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Enchanted April

Updated on August 2, 2013

Romantic Italy - Distilled in a Novel

Doesn't it sound irresistible? Escaping the drudgery and gloom at home for a sunny Italian castle garden?

That's the premise of Enchanted April: four English ladies escaping drudgery, loneliness, unhappy marriages - not to mention endless English rain - when they rent a wisteria-covered Italian castle that they find in a newspaper ad.

Happiness and romance ensues.

The novel by Elizabeth von Arnim has been adapted (well several times!) as both a charming recent play and a gorgeous film.

"... Why, it would really be being unselfish to go away and be happy for a little, because we would come back so much nicer."

— Enchanted April

The Novel - Enchanting Escape to the Castle

Published in 1922, the novel has delighted readers ever since. It's gently paced (a treat these days!) and full of real-life plus a sort of wistful-glow (Don't we all wish we were in Italy?) Elizabeth von Arnim's Enchanted April tends to get re-read.

The story? Four ill-assorted women leave dispiriting and damp 1920s English lives for a holiday together in Italy.

Mrs Arbuthnot and Mrs Wilkins belong to the same ladies' club, but have never spoken until both read the same newspaper ad for a "small mediaeval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April." Both women have unhappy marriages and both are desperate for an escape... where better than Italy on vacation? There is reported to be wisteria at this castle. Perfect!

But they can't afford the rent unless they find other ladies to share expenses, so they reluctantly add elderly Mrs Fisher and society-beauty Lady Caroline Dester to their holiday.

At the castle the women - and assorted husbands and love-interests - learn to live and love again in the beauty of their castle garden.

Reviews

A smattering of reviews of The Enchanted April (as I find them).

Read it On-Line!

Okay, cuddling your laptop or tablet isn't as much fun as holding a real, paper book while lazing in a hammock in an Italian garden...

But you can read this at your desk! (Maybe passersby, looking into your cubical will think you're reviewing the Arnheim Contract.)

So here it is - the full text of The Enchanted April.

Elizabeth von Arnim, AKA... nevermind
Elizabeth von Arnim, AKA... nevermind

About Elizabeth von Arnim

Or whatever name you want to call this author...

Born in Australia in 1866 and raised in England as Mary Annette Beauchamp, Elizabeth von Arnim was originally called Mary, but after publication of her novels gradually came to be known, even by her family, by her pen-name Elizabeth. Through her marriages she became first Gräfin (Countess) von Arnim-Schlagenthin then, later, Countess Russell. Just to keep things interesting, she also wrote under the name Alice Cholmondeley.

Like many writers, she started writing because she needed the emotional outlet - and the cash. When her first husband (whom she called the "Man of Wrath") was thrown in jail for fraud, she wrote her first semi-autobiographical novel, Elizabeth and her German Garden (1898), publishing it anonymously.

Her love life never got much simpler. After Count von Arnim died in 1910, Elizabeth married John Francis Stanley Russell, 2nd Earl Russell, elder brother of Bertrand Russell, but that marriage also went sour. Supposedly, from 1910 until 1913 she was a mistress of the novelist H.G. Wells. In 1919 Elizabeth fled her marriage and any other romantic entanglements for the United States, but she never divorced. In 1920 she began an affair with British publisher Alexander Reeves, who was almost 30 years younger. When he later married, he named his daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth von Arnim died in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1941.

Von Arnim wrote another 20 books, all "By the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden."

(A side note - Elizabeth von Arnim was cousin to writer Katherine Mansfield... whose picture sometimes gets switched for hers. Identity issues for sure!)

Talking-Book and Script Versions

Enchanted April comes from a time when reading aloud was still a big consideration for a writer... as it has become again with books on CD. Lines spoken on-stage are only more so, of course.

The Enchanted April (Blackstone Audio Classic Collection) (Classic Collection (Brilliance Audio))
The Enchanted April (Blackstone Audio Classic Collection) (Classic Collection (Brilliance Audio))

Read out loud just for you! Try it in the car. Ignore the traffic, smell the wisteria.

 
Enchanted April - Acting Edition
Enchanted April - Acting Edition

The script from the very good stage adaptation.

 
Enchanted April, WaterTower Theatre, set designer Clare Floyd DeVries
Enchanted April, WaterTower Theatre, set designer Clare Floyd DeVries

Enchanted April, WaterTower Theatre, Addison, Texas - set designer Clare Floyd DeVries

Stage Adaptations

Enchanted April was first adapted for the Broadway stage in 1925.

In 2003 a new stage play by Matthew Barber was nominated for a Tony Award. The original Broadway cast included: Jayne Atkinson, Molly Ringwald, Dagmara Dominczyk, Elizabeth Ashley, Michael Cumpsty, Daniel Gerroll, Michael Hayden, and Patricia Conolly.

(The WaterTower Theatre play I designed the set for was the Dallas regional production of this 2003 adaptation.)

And in March of 2010, Enchanted April: A Lyrical New Musical, with book and lyrics written by Charles Leipart and music by Richard B. Evans, was previewed at the Chelsea Studios in New York City.

Enchanted April, WaterTower Theatre, set designer Clare Floyd DeVries
Enchanted April, WaterTower Theatre, set designer Clare Floyd DeVries

Enchanted April, photo courtesy of WaterTower Theatre and photographer Mark Oristano

Italy (above) London (below) with real rain on-stage.

