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Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Enchanted April - Elizabeth Von Arnim

Set in the 1920s, this book tells the story of four women from England that rent a castle in Italy for a month, and the profound changes that this vacation has upon their lives.

The story starts with Mrs. Wilkins spotting an ad for a castle for rent in Italy while she’s visiting her women’s club in London. She realizes that Mrs. Arbuthnot, who she has never actually spoken to before, is also looking at the ad. Very uncharacteristically for Mrs. Wilkins, she speaks to Mrs. Arbuthnot about the castle, and before long, the two have hatched a plan to rent it. Realizing they can’t afford it by themselves, they advertise for other renters, and end up contracting with the elderly Mrs. Fisher, and Lady Caroline Dester.

When they actually arrive in Italy, the beauty of the place has an interesting effect on their lives. Being set in the 1920s, there is an emphasis placed on married life, and the three married women in the tale each have issues within the boundaries of that life. In the course of the book, Mrs. Wilkins becomes Lotty, and Mrs. Arbuthnot becomes Rose, as they both come to terms with those issues. They both remain married, but Italy allows them to grow within the roles they defined for themselves in that institution.

Lady Caroline has another problem – she’s not sure where she should be defined, and Italy brings that definition to her. Mrs. Fisher has probably the least successful journey – her problem is living in the past, and there doesn’t seem to be as recognizable a journey for her to move beyond that.

I can’t help but contrast this book with the last one I read, where I had a bit of a post-feminist annoyance with the plot. This book was quite the opposite. This book is about the roles of women, but takes a really wonderful journey to resolve that. It might outwardly seem unsatisfactory to a more modern eye, but it’s very much of its time, and therefore very satisfying. This is a really delightful little read that’s much more profound than you might first think.

One note: the Digireads edition I read was typo-riden. I'd definitely try to locate another edition if possible.

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