Saturday, June 6, 2015

*Challenge Review* The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Genre: Fiction/Classics
Published: 1922 
Pages: 232
Ages: 14+


Four women, all strangers, escape the dismal English weather for a month-long retreat in an Italian villa. Once there, the company of the other women along with the "wisteria and sunshine" brings each character to a heartening realization about herself.


I received a copy of this book through Penguin's First to Read program in exchange for an honest review. I wrote this review before discovering that the book was first published in 1922, a fact that would have been very good to know while reading (but I'm weird and don't look things like that up even though I have the internets.) I would have felt a little differently about the book had I known how old it was when I first started reading. 

This book made me want to take a month long vacation in Italy, not that it's too hard to convince me that I need a month long vacation in the first place. The descriptions of San Salvatore sound so idyllic that it wasn't hard to believe it would be the absolute most perfect place to rest and relax.

The story is told in omniscient third person, delving into each characters mind whenever it suits the narrators fancy. I found the mind jumping to be a little discombobulating at times because although the characters are all very different, some of them have very similar ways of thinking so it wasn't always clear whose head we were in and I found myself having to reread some parts to get myself oriented. Another issue I had was there were many long, complicated, tangental run-on sentences (much like my last sentence) that I also occasionally had to reread to grasp what was being said. It felt a little bit like I was reading a classic novel like War and Peace at times (because it turns out I was reading a classic novel, maybe somewhat like War and Peace). I wasn't expecting that kind of mental commitment when I started this book. 

At the beginning of the women's vacation in Italy, I couldn't stand half of them. I thought they were rude and ungrateful and I wanted to jump into the story and slap them. They pissed me off so much I actually commented on it on Goodreads, and I rarely post book updates while reading. The characters themselves were well written, but they were horrible people.

Overall I give this story 3.5 out of 5 stars because it was entertaining but gave me some problems while I was reading. I would definitely recommend it to classical literature fans though. - Katie 

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About the Author

Elizabeth, Countess Russell, was a British novelist and, through marriage, a member of the German nobility, known as Mary Annette Gräfin von Arnim.

Born Mary Annette Beauchamp in New Zealand while her family resided in Sydney, Australia, she was raised in England and in 1891 married Count Henning August von Arnim, a Prussian aristocrat, and the great-great-great-grandson of King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia. By this marriage she became known as Elizabeth Gräfin von Arnim.

She had met von Arnim during an Italian tour with her father. They married in London but lived in Berlin and eventually moved to the countryside where, in Nassenheide, Pomerania, the von Arnims had their family estate. The couple had five children, four daughters and a son. The children's tutors at Nassenheide included E. M. Forster and Hugh Walpole.

In 1898 she started her literary career by publishing Elizabeth and Her German Garden, a semi-autobiographical novel about a rural idyll published anonymously and, as it turned out to be highly successful, reprinted 21 times within the first year. Von Arnim wrote another 20 books, which were all published "By the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden".

Count von Arnim died in 1910, and in 1916 Elizabeth married John Francis Stanley Russell, 2nd Earl Russell, Bertrand Russell's elder brother. The marriage ended in disaster, with Elizabeth escaping to the United States and the couple finally agreeing, in 1919, to get a divorce. She also had an affair with H. G. Wells.

She was a cousin of Katherine Mansfield (whose real name was Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp).
Elizabeth von Arnim spent her old age in London, Switzerland, and on the French Riviera. When World War II broke out she permanently took up residence in the United States, where she died in 1941, aged 74.

Challenge Scorecard

I used this book to fulfill my Classic box for book bingo. 

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