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Penguins on Parade: The Enchanted April!

By (May 19, 2015) No Comment


penguin enchanted aprilSome Penguin Classics have perfect timing, and this neat new reprint of Elizabeth Von Arnim’s beloved 1922 bestseller The Enchanted April is a great example. If it had actually reached me in the month of April here in Boston, with the skies still black, the days still freezing, and the streets and parks still piled ten feet high in snow, I’d have come down on the slim little thing like ton of proverbial bricks, and I’d have started off with a deeply sarcastic “Some enchantment” or perhaps even “I’ve got your Enchanted April right here.”

But instead, it reaches me in late May, when Boston is turning green again at last, when the nights are still five-blanket freezing cold, but the days are increasingly bright and sunny and souls withered to apple cores by the worst winter in recorded New England history can start to take some comfort from the pages of this perennial charmer.

A perennial charmer with a new Introduction by Brenda Bowen, author of Enchanted August, a contemporary re-imagining of the book. Bowen is a true believer in the book, obviously, and she’s a very spirited cheerleader in her dozen pages:

It’s a confection, it’s a dream, it’s a fleeting April romance, but oh, how hard to get this story out of your head. Who doesn’t long to find a place where one can shine like the sunlight? A place filled with lilacs and local wine and truest love, where we can all at last turn into the best versions of ourselves? Such a place is The Enchanted April’s San Salvatore, where mischievous Puck, with his midsummer violet love potion, would not have been out of place. Lovers come together and part and come together again. Scales fall from eyes. Sunlight and moonlight play tricks. All is forgiven. No one can come away from this April without thinking, even for just a moment, that the course of true love, unsmooth as it may run, is certainly worth taking.

The novel’s story is disarmingly simple: two women taking refuge in a reading room on a filthy London afternoon spot an alluring advertisement in the paper:

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.

They’re both of fairly straightened means, but with the unexpected teamwork of two other women – likewise total strangers, to each other and the rest – they actually take the chance and take the castle, and in the chapters that follow they slowly, gradually loosen themselves and learn about each other. Our author manages these congenial little transformations with such wonderful skill that the whole performance looks effortless, and her technique varies perfectly from crisp dialogue to swooping character

late-night reading
late-night reading

analysis and back:

‘It’s a good thing, of course,’ said Mrs Arbuthnot a little hesitatingly, ‘to be independent, and to know exactly what one wants.’

‘Yes, it saves trouble,’ agreed Lady Caroline.

‘But one shouldn’t be so independent,’ said Mrs Wilkins, ‘as to leave no opportunity for other people to exercise their benevolences on one.’

Lady Caroline, who had been looking at Mrs Arbuthnot, now looked at Mrs Wilkins. That day at that queer club she had had merely a blurred impression of Mrs Wilkins, for it was the other one who did all the talking, and her impression had been of somebody so shy, so awkward that it was best to take no notice of her. She had not even been able to say goodbye properly, doing it in an agony, turning red, turning damp. Therefore she now looked at her in some surprise; and she was still more surprised when Mrs Wilkins added, gazing at her with the most obvious sincere admiration, speaking indeed with a conviction that refused to remain unuttered, ‘I didn’t realize you were so pretty.’

Brenda Bowen is right to cheerlead this warm, inviting book, and it’s a joy that Penguin has inducted it into the Classics line.