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My Inner Anthology: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Written by Rachael Norris, 18th November 2020

Kate Weston, Manchester Hub Leader for The Reader, shares today's recommendaion The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von ArnimThe theme for our daily readings in November is 'Light in the Dark' download the calendar here.

November is a difficult month for many of us, even at the best of times. As the dark days descend, summoning up any feelings of joy can seem almost impossible, and yet I feel that there are always glimmers of light on the horizon, in some way, shape, or form. As someone who has Seasonal Affective Disorder, I find that this often takes the shape of dreaming of the renewed energy I will have in the springtime and of all the wonderful, flower-strewn places I will visit, once the sunshine returns...

It might come as no surprise that a book about four women holidaying in a medieval Italian castle in April is my choice for November’s theme of ‘Light in the Dark’. Besides taking us on a journey to beautiful Mediterranean shores of ‘wisteria and sunshine’, The Enchanted April explores the inner lives of four quite different women – all strangers to each other at the start of the novel, all unhappy in their own way – and the changing relationships between them as their month together progresses.

Away from the routines and pressures of their normal lives, it is heartening to see how the women seem to shift into new ways of thinking and being, inspired by the beauty of their surroundings and each other - in particular, the wisdom and empathy of Mrs Wilkins, whose claims that she can ‘see inside’ people initially cause her to be regarded with some wariness. Over the course of the book, even the most rigid among them unfurls as perceptions and preconceptions about themselves, their relationships with their loved ones, and each other begin to dissolve. Whilst the way that the women are often referred to by their married or titled names (Mrs Fisher, Mrs Arbuthnot, Lady Caroline) might be slightly jarring to today’s readers, it naturally led me to the question: who are we as individuals, outside of our relationship to others?

I think this is a question that many of us, men and women, still ask ourselves now. Sadly, we can’t all escape to another country for a month in order to answer it, but the novel certainly reminds me of the importance of prioritising our own wellbeing in whatever small ways we can; taking the time to reconnect to ourselves and embrace nature in order to better understand our thoughts/actions and one another. In a year that has been far from rosy, this notion of self-care, along with ideas about moving outside of our comfort zones and echo chambers to listen to people with different perspectives, really does feel more important than ever.

I must admit, when I finished reading this book, I felt so happy that I hugged it. Despite being written almost a century ago, I know that The Enchanted April will continue to speak to me - and guide me in the art of slowing down and living well - for some time.

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