This month, my book club read The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim, appropriate because it happens to be April, but also fitting because I needed a good chick lit. book after not reading any for awhile.
Published in 1922, the book features women emerging from Victorian culture without fully embracing the early feminist emancipation values. At times, it’s sugary sweet and a little too good to be true, but it’s also a nice antidote to the way the real world typically works. Shakespeare would often send his characters to a magical place where wonderful things could happen (nicknamed the “green world” by literary critic Northrop Frye). In this case, it’s a castle in Italy.
Who wouldn’t like to run away to an Italian castle for a month, to relax with new friends and enjoy the seacoast? Four British women rent the San Salvatore castle for the entire month of April, but prior to renting it, none of the women know each other.
Mrs. Lottie Wilkins initiates the vacation after reading an advertisement in the newspaper and asks a woman from her church, Mrs. Rose Arnott, if she would join her. The two women advertise for other renters, and end up with Lady Caroline Bramble and Mrs. Graves as castle mates.
Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arnott have less than ideal marriages, so their escape to Italy offers them a vacation from their unhappy home life. The beautiful and wealthy Lady Caroline merely seeks a place of solitude away from her many suitors and admirers. And the widow, Mrs. Graves, seeks a retreat worthy of her own romantic idea of herself and her illustrious dead friends.
The castle and the Italian landscape works its magic on these women, and they grow into changed people over the course of their month long stay. Much of the book is narrated through the four women’s inner monologue, so it’s a highly character driven, meditation filled book. But it surprisingly read very quickly and reached a very satisfying conclusion.
This would make an excellent vacation book, largely because it’s about a vacation, but also because it’s an easy read that’s highly enjoyable.