It doesn’t get better than this: ‘The Enchanted April’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1922)

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I must confess to feeling ridiculously excited about this post.  I read ‘The Enchanted April’ back in January, and have felt compelled to keep quiet because it just seemed like a stupid time to blog about it.  Finally, finally, April has arrived and I can publicly rave about this truly enchanting novel.

In fact, I nearly lost patience with the wait and considered writing the review in February because, after all, that’s how the first chapter starts:
It all began in a Woman’s Club in London on a February afternoon, – an uncomfortable club, and a miserable afternoon – when Mrs Wilkins, who had come down from Hampstead to shop and had lunched at her club took up ‘The Times’ from the table in the smoking-room, and running her listless eye down the Agony Column saw this: ‘To Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.  Small medieval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let Furnished for the month of April.  Necessary servants remain.  Z, Box 1000, The Times.’  That was its conception.’

This ‘conception’ gives birth to the most marvellous journey from the dank miseries of London to the open and regenerative warm of Italy.  Mrs Wilkins has money saved (‘Mr Wilkins, a solicitor, encouraged thrift except that branch of it which got into his food.  He did not call that thrift, he called it bad housekeeping.  But of the thrift which, like a moth, penetrated into Mrs Wilkin’s clothes and spoilt them, he had much praise‘).  She does not have enough to rent a whole castle herself though, and so manages to collect a group of equally, though possibly less openly, disappointed and restricted women to join her on this most magical of holidays.

The month is indeed magical.  As soon as Mrs Wilkins arrives at the castle she finds it everything she had wished for.  Unselfishly happy, she sees only beauty and light around her, with the result that her life truly becomes the joyful event it always should have been.  Her three companions are, Mrs Arbuthnot, devoted to good works and yet beloved of no-one, not even her husband, the bitter and selfish Mrs Fisher and the bored and selfish Lady Caroline.  The premise of the novel is that the whole quartet will learn to find love and happiness in their outwardly adequate but inwardly stultifying lives.

It’s tempting to spend the rest of the this post simply quoting Von Arnim’s wonderfully wry prose.  Even if the novel has a fairy-tale set-up, the sarcastic dead-pan prose skilfully averts any sentimentality.  Take Mrs Fisher for example: ‘It was astonishing, it was simply amazing, the superiority of the past to the  present.  Those friends of hers in London, solid persons of her own age, knew the same past that she knew, could talk about it with her, could compare it as she did with the tinkling present, and in remembering great men forget for a moment the trivial and barren young people who still, in spite of the war, seemed to litter the world in such numbers.’

If there’s anyone in the world who hasn’t read ‘The Enchanted April’ read it now!  Read it this month if you can, if you can’t, read it as soon as possible, and then re-read it in April 2017.  I know I will, and I know that I will enjoy it as much, if not more, on second acquaintance.  Scathing, life-affirming, sarcastic and loving this has been one of my top reads of the year so far and is one of those books that show you the world as it was, as it is, and as it can be.  To demonstrate the beauty as well as the humour, I’ll leave the last word to the irrepressible Mrs Wilkins, on her first experience of the joy that is to be her lot:

She stared.  Such beauty; and she there to see it.  Such beauty; and she alive to feel it.  Her face was bathed in light.  Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her.  A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair.  Far out in the bay a cluster of almost motionless fishing boats hovered like a flock of white birds on the tranquil sea.  How beautiful, how beautiful.  Not to have died before this … to have been allowed to see, breathe, feel this … She stared, her lips parted.  Happy?  Poor ordinary, everyday word.  But what could one say, how could one describe it?  It was as though she were too small to hold so much of joy, it was as though she were washed through with light.  And how astonishing to feel this sheer bliss…’

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35 Responses to It doesn’t get better than this: ‘The Enchanted April’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1922)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I have a copy; I haven’t read it yet; I obviously must do so as soon as possible! :)))

  2. The Reading Bug says:

    Great review, thanks for the recommendation.

  3. heavenali says:

    Oh The Enchanted April is such a lovely book. I might have to re-read it in the not too distant future.

  4. Elle says:

    I saw the film of this when I was quite young and thought it was lovely, and happen to have a copy now! (The same Vintage Classics one as is featured at the top of your post, with that gorgeous bright stylized cover.) I must put it on the list for this month.

    • I never knew there was a film! Part of me really wants to get hold of it, but I now feel like I know these characters so well (including exactly what they look like) that it might be too late for me to see it now…

  5. Sarah says:

    I also have this on my bookshelf, as yet unread. Clearly i must find it this very moment and read it as a matter of urgency! 🙂

    • You must indeed! I’m pleased my review conveyed the necessary urgency.

      Trust me, if I ruled the world, today would be compulsory ‘read ‘The Enchanted April’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim day’

  6. Naomi says:

    This book seems to be making a bit of a comeback – I’ve been seeing it around quite a bit lately (and not just in the blogging world). I do have a copy and can’t wait to get to it! If only there was an international read The Enchanted April day, I might get it read sooner. 🙂
    Isn’t it fun to find books you want to gush about?

  7. I love von Arnim’s writing, and have read several of her books now. She is wry, as you say, and can be acerbic at times too. You do know there’s a film of this? (Hmm, just checked and I see that other commenters have already mentioned it). The early scenes in London make a wonderful and drab contrast to the scenes in Italy, and it has such an excellent ensemble cast. Well. Worth. Seeing.

    Oh, and did you know she was Australian born?

    • Thanks for sharing the Australian connection! It makes we wonder if I’m allowed to count this fantastic book as English, Italian and Aussie lit all in one go? When a book’s this enjoyable, it’s really tempting to share the fun around the globe 🙂

  8. Thank you Shoshi, such an effervescent post should make me find this, I know I have it, unread, in one of the TBRs

    • It was on the periphery of my TBR list for ages – I guarantee it’s worth hunting out though; as I’ve said before, it’s a clear contender for my best read of the year so far.

  9. Great review. I read Elizabeth and her German Garden – seems so pretty, but such a dark undercurrent. Wonderful writer. Bronte

  10. Oh, this book really is a thing of beauty, I agree with you! and the film is pretty great too – Miranda Richardson and Joan Plowright are in it, if memory serves, and yes Alfred Molina plays a stonking part too. Your enthusiasm for this read really shines through, and your joy of falling into a great read. A collective re-read and gush could be a good plan for April 2018!

    • I’ve had a good first quarter of the year, but so far this is the definite winner in terms of just making me smile (well, this and ‘The Viceroys,’ but this is a much much happier book).
      I’m looking forward to next April already 🙂

  11. Lovely review – like many of the other commenters, I have a copy in the TBR but it’s not yet read, I will aim to remedy this during the month!

  12. Stefanie says:

    Isn’t it the most delightful book ever? I dare anyone to read it and not feel happy.

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  14. Kate W says:

    This book is in my to-be-read-very-soon stack but as you quite rightly pointed out, it should be read in April! I’m starting immediately.

  15. Pingback: #AW80Books: What do you get if you let Merchant Ivory loose on ‘The Golden Girls’? Elizabeth Von Arnim’s ‘The Enchanted April’. | Hard Book Habit

  16. It’s one of the most delightful and uplifting books I’ve ever read. I enjoyed your blog post. Take a look at mine about the same book when you’ve the time. I have read the book many times in the winter to lift up my spirits and I finally read it in April this year. 🙂

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