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A discreet advertisement in ‘The Times’, addressed to ‘Those who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine…’ is the impetus for a revelatory month for four very different women. High above the bay on the Italian Riviera stands San Salvatore, a medieval castle. Beckoned to this haven are Mrs. Wilkins, Mrs Arbuthnot, Mrs Fisher and Lady Caroline Dester, each quietly craving a respite. Lulled by the Mediterranean spirit, they gradually shed their skins and discover a harmony each of them has longed for but never known. First published in 1922 and reminiscent of ‘Elizabeth and her German Garden’, this delightful novel is imbued with the descriptive power and light-hearted irreverence for which Elizabeth von Arnin is renowned.
Having joined the Librarything virago group several months ago – which reignited an old obsession – I kept hearing about the utter marvelousness of Elizabeth Von Arnim, an author I had never read. Although I would dearly love to collect beautiful green Virago Modern Classics editions of her books – I discovered they are available free on kindle – via sites such as manybooks.net or girlebooks. So I downloaded 4! This is the first of them I have read.
Oh my what a treat, I started this while in hospital a few hours after undergoing minor surgery, and finished it at home – and it was perfect reading for being laid up with. It is probably perfect reading for almost anytime. Four women who are little more than strangers to one another, and who are not, to begin with, entirely comfortable with one another, share a castle on the Italian riviera for the month of April. In sight of the sea and surrounded by flowers, their holiday in San Salvatore begins to work its magic on them all.
Lottie and Rose who first conceive the plan to escape to Italy are only slightly acquainted – both hail from Hamstead, both married, though each have problems in their marriages they wish to both escape and at the same time resolve. Their husbands – not at all sympathetically portrayed at the start – are changed too by the magic of San Salvatore. Mrs Fisher a much older widowed lady lives very much in the past, is not much given to frivolity, and is the most difficult of the group. Lady Caroline a famous beauty is tired of being starred at, grasped at and wants to be left alone. How a few weeks in beautiful surroundings serve to change these four different women is charmingly told. The characters of Rose and Lottie are especially well developed, and the descriptions of their marriages, and their feelings about them were well explored and added some depth to the novel. Even Mrs Fisher who to begin with seems a much less sympathetic character is depicted with honest affection and understanding. I loved every bit of this novel, and it ended too soon – always a good sign – and I look forward to reading more Elizabeth Von Arnim.