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The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

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The Enchanted April is as magical as its name implies.  Not merely a description of an idyllic Easter vacation in a medieval castle (San Salvatore), the work's pace, its poetic language, and its cleverness create a rest cure for the reader as well as its heroines.  Von Arnim transplants four women, sporting archetypal women's woes, from their dreary London existence, between the wars, to a little stay in Heaven.

The reader meets self-righteous Rose Arbuthnot, who has sought wearisome toil as a means of compensating for lack of conjugal felicity; socially awkward Lottie Wilkins, whose love of beauty has been all but smothered by her gloomy Hampstead life; wealthy and widowed Mrs. Fisher, who lives only for the past (riddled with disappointments); and the titled and breathtakingly beautiful socialite Lady Caroline Dester, who is pained by the discovery that her fashionable existence has been merely "a noise all about nothing."

Lottie is the first to "get her Celestial legs," as she puts it.  She is a visionary from page one, whose goodness and innocence enable her to be San Salvatore's angel, guiding the others to happiness.  She is the first to feel free from grinding pressures, the first to give without thought of reward, the first to feel true joy, and, I might add, the first to invite her husband to come for a visit and stay.  Her manners--an embarrassment and encumbrance in Hampstead--seem perfect for Heaven.  Her selflessness soon starts to thaw the others (including her husband) and, one by one, each character heals from his or her own weaknesses and mistrust.  There's a happy ending for everyone, including Mr. and Mrs. Arbuthnot, for whom hope seemed lost.  Even Thomas Briggs, the owner of San Salvatore and an orphan in every sense, is a contented man by the end of the novel.

Lest it sound as though the book is only a series of love stories, The Enchanted April overflows with wit and humor.  Just like the weather in this perfect Italian spring, each paragraph is as fresh, delightful, cheering, and surprisingly topical as when Von Arnim penned the story in 1922.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim is featured in Vol 14 No 3 of The Storybook Home Journal.

Tags: Vol. 14 No. 3, 2014, Book reviews

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