Book Review: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin

The Enchanted April 2About the Book

Four very different women respond to an advertisement in The Times appealing to “those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine” to rent a small medieval Italian castle for a month.

Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot, the original two respondents, are joined in their act of escape by the youthful Lady Caroline, whose beauty and general melodiousness have become something of a burden to her, and the formidable Mrs Fisher, who insists that everyone think of her “just as an old lady with a stick” as she sets about imposing her will on the rest. Each one is vaguely unsatisfied with their lot and Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot both have marriages of quiet English unhappiness.

The climate and the castle eventually start to have an effect on the four women. Their perceptions shift and they wake up to the love in their lives.

Format: ebook (247 pp.)    Publisher:
Published: 19th May 2016  [1922] Genre: Fiction, Modern Classics

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Find The Enchanted April on Goodreads


My Review

The Enchanted April was the book selected from my Classics Club list for the latest Classics Club spin.  Find out what others have been reading by following the hashtag #ccspin on Twitter.

In The Enchanted April, the author depicts a particular social milieu (none of the four women are employed or completely financially independent) and presents a gently mocking view of their petty squabbles over sitting rooms, seating arrangements and personal space when they finally arrive at San Salvatore.  Incidentally, I felt sorry for the servants, especially Francesco and Domenico, having to deal with the demands and changing moods of their ‘four mistresses’.  There’s also some humour directed at the English abroad, including their complete reliance on people from other countries to speak English…and at Italian plumbing.

Of the four female characters, some were definitely more likeable than others, although all were more likeable than the men (with the possible exception of Thomas Briggs).  I liked Lotty’s (Mrs. Wilkins) instinct for other people’s moods and needs, and her immediate response to the uplifting atmosphere of San Salvatore.  I certainly don’t think she deserved the pompous Mr. Wilkins, who’s always on the lookout for people with ‘troubles’.  ‘Trouble here, trouble here, thought Mr. Wilkins, mentally rubbing his professional hands… Well, he was the man for trouble.  He regretted, of course, that people should get into it, but being in, he was their man.’ The most sympathetic figure for me was definitely Rose (Mrs. Arbuthnot) although, again, I’m not sure her husband quite deserved her patience and admiration.

There are some particularly lovely descriptions of the gardens and scenery surrounding the castle, conjuring up a picture of a magical location.  ‘Presently the tamarisk and the daphnes were at their best, and the lilies at their tallest.  By the end of the week the fig-trees were giving shade, the plum blossom was out among the olives, the modest weigelias appeared in their fresh plink clothes, and on the rocks sprawled masses of thick-leaved, star-shaped flowers, some vivid purple and some a clear, pale lemon.’

I think we all know what a positive effect natural beauty and the outdoors can have on our mood so perhaps it’s unsurprising that it has the same effect on the foursome. At the end of the book, all the characters have been changed by their time in San Salvatore, whether that’s discovering or re-discovering love and friendship.  Are they all nicer people as a result?  Possibly. But at the very least they have it within their power to become so.

The Enchanted April delivers a joyful message about the impact the beauty of the natural world can have on people, their outlook and relationships, and the possibility of second chances.

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In three words: Joyful, humorous, acutely-observed

Try something similar…In A German Pension: 13 Stories by Katherine Mansfield (read my review here)


Elizabeth von ArminAbout the Author

Elizabeth, Countess Russell, was a British novelist and, through marriage, a member of the German nobility, known as Mary Annette Gräfin von Arnim.  Born Mary Annette Beauchamp in Sydney, Australia, she was raised in England and in 1891 married Count Henning August von Arnim, a Prussian aristocrat, and the great-great-great-grandson of King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia. She had met von Arnim during an Italian tour with her father. They married in London but lived in Berlin and eventually moved to the countryside where, in Nassenheide, Pomerania, the von Arnims had their family estate. The couple had five children, four daughters and a son. The children’s tutors at Nassenheide included E. M. Forster and Hugh Walpole.

In 1898 she started her literary career by publishing Elizabeth and Her German Garden, a semi-autobiographical novel about a rural idyll published anonymously and, as it turned out to be highly successful, reprinted 21 times within the first year. Von Arnim wrote another 20 books, which were all published “By the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden”.

Count von Arnim died in 1910, and in 1916 Elizabeth married John Francis Stanley Russell, 2nd Earl Russell, Bertrand Russell’s elder brother. The marriage ended in disaster, with Elizabeth escaping to the United States and the couple finally agreeing, in 1919, to get a divorce. She also had an affair with H. G. Wells.

Elizabeth von Arnim spent her old age in London, Switzerland, and on the French Riviera. When World War II broke out she permanently took up residence in the United States, where she died in 1941, aged 74. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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WWW Wednesdays – 29th May ‘19

WWWWednesdays

Hosted by Taking on a World of Words, this meme is all about the three Ws:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Why not join in too?  Leave a comment with your link at Taking on a World of Words and then go blog hopping!


Currently reading

I’m picking up Warlight again after having to give priority to some blog tour reads.  I’m nearly finished with the delightful The Enchanted April which is the book from my Classics Club list selected for the latest Classics Club Spin.

warlightWarlight by Michael Ondaatje (hardcover)

It is 1945, and London is still reeling from years of attritional war. 15-year-old Nathaniel and his sister seem to have been abandoned by their parents in a big house in Putney, and the ruined city is a strange Expressionist jungle after the Blitz, which the teenagers use as their playground. The Black Market and petty criminals are thriving and the two children’s eccentric guardians – nicknamed the Moth and the Darter – are busy smuggling munitions through the darkened London streets, or greyhounds from France through the rivers and canals.

