So many aspects turn this novel into the enchanting treasure that it is. The reader gets to travel to the magnificent San Salvatore castle in Italy and spend a marvelous, sunny April there, amidst dozens of blooming flower varieties, and with a view to the calming, azure sea. But once there, our distinctly different four heroines only outwardly seem to relax, when in fact each of them is mindfully and relentlessly re-examining her life and character.
The Italian servants are perplexed. The four ladies do not care to engage in partying, boating, or in any other activity the previous tenants have pursued. They don’t even care to socialize with each other. Far away from rainy England, our British heroines just want to be left alone, take the amazing scenery in, and think.
Then Ms. Von Armin takes it a step further. Her characters are not only the quintessential English ladies one would expect to find in England in 1922, the year the book was written, but they are also typical characters to be found today. We have the mousy and scatterbrained Mrs. Wilkins and the demure and ascetic Mrs. Arbuthnot, whose marriages are both empty and unfulfilling, their initial sparks of love has long gone out. We have the elderly Mrs. Fisher who finds value only in the persons and traditions of the past. And, we have the stunningly beautiful Lady Dester, who scorns her many suitors and takes her wealth for granted.
When these four ladies are transported from the gray skies of England to the sunny ones of Italy, they each start to bloom like the many flower buds around them. Their transformation is well-worth reading about. The honesty with which each of them examine her own soul, not resting until she finds “the benevolent starting point of youth when anything can happen and life is wonderful” is not to be missed.
Finally, Ms. Von Armin’s ties the whole novel and brings all the characters together via her idea of the basis of happiness. I’ll let you discover what that is for yourself. As for myself, I intend to re-read this wonderful book every April. The renaissance of spring has always held a special place in my heart, a celebration of life that this cherished book helps celebrate.
A word about the 1992 movie version of the novel: It is a lovely rendition and is well worth your time, but nearly none of the value of self-examination makes it through. If anything, this sweet movie shows us the tremendous value of reading over viewing. Sure, I love relaxing with a good movie, but relaxing with a great book is something altogether different.