Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Enchanting April

As poetry month is April, I want to share a little of one of my all-time favourite books, Elizabeth Von Arnim's Enchanted April. It's an exquisite book (and reissued by Virago, for we Virago fans) and one that I've read numerous times. The movie was one of those exquisitely balanced screenplays, following the book closely, and perfectly cast -- some of my subsequent favourite actors were in it. Von Arnim had a gentle sense of humour in this book, and I especially love the character of Lottie (pictured on the book cover here).There's a section near the beginning when Lottie (Mrs. Wilkins) and Rose (Mrs. Arbuthnot) are interviewing another lady as to her suitability for joining them in their rental of an Italian villa for the month of April. Mrs. Fisher is a respectable widow, and:

"she seemed to be absorbed chiefly in the interesting people she used to know and in their memorial photographs, and quite a good part of the interview was taken up by reminiscent anecdote of Carlyle, Meredith, Matthew Arnold, Tennyson, and a host of others–her very abstractedness was a recommendation. She only asked, she said, to be allowed to sit quiet in the sun and remember. That was all Mrs. Arbuthnot and Mrs. Wilkins asked of their sharers. It was their idea of a perfect sharer that she should sit quiet in the sun and remember, rousing herself on Saturday evenings sufficiently to pay her share. Mrs. Fisher was very fond, too, she said, of flowers, and once when she was spending a week-end with her father at Box Hill–

"Who lived at Box Hill?" interrupted Mrs. Wilkins, who hung on Mrs. Fisher's reminiscences, intensely excited by meeting somebody who had actually been familiar with all the really and truly and undoubtedly great–actually seen them, heard them talking, touched them.

Mrs. Fisher looked at her over the top of her glasses in some surprise. Mrs. Wilkins, in her eagerness to tear the heart out quickly of Mrs. Fisher's reminiscences, afraid that at any moment Mrs. Arbuthnot would take her away and she wouldn't have heard half, had already interrupted several times with questions which appeared ignorant to Mrs. Fisher.

"Meredith of course," said Mrs. Fisher rather shortly. "I remember a particular week-end"–she continued. "My father often took me, but I always remember this week-end particularly–"

"Did you know Keats?" eagerly interrupted Mrs. Wilkins.

Mrs. Fisher, after a pause, said with sub-acid reserve that she had been unacquainted with both Keats and Shakespeare.

"Oh of course–how ridiculous of me!" cried Mrs. Wilkins, flushing scarlet. "It's because"–she floundered–"it's because the immortals somehow still seem alive, don't they–as if they were here, going to walk into the room in another minute–and one forgets they are dead. In fact one knows perfectly well they're not dead–not nearly so dead as you and I even now," she assured Mrs. Fisher, who observed her over the top of her glasses.

"I thought I saw Keats the other day," Mrs. Wilkins incoherently proceeded, driven on by Mrs. Fisher's look over the top of her glasses. "In Hampstead– crossing the road in front of that house–you know–the house where he lived–"

Mrs. Arbuthnot said they must be going.

Mrs. Fisher did nothing to prevent them.

"I really thought I saw him," protested Mrs. Wilkins, appealing for belief first to one and then to the other while waves of colour passed over her face, and totally unable to stop because of Mrs. Fisher's glasses and the steady eyes looking at her over their tops. "I believe I did see him–he was dressed in a–"

Even Mrs. Arbuthnot looked at her now, and in her gentlest voice said they
would be late for lunch.

It was at this point that Mrs. Fisher asked for references.

To celebrate the wonderful loopiness that is Lottie, I'll just share a quick poem by Keats for our delectation -- perhaps Mrs. Fisher would have been familiar with it!
The Human Seasons
Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
Spring’s honey’d cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness - to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
Or else he would forego his mortal nature.
December 30, 1816.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the book Enchanted April and the movie. And you're right about the casting, wasn't it brilliant? I think I might have to reread the book in honor of this lovely April...thanks!


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