Enchanted April, WaterTower Theatre
Enchanted April, WaterTower Theatre

Enchanted April, photo courtesy of WaterTower Theatre and photographer Mark Oristano

Another Stage Version... - At Liberty University

This video is all about the building of the "Villa" set for this university's production of Enchanted April. Fascinating to scenic buffs!

"Beauty made you love, and love made you beautiful."

- Enchanted April

Cupid in an Italian Garden

Cupid, by Nikolai Argunov, believed public domain
Cupid, by Nikolai Argunov, believed public domain
Castello Brown, Portofino, believed public domain
Castello Brown, Portofino, believed public domain

Castello Brown, Portofino, Italy. The author stayed here... and the film was shot here.

The 1992 Film

I love this film. Great story, great actors and performances, plus gorgeous cinematography.

A favorite movie. (And though this story - this film - sounds like a Total Chick Flick, I do actually know men who like it too... no sex is immune to the lure of Italy!)

There have been two films so far: this is the fantastic 1992 Miramax version starring a galaxy of (mostly) British talent: Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson, Polly Walker, Joan Plowright, Alfred Molina, Michael Kitchen, and Jim Broadbent. The newer version was shot on location at the same castle where the author stayed in the 1920s: Castello Brown in Portofino, Italy.

The Film Trailer

Film Adaptations

The 1935 RKO Radio film of Enchanted April, starred Ann Harding.

(Another Elizabeth von Arnim novel, Mr. Skeffington, was also made into an Academy Award-nominated film in 1944 by Warner Bros. starring Bette Davis and Claude Rains.)

Enchanted April [Region 2]
Enchanted April [Region 2]

A French version of the 1935 film... if you have the right video equipment to play it?

 

Movies You May Also Like

If you enjoy Enchanted April, you may like these other films, which have elements in common... sometimes it's Italy, sometimes the group-of-ladies situation, sometimes the surrendering to romance feeling.

Tea With Mussolini
Tea With Mussolini

A little later period, WWII, but a similar situation... English ladies in Italy, plus one brash American.

 
French Kiss
French Kiss

An American woman who lets France (and a Frenchman) under her guard. Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline.

 
A Room With A View
A Room With A View

More English folk sucumbing to Italy, a film from the famous E.m. Forster novel.

 
The Wings of the Dove
The Wings of the Dove

Americans in Venice, a film of the Henry James novel.

 
Wisteria, by Monet, public domain
Wisteria, by Monet, public domain

"Sternly she tried to frown the unseemly sensation down. Burgeon, indeed. She had heard of dried staffs, pieces of mere dead wood, suddenly putting forth fresh leaves, but only in legend. She was not in legend. She knew perfectly what was due to herself. Dignity demanded that she should have nothing to do with fresh leaves at her age; and yet there it was--the feeling that presently, that at any moment now, she might crop out all green."

- Enchanted April

Other Novels by Elizabeth von Arnim

I enjoy the quiet, thoughtful quality of von Arnim's books. No vampires or car chases... just real human emotions, delicately explored.

Mr. Skeffington
Mr. Skeffington

Perhaps her (second) most famous novel.

 
Monet wisteria,m public domain Wikipainting
Monet wisteria,m public domain Wikipainting

Related Links

Read up on the subject! Von Arnim's life really seems ripe for a movie of its own - a BioPic staring... hmmm, who would you cast?

An Italian Style Fountain

Isn't this what every mediteranean garden needs?

Add one to your garden or garden room. Plant a little wisteria. (Buy clippers!) And capture a little corner of Italy!

Add Italy to Your Garden

Wherever you live, you can add a touch of Enchanted April's Italy.

(Just remember to bring in the pottery before the frost sets in!)

Wisteria Getaway at Home

Catch a faint scent of Italian garden with a relaxing bath. Peace, contentment, quiet... (But lock the door to keep kids, cats, and significant others out.)

Seen the movie yet? Yes? The scene with the visiting husband and the towel? Then you'll get the joke: "Pericoloso! Pericoloso!"

Desdner herbal bath, from Smallflower.com
Desdner herbal bath, from Smallflower.com

Best Herbal Soaking Bath

When staying in Chicago, I discovered this brand of herbal bath powder at the wonderful Merz Apothocary.

Merz carries fascinating products, but my favorite are these bath powders by Dresdner, which makes a range of scents. My favorites are lavender, orange-linden blossom, chamomile... All great.

You won't need the full package (I get about four baths from each.) And they turn the bathwater startlingly rich colors! (But don't stain.)

lavender, believed public domain
lavender, believed public domain

Guestbook Comments

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    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 

      6 years ago

      the photos are so enchanting and beautiful so is your presentation. i did not read the book (yet) and the only wisteria i know is wisteria lane. thank you for sharing.

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      6 years ago from Canada

      A very happy April Fools day.

    • cdevries profile imageAUTHOR

      cdevries 

      6 years ago

      @indigoj: Thanks! It's a book I go back to once in a while. Thanks for visiting.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      6 years ago from UK

      It's many years since I read the book but I remember enjoying it... and I certainly would appreciate wisteria and sunshine this April! Your set is beautiful and so is this enchanting lens.

    • cdevries profile imageAUTHOR

      cdevries 

      6 years ago

      @sherioz: I like the book very much... but I love the film version even more. Hope you like it too! Thanks for visiting.

    • profile image

      sherioz 

      6 years ago

      I love wisteria and I never heard of this author before. Thanks so much for introducing me to her. She seems totally enchanting. I think maybe it's time for me to get an ereader (whatever they call it) so I can get her books without having more place for dust to collect on my shelves. This is a very aesthetic lens, with the wisteria woven throughout.

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