Wednesday, October 03, 2007
"The Enchanted April" - Elizabeth Von Arnim
Can our surroundings influence our nature? The classic "The Enchanted April" offers a resounding positive answer.
Lotty, Rose, Caroline and Mrs Fisher are four strangers brought together by the promise of a newspaper advertisement:
"To Those who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.
Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let Furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times."
The Londoners suffer from neglect at the hands of their husbands and themselves: While Lotty stifles in the day-to-day duties as a middle-class housewife, Caroline suffocates in the glitter of the jet-set and Rose forces herself into a life of churchgoing piety to atone for the perceived sins of her husband; Mrs Fisher seems to have settled herself among dead friends, gloomily waiting her turn, a true Victorian.
San Salvatore, inundated with fragrant and colourful blooms, with its view of the sea and italian food will change these women forever - in fact, when they finally arrive, it will also change their husbands and lovers.
As the Von Arnim puts it, the castle forces its inhabitants into the opposite of a vicious circle - a virtuous one - where everyone is nice and so everyone feels well, and predisposed to niceties.
I was sad at how Lotty's character, which won me from the first page, seemed to disappear as the action moves to San Salvatore, and yet it makes complete sense. For she in fact dissolves into the italian garden, woods and water, and as soon as she sets foot on the path to the castle is at one with it. It is the other three who will take some time to ripen in the sun and abandon the constraints of politeness, haughtiness and distrust, the various grey London coats in which they hide their fear of life, death and love.
As Lotty puts it in the very beginning:
"What we both need is a holiday."