Recipe for Enchantment

Take four women, one Italian castle, plenty of sunshine and wisteria blossoms, add in a month’s holiday, and stir…

Pure enchantment.

A splendid book for reading in the midst of a dreary midwestern winter, and the perfect antidote to middle aged emotional doldrums, The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim, brought a smile to my face with every page.  Four women who come together purely by accident, all searching for happiness without really  believing it to be possible.  It begins with Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot, sitting in their “club” on a rainy afternoon in London, sometime not long after the ending of WWI.  They chance to read an advertisement for a “small, medieval Italian castle on the shore of the Mediterranean, to be let, furnished for one month.”  At first, they can barely consider the possibility – could they, really, afford such an indulgence?   Mrs. Wilkins, however, with the certainty of a soothsayer, insists that she “sees” them at this castle, that it isn’t wrong of them to yearn for this time away from husbands and daily lives that have lost their lustre. 

“I’m sure it’s wrong to go on being good for too long, till one gets miserable,” Mrs. Wilkins insists.  “I’ve done nothing but duties, things for other people, ever since I was a girl, and I don’t believe anybody loves me a bit better …and I long – oh, I long -for something else.”

Sound familiar? (sighs)

So, they scrape up the money (and the courage!) to embark on this adventure, deciding to advertise for two more women to join them, in an effort to defray expenses.  The reader could barely imagine a more disparate pair than Lady Caroline, a young, beautiful heiress, exhausted with the demands placed upon her by her “station,” and Mrs. Fisher, a lonely, embittered widow.

And yet…when they arrive, magic happens.

“All the radiance of April in Italy lay gathered together at [their] feet.  The sun poured in.  The sea lay asleep in it, hardly stirring.  Across the bay the lovely mountains, exquisitely different in colour, were asleep too in the light; and underneath the window, at the bottom of the the flower-starred grass slope from which the wall of the castle rose up, was a great cypress, cutting through the delicate blues and violets and rose colours of the mountains and the sea like a great black sword.”

And so beauty and happiness transforms each one, but not without a series of humorous, parlor trick like occurrences, which serve to move the action forward in a most delightful way.  (On memorably comic scene has Mr. Wilkins causing the castle’s temperamental bathtub to explode!)  In the end, relationships with husbands are restored and renewed, new relationships develop, and pure happiness reigns supreme.

I suppose those more cynical than I might scoff at this fairy like tale.  “Pure romance,” they might say, with the tone Scrooge used when uttering “Bah! Humbug!”

Not this ravenous reader. 

Certainly at my age and stage of life (somewhere betwixt the young Mrs’s Wilkins/Arbuthnot and the aged Mrs. Fisher) I’ve seen the power of beauty and happiness to thaw a world weary heart, and I cherish the hope that love grown cold can be warmed and revitalized. I believe, as Mrs. Wilkins comes to realize, that “people could only really be happy in pairs – any sorts of pairs, not in the least necessarily lovers, but pairs of friends, pairs of mothers and children, of brothers and sisters…”

And so really, it’s the power of love and connection that works the miracle for these ladies and provides the true source of their enchantment.

Of course, a month’s holiday at a sunny castle in Italy on the shores of the Mediterranean surely doesn’t hurt.

The Enchanted April

by Elizabeth von Arnim

published 2006, Walking Lion Press

227 pages

(published originally in 1922)

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16 thoughts on “Recipe for Enchantment

  1. I love this book so much. It’s one of those that I have to return to every now and again just to keep me sane. Did you know there is a wonderful film version made about fifteen years ago? It’s still available on VHS, but as far as I can see hasn’t been transferred to DVD.

  2. Indeed there is a movie version of this book, which I remember seeing some years ago. I plan to rent it again, now that I’ve enjoyed the book so much.

    Also, there is a theatrical production which has played on Broadway quite recently.

  3. I had requested this from my library the other day when you left a comment about it on my blog. Reading your delicious review has made me eager for it to arrive!

    Magic? A bit of fairy tale? I agree — at “our time of life” (LOL!! I never thought I’d reach the stage of starting to say that!!), we can read a book such as this and have a much deeper appreciation and understanding of what it offers.

  4. I haven’t read it, and haven’t seen the film, but knew of its existence because we visited the area in Italy in which the film was made. Enchanting indeed. We just got to spend a day. A month would be heaven.

    Now I’ve got to get the book. Beautifully-written review.

  5. I love this book, and I never tire of its captivating optimism. I figure a month in a castle in the Italian springtime really would cure most worldly ills! Lovely review, ravenous!

  6. This is such a beautiful book – so glad you enjoyed it. Reading your review reminds me again of the sense of wonderment and possibility you have after reading it. I love the film too and would recommend it.
    I was pretty lucky to see a theater production of this several years back and I remember how well it was staged – they even had rain on the stage when they were doing the England scenes! I must read more Von Arnim to see how her other books are.

  7. I loved this book too. You’ve written about it so eloquently that you’ve made me want to reread it. I keep hearing good things about the film version but have not yet seen it. Perhaps a reread and a film viewing back to back would help me to endure the remainder of a very snowy Canadian winter!

  8. I can’t believe I’ve still not read any Elizabeth von Arnim – I have this one, and Vera, Elizabeth and Her German Garden, The Caravanners… one or two others. And still haven’t read any. I’m sure I’d love them!

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