when she was describing the characters and their situations. I know the author loved gardens and flowers, but as I have little knowledge about flowers, her descriptions of the castle’s gardens were kind of dull for me. They just seemed to be name after name of flower type, and I didn’t find it evocative. One exception is that I thought the book’s last description of the castle worked very well, because of its emphasis on the characters’ absence.

That’s about all the thoughts of The Enchanted April. I had a hard time writing this one for some reason, so I’m glad I’ve finally finished this post, even if I don’t feel fully satisfied with it.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Rikki’s Teleidoscope – “Read this story if you are down and you will feel happy when you finish it. Read it when you’re happy and you will be happier still.”

She Reads Novels – “I hadn’t expected something so readable and full of gentle humour and wit and yet with so much depth and such a lot of character development.”

things mean a lot – “This is one of those rare books that are always on the verge of becoming too charming and sweet, but somehow never do – they manage to keep the balance.”

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

  1. “I think I forgive contrivance more in older books than in more recent books, perhaps a kind of snobbishness on my part?”

    I’d never thought of it that way, but I tend to do the same. Maybe it’s because I always think that story elements that seem forced or overused now might have been fresher then?

  2. I like the sound of this and recently downloaded it to my Kindle — so nice to read this review.

  3. Pingback: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim : Rikki's Teleidoscope

  4. Thanks for linking to my review. Hoping to send some people your way, too.

  5. Argh, this always happens to me…:) I am Rikki, of course.

  6. I loved this book, too, and keep meaning to read more of her work. I have Elizabeth and her German Garden here somewhere…

  7. I love the phrase “a flurry of contrivance”! I know I’m more forgiving of a whole host of faults in older books — I wish I could make my brain be forgiving in that same way of books that I read today.

    How gardeningy are the gardening parts, if I can ask? I’m not natively a huge fan of gardening (I kill all the plants) so I’m a little afraid the sections you liked best wouldn’t be great for me.

    • Yeah, I thought that phrase was quite apt.

      And actually, I didn’t like the garden parts best. I liked them least and said they were dull. 🙂 So I mostly skimmed the “list o’ flowers” sections and I don’t think I was worse off for it.

  8. Nymeth – And sometimes the contrivances in classics seem fresher even to me, the modern reader.

    Diane – I hope you enjoy it. It’s definitely comfort read material.

    Rikki – Why thanks!

    JoAnn – I know that Claire of The Captive Reader really enjoyed Christopher and Columbus so I have that one on my radar too.

  9. Thanks for reminding me that I wanted to re-read this in April; it’s snowy fiercely today (which I love, so I’m not complaining), so I might just have forgotten to snatch it off the shelves without a nudge. It’s one of my favourites (and the film is lovely, too, I thought).

  10. Amy

    This book sounds great. I love stories like these. Your point about contrivances is very…um, on point! I think older books likthis one are so charming and well-written that I forgive several things that I might not forgive in contemporary lit.

    Loved your review!

    Oh!…This was made into a good movie with Joan Plowright and Alfred Molina, thank you for reminding me about the book which I wanted to read after I saw the movie!

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