Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reading For a Too-Sudden Spring: The Enchanted April

It's May as I write this, and the dust of this drought-stricken state is already rising in little puffs about my feet as I walk my dog along the parched canal.  When breaking out the shorts and the sunblock, it seems wise to cherish what has already been: The most beautiful April in recent memory.  Everything came into flower at once at my house--the crab apple trees shown in the picture at left, the plum trees out back, the lilac and the tiny white stars of red-twig dogwood.  Unusually for Colorado, no sudden fall of snow struck spring dumb.  The kindness of the season has an ominous undertone--we all know that it's not normal, but as my younger son observed just last night, "It's hard to view sunny days as a natural disaster."  His tone seemed to imply that if anybody could do so, however, it would be his mother.

He reminded me, in those few words, of a character straight out of Elizabeth Von Arnim.  Just so did she  skewer her most lovable people--with a comment that revealed far too much of their souls.

She's an author most people no longer recognize, although some would recall the 1992 movie made from her best-known book, The Enchanted April.  I sat through it in a dream of sun-kissed scent, but I'm not going to talk about the movie here--the book is so much more rewarding in its acute celebration of human foibles, human hope, and the terribly human need to be loved.  The time is the early 1920s; the subject is the dreariness of post-war England and the compulsion to escape; and the alternative is a remote and lovely castle on the Italian coast.  Von Arnim sends four women of varying ages and degrees of personal desperation there for a month.  Having got them under her writer's eye, she turns each of them inside-out, with a delicacy and finesse unequaled since Jane Austen.

If summer arrived too soon in your town, too, this year--try The Enchanted April.  Short of buying a ticket on impulse for Portofino, it's the most delicious escape I know.


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