The Enchanted April

by Elizabeth Von Arnim, 1922

This book was recommended on the “Page-a-Day” book calendar Christie gave me. I loved it. It was a wonderful escape to Italy in the 1920s. Four English ladies, strangers to one another, share an old castle on the coast of Italy near Genoa for the month of April. Each one is escaping the cold, dark, wet of England, but also something emotionally cold, dark, and wet. They go from closed off and suspicious to happy and loving. I loved the descriptions of the flowers, trees, sea, sun, castle and the rooms inside the castle, the town (Castagneta), the people, the setting, the moon, everything. And I loved how each woman changed and found love.

Here are the characters, why they left England, what happened to them in Italy:

  1. Lottie – young and pretty, happy and joyful, but her marriage to Mellersh is sucking the life out of her. He’s domineering and joyless; a solicitor who cares only about getting as clients the rich and famous. When she gets to the castle and wakes up to the sunshine and beauty on day one, she is overcome with remorse at leaving her husband behind and invites him to come. She tells him about the other ladies staying with her at the castle and, since one of them is Lady Caroline, a definite prospect for him, Mellersh comes at once. He comes with ulterior motives but he ends up becoming a loving and affectionate husband for his darling Lottie. Lottie is the one who really made the whole trip happen for everyone. She saw the advertisement for the castle, she convinced Rose (a virtual stranger) they should do it, and her optimism and love break through each person’s barriers.
  2. Rose Arbuthnot, young and beautiful and very religious, is married to Frederick and loves him dearly but they are estranged because she is ashamed of his livelihood: He writes tawdry books. She is talked into going to Italy with Lottie. Lottie invites her husband after being there only one day, and urges Rose to invite hers. Rose finally does, fearing that her husband will not come, could not be bothered to come. He does come, but unbeknownst to Rose, it is not because of Rose’s letter asking him to come, it’s because Lady Caroline is there and he is friends with her and her family and misses her! Rose never finds out that Frederick came not for her, but for Lady Caroline. When Rose sees him in the drawing room of the castle and realizes it is him, she smothers him with so much love, he forgives her for being ashamed of him, and can’t help but love her again.
  3. Lady Caroline, young and so beautiful that men lose themselves at the sight of her, comes to the castle looking forward to a month alone. She does not want to do anything but be by herself and think. Lottie realizes this right away and leaves her alone. This starts to change Lady Caroline. She starts to have a real friend in Lottie. They talk and laugh at tea and dinner. By the end of the book, beautiful Lady Caroline and Briggs (the young owner of the castle) are about to become romantically involved. Lady Caroline is the reason both Mellersh and Frederick (Lottie’s and Rose’s husbands) come to the castle. But Mellersh is not swayed by beauty and that impresses Lady Caroline. They meet on his first day in a hallway, Mellersh dripping wet and only a towel around him. His bath ‘exploded’ when he turned the water off and the stove which was heating it explodes. That beginning sets him apart from other men in Lady Caroline’s eyes and she is able to accept him from the beginning and they become friends. Frederick is smitten with her but he’s an older, dumpy man and she is fond of him. Briggs, the young owner of the castle, originally comes because of Rose, but as soon as he sets eyes on Lady Caroline, he falls head over heels in love and becomes the type of man Lady Caroline cannot stand and came to escape. But something comes over her on a moonlit night, and she decides to thank him for the delightful month she has spent in his castle, and as she is thanking him and he is responding, love is born.
  4. Mrs. Fisher, a rich, miserly, elderly spinster, comes to the castle wanting to be by herself in the beautiful weather. She takes the best rooms for herself and arranges things so no one else can intrude on her. She acts like the hostess at tea and meals. She is mean and arrogant. She looks down her nose at Lottie, especially, and is determined to “curb” her. She ends up opening up and loving Lottie and the others. Lottie refuses to be mean back to her and just keeps on loving her and this melts Mrs. Fisher’s cold heart in the end.

Beautiful, sweet, book – a wonderful escape.

Here is how the book-a-day calendar describes this book:

A Spring Sojourn

A discreet advertisement in the London Times addressed to “those who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine” is the prelude to a revelatory month for four women. Lured to the haven of San Salvatore, a medieval castle high above a bay on the Italian Riviera, each member of the quartet finds the respite she craves, while together the strangers discover a sense of harmony each has longed for, but none has previously known. Time spent with them in the pages of Elizabeth von Arnim’s charming novel The Enchanted April will prove just as rewarding and restorative to its readers.