When the children discover that their mother has not gone to Singapore as announced, and is actually engaged in perilous work for British Intelligence – and that the Moth and the Darter are protecting them from harm – the novel darkens and deepens into Nathaniel’s search for the truth: for the mother he lost once and may well lose again.

Michael Ondaatje, one of our greatest living writers, surpasses himself with this vivid, thrilling new novel: a classic adventure with a cast of brilliantly-drawn characters on secret missions through the Suffolk countryside and the London blackout, and one boy’s quest to discover his mother – who she was, and who she really is.

The Enchanted April 2The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin (ebook)

Four very different women respond to an advertisement in The Times appealing to “those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine” to rent a small medieval Italian castle for a month.

Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot, the original two respondents, are joined in their act of escape by the youthful Lady Caroline, whose beauty and general melodiousness have become something of a burden to her, and the formidable Mrs Fisher, who insists that everyone think of her “just as an old lady with a stick” as she sets about imposing her will on the rest. Each one is vaguely unsatisfied with their lot and Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot both have marriages of quiet English unhappiness.

The climate and the castle eventually start to have an effect on the four women. Their perceptions shift and they wake up to the love in their lives.


Recently finished

Different genres but prominent female characters featured in all three of the books I finished since last week. 

gold digger the remarkable baby doe taborGold Digger: The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg (eARC, courtesy of the author)

One look at Baby Doe and you know she was meant to be a legend! She was just twenty years old when she came to Colorado to work a gold mine with her new husband. Little did she expect that she’d be abandoned and pregnant and left to manage the gold mine alone. But that didn’t stop her!

She moved to Leadville and fell in love with a married prospector, twice her age. Horace Tabor struck the biggest silver vein in history, divorced his wife and married Baby Doe. Though his new wife was known for her beauty, her fashion, and even her philanthropy, she was never welcomed in polite society.

Discover how the Tabors navigated the worlds of wealth, power, politics, and scandal in the wild days of western mining.

AureliaAurelia (Roma Nova #4) by Alison Morton (ebook, courtesy of Random Things Tours)

1960s Roma Nova. Retrained as an undercover agent, ex-Praetorian officer Aurelia Mitela is sent to Berlin to investigate silver smuggling, but barely escapes a near-lethal trap. Her lifelong nemesis, Caius Tellus, is determined to eliminate her. When Aurelia is closing in on him, he strikes at her most vulnerable point – her young daughter.

A former military commander, Aurelia is one of Roma Nova’s strong women, but she doubts in her heart and mind that she can overcome her implacable enemy. And what part does the mysterious and attractive Miklós play – a smuggler who knows too much?

The Lost ShrineThe Lost Shrine (Hills & Barbrook #2) by Nicola Ford (advance review copy, courtesy of Allison & Busby)

Clare Hills, archaeologist and sometime sleuth, is struggling to finance her recently established university research institute along with her long-time friend, Dr David Barbrook. When Professor Margaret Bockford finds the Hart Unit commercial work with a housing developer on a site in the Cotswolds, the pair are hardly in a position to refuse. There is just one slight catch: the previous site director, Beth Kinsella, was found hanged in a copse on-site, surrounded by mutilated wildlife.

Despite initial misgivings, Clare leads a team to continue work on the dig, but with rumours about Beth’s mental state and her claims that the site was historically significant refusing to be laid to rest, and lingering disquiet between local residents and the developers, progress is impeded at every turn. When one of the workers finds something unsettling, Clare suspects there may be more to Beth’s claims than first thought. But can she uncover the truth before it is hidden forever?


What Cathy (will) Read Next

Fled will be the first book from my 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge list and A Long Way From Home continues my efforts to read all the books shortlisted for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2019.

FledFled by Meg Keneally (paperback, courtesy of Zaffre and Readers First)

She will do anything for freedom, but at what cost?

Jenny Trelawney is no ordinary thief. Forced by poverty to live in the forest, she becomes a successful highwaywoman – until her luck runs out.

Transported to Britain’s furthest colony, Jenny must tackle new challenges and growing responsibilities. And when famine hits the new colony, Jenny becomes convinced that those she most cares about will not survive. She becomes the leader in a grand plot of escape, but is survival any more certain in a small open boat on an unknown ocean?

Meg Keneally’s debut solo novel is an epic historical adventure based on the extraordinary life of convict Mary Bryant.

A Long Way From HomeA Long Way From Home by Peter Carey (audiobook)

Irene Bobs loves fast driving. Her husband is the best car salesman in rural south eastern Australia. Together with Willie, their lanky navigator, they embark upon the Redex Trial, a brutal race around the continent, over roads no car will ever quite survive.

A Long Way from Home is Peter Carey’s late style masterpiece; a thrilling high speed story that starts in one way, then takes you to another place altogether. Set in the 1950s in the embers of the British Empire, painting a picture of Queen and subject, black, white and those in-between, this brilliantly vivid novel illustrates how the possession of an ancient culture spirals through history – and the love made and hurt caused along the way.