February 19, 2011
The Enchanted April
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
1922 Washington Square Press
Quit on 1/14/11
High above a bay on the Italian Riviera, the small medieval castle of San Salvatore was awash with the scent of flowers, its olive groves sweeping in terraced descent down to the sun-warmed sea. San Salvatore invited the heart to burst into bloom...
Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot are glad to leave their stifling duties and distant husbands behind; Mrs. Fisher wants only to sit in the sun and savor her youthful memories, while Lady Caroline Dester longs for the sweet oblivion of no adoring suitors. They agree to rent the castle for a month of blissful privacy. Yet, amid the showers of fragrant wisteria, in the hazy heat and sensuous silence, each one will be seduced and changed by the magic of San Salvatore...
I’m planning to travel to Italy (!!) next year to celebrate my 50th birthday. My hope is to read all of the books I’ve collected over the years that are set in that enchanting country. I’ve owned this particular book for more than a decade and I’ve tried to read it a couple of times, but have never gotten very far. After reading Bellezza’s review, I decided to give it another go. Well, I tried. But once again I failed to finish and quit after more than 100 pages. Maybe I’ll just have to settle for a viewing of the film.
That said, I did mark the following and after re-reading these little gems, I am actually re-considering the book.
The bedrooms and two of the sitting-rooms at San Salvatore were on the top floor, and opened into a roomy hall with a wide glass window at the north end. San Salvatore was rich in small gardens in different parts and on different levels. The garden this window looked down on was made on the highest part of the walls, and could only be reached through the corresponding spacious hall on the floor below. When Mrs. Wilkins came out of her room this window stood wide open, and beyond it in the sun was a Judas tree in full flower. There was no sign of anybody, no sound of voices or feet. Tubs of arum lilies stood about on the stone floor, and on a table flamed a huge bunch of fierce nasturtiums. Spacious, flowery, silent, with the wide window at the end opening into the garden, and the Judas tree absurdly beautiful in the sunshine, it seemed to Mrs. Wilkins, arrested on her way across to Mrs. Arbuthnot, too good to be true. Was she really going to live in this for a whole month? Up to now she had had to take what beauty she could as she went along, snatching at little bits of it when she came across it—a patch of daisies on a fine day in a Hampstead field, a flash of sunset between two chimney pots. She had never been in definitely, completely beautiful places. She had never been even in a venerable house; and such a thing as a profusion of flowers in her rooms was unattainable to her. Sometimes in the spring she had bought six tulips at Shoolbred's, unable to resist them, conscious that Mellersh if he knew what that had cost would think it inexcusable; but they had soon died, and then there were no more. As for the Judas tree, she hadn't an idea what it was, and gazed at it out there against the sky with the rapt expression of one who sees a heavenly vision.
They left the path, and clambered down the olive terraces, down and down, to where at the bottom the warm, sleepy sea heaved gently among the rocks. There a pine-tree grew close to the water, and they sat under it, and a few yards away was a fishing-boat lying motionless and green-bellied on the water. The ripples of the sea made little gurgling noises at their feet. They screwed up their eyes to be able to look into the blaze of light beyond the shade of their tree. The hot smell from the pine-needles and from the cushions of wild thyme that padded the spaces between the rocks, and sometimes a smell of pure honey from a clump of warm irises up behind them in the sun, puffed across their faces. Very soon Mrs. Wilkins took her shoes and stockings off, and let her feet hang in the water. After watching her a minute Mrs. Arbuthnot did the same. Their happiness was then complete. Their husbands would not have known them. They left off talking. They ceased to mention heaven. They were just cups of acceptance.
Maybe I’ll just read it in bits & pieces and see if I wind up enjoying it as much as Bellezza. I'm having a difficult time saying I'm finished with this book...