"It was, that year, a particularly wonderful spring, and of all the months at San Salvatore April, if the weather was fine, was best. May scorched and withered; March was restless, and could be hard and cold in its brightness; but April came along softly like a blessing, and if it were a fine April it was so beautiful that it was impossible not to feel different, not to feel stirred and touched."
Happily for the four ladies at the heart of Elizabeth von Arnim's novel, April at San Salvatore that year was not just fine but enchanted, and the magic of the book with its theme of transformation and regeneration continues to touch and delight, reading after reading.
For anyone who hasn't read The Enchanted April, four ladies, previously unknown to one another, take a castle in Italy for a month's holiday. One, the lofty Mrs. Fisher, is a widow who lives mostly in the past, preferring to sit in solitude and remember "better times and better men"; Lotty and Rose are escaping their mundane, dutiful lives, and their husbands - one a pompous bore, the other a biographer of scandalous women; and the fourth member of the party is Lady Caroline Dester, society beauty and fair game, it seems, for every man she meets. The driving force behind the holiday is Lotty: "she who in England had been such a thing of gusts" now finds balance and indeed bliss at San Salvatore, so much so that she longs to share the experience with the husband she has left behind. Rose, with "the face of a patient and disappointed Madonna", also finds spaciousness in life at the castle, so that she too craves the presence of her husband from whom she has become distanced. And while Lady Caroline lies in the sun and smoothes her ruffled feathers, Mrs. Fisher grows restless and somehow her spirit burgeons as it has never done before.
" ... there was something peculiar in the atmosphere at San Salvatore. It promoted expansion. It brought out dormant qualities..."
and as not only Messrs. Wilkins and Arbuthnot arrive to join their respective wives, but the castle's owner Mr. Briggs drops in, too, the place casts its spell and love and light-heartedness blossom.
The book is charming, (the film*, I think, almost more so), a happy, uplifting read, and one to return to. "The novel is the lightest of omelettes," says Terence de Vere White in the introduction to my edition, "in the making of which the least possible number of eggs get broken. Only an incorrigible pedant would try to judge it at a deeper level."
Were you enchanted by it? I hope you were, and if this was your first Elizabeth von Arnim, are you now inclined to read more? Either way, perhaps you'll join us for next month's CBG book, for which you'll find details here.
*The film's location is the Portofino castle, Castello Brown, in which Elizabeth von Arnim herself stayed in April 1921 and in which she set the book. There seems to be no website as such, but this one gives some idea of the place.
Edited to add: the Books and Cakes post for The Enchanted April is now up - click here.