Thursday, December 31, 2009

Vintage Novels {The Enchanted April}

As the short days of winter grow darker and greyer and the weather more wet and miserable, there is nothing like the promise of spring and flowers to cheer one up. The 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim (she also wrote Mr. Skeffington) is about just that.
Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot find themselves depressed with the wetness of February in London and are fed up with being good little wives and decide to rent a medieval castle in Italy for a month's holiday without telling their husbands the exact details of how they can afford to go to Italy. They ask two strangers to go along with them in order to share the expenses; Lady Caroline, young, beautiful, aloof and still depressed over her lifestyle and the death of her beau during the War and Mrs. Fisher, an elderly and sickly widow, who prefers to remain in the memories of her Victorian childhood (Tennyson used to bounce her on his knee, you know).
What makes the novel truly wonderful is that Elizabeth creates a magical world amid the gardens of the Italian castle. She also takes the time to carefully construct the characters of each of the four women and how they act in London and then slowly shows how a month in Italy changes how they behave and their appearance and that by the end of April and the end of the novel, each of the four women are completely different people as the promise of hope and love that is in the very atmosphere of San Salvatore slowly permeates their souls.

The Enchanted April was previously filmed in 1935 with Ann Harding and Frank Morgan and at the time it was a huge flop, but it has not been shown on TCM nor is it available commercially or digitally. I've never seen it nor even heard of it until I was during research for this post, but from what I have read of the user comments, it sucks, not due to the acting but because it does not properly convey the point of the story.
Now, the 1992 version is just delightful. You can see all of the colours and atmosphere of Italy in the 1920's and it is very good at conveying the change in the four female characters and in the characters of Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Arbuthnot. And Miranda Richardson and Jim Broadbent are wonderful together as the Arbuthnots. Plus, there are some very good examples of early '20's cloches. It has also finally been released on DVD, or at the moment of writing, into 11 parts on YouTube. Even though the film is an excellent adaptations, I do recommend reading the novel now, during the winter and before being bogged down by other readings for school/work, simply because the novel lasts longer than the film and you can draw out the prose to last so that it becomes something to look forward to each day.
Here is the trailer:

1 comment:

Andi B. Goode said...

Oh, this sounds just lovely! I shall have to check both the book and movie out one day.
-Andi x