Wisteria And Sunshine: One Enchanted Italian April
Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April opens with misery — not catastrophic, but ordinary: cold rain, sodden clothes, unhappy relationships, constricted life. It’s so vivid you can almost feel your nose running and hear the squelching of your ruined shoes. Miserable March, it might be called, and we’ve all been there.
No wonder, then, that the book’s heroines find themselves bewitched by an Italian castle they see advertised. It’s open for the month of April, and the notice promises “Wistaria [sic] and Sunshine.” The book tells the story of how they arrive at this heaven, San Salvatore, and how their lives are changed by the month they spend there.
It’s a wisp of a premise, but von Arnim’s brilliant writing transforms it into something much more — a satire on post-WWI British society, a sardonic rumination on human foibles, and a tale of women coming into their own. And most impressive of all, she makes it look effortless.
The four main characters are precisely and humorously drawn: Lotty begins as a quivering rabbit of a woman, who always seems to say and wear the wrong thing, and lives in awe of her booming, lawyer husband. Religious Rose has spent her whole life in service to the poor, trying to atone for the money her husband makes writing books about sex scandals.