Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Enchanted April

I recently read the book 'The Enchanted April' by Elizabeth Von Arnim, and also watched the movie starring Polly Walker and Miranda Richardson. Although the movie was well made, I think the book is an even greater delight to read.

The plot is centered on four women who rent a medeival castle in Italy for the month of April in the 1920s. Each woman, initially, wishes to be alone to contemplate, for each has her own story. There's Lotty Wilkins, who is married to a mercenary solicitor called Mellersh Wilkins; Rose Arbuthnot seeks comfort in religion after a failed marriage to Frederick Arbuthnot, an author of salacious memoirs that she is embarassed to read; young Lady Caroline Dester wants to escape high society and its adoration of her; and old Mrs. Fisher wishes to think back to her childhood in the nineteenth-century when things were more refined and proper. Through the course of the month, the women open up, learn a little bit more about each other, and grow a little closer.

While I was initially attracted to this book because of the spine of the plot: four women stranded in one place, I wasn't entirely happy with the book.

My main problem with this book is the crux of the story. While the women do change, I feel that they do so primarily because of men. Though they go to the Castle to get away from men, it seemed to me that they needed the men to put their lives back in order. Hence, this is the main reason it loses its feminist stance. True, it is probably feminist for its time, considering it was written in the 1920, but as a 21st century reader, I find the book a little problematic.

Lotty and Rose make up with their husbands. Lady Caroline probably marries Mr. Briggs, and Mrs. Fisher is too old to get a man herself, and there's no hint that she will end up with one. Ironically, perhaps this is the book's message: get back with your menfolk and change them by taking them to an 'enchanted' castle, and you may only remain single and retain your independence if you are old like Mrs. Fisher. Perhaps that is the time to be really happy: Mrs. Fisher is the only one who is not attached to a man. And so, the transformation that she undergoes will have a greater efffect on her and for a longer period.

The ending isn't conclusive. Lotty and Mellersh get togther and the latter pays his wife more attention, certainly, but his motivation is entirely different: He only praises her because she got him close to a rich client, Lady Caroline. So though Lotty thinks he is in love with her, his motivations are different. So we do not know how they will live once they get back to their home in England, whether they will maintain a good relationship or whether Mellersh will go back to his old self.

Rose and Frederick make up at the Castle, but Rose has no idea that Frederick was besotted with Lady Caroline and was probably in love with her. What will happen if Rose finds out? Will she have the same feelings for him? Will she be friends with Lady Caroline? Does Frederick have more feelings for Lady Caroline?
Lady Caroline and Mr. Briggs form a pair. However, what becomes of all that thinking that she did in the Castle? She had asked difficult questions of herself and tried to figure out her place in the world. What happens when she marries Mr. Briggs? Would she lose her independence of thought and instead succumb to being a frumpy housewife?

What is interesting is that it is the entrance of Mellersh, Frederick, and Mr. Briggs that catalyses the change in the women. The women, without the men, have been distant from each other, and have not attempted to grow close to each other. They probably have not even desired it. But the sudden arrival of the men changes that. I definitely wanted to see more of what would have happened without any men in the castle. In short, I wanted to see more of women's relationships with each other in the absence of men.

Nevertheless, I maintain that 'The Enchanted April' is a good read, and certainly better than many books in this genre. It's thought provoking in its own way, and its a gem for its humor.

Berkeley Square

I recently watched this drama, and I can't say how much I LOVE it! There was a total of 10 episodes and it's a real shame the producers didn't make more! For this is one drama you need to see a sequel for. It's quite mysterious, really, and I can't find any answers on the internet as to why further episodes were not made. There was no evidence to suggest that the series did poorly the first time around. Almost all the reviewers have praised it so far, and my hunch is it wouldn't have been very different back then. For indeed, the series was released in 1998!

A brief introduction is as follows: the series follows the lives of three young nannies during the turn of the century London. The nannies are employed in Berkeley Square, and work fairly close to each other. Matty--also called Nanny Wickam--is an East End girl, prim and proper at first but who learns to loosen up as the series progresses. Hannah Randall, is an Irish maid who has an illegitimate child and is forced to find work after the child's father tragically dies. Lydia Weston is a simple country girl, who has been raised with country manners, and who learns that affairs are conduced very differently in London. Though the three nannies's lives revolve around their charges, we see other facets of their lives as well. For example, we see the difficulties of working conditions in London, the transition from country to town, and the hypocricy of morality. An interesting component of this series is that it shows people of different social classes (such as the nannies' employers), ages, and genders. and their desires and travails.

I am writing this entry because I wish to articulate my feelings about the ending of the series. A lot happens in episode 10. Ned is sent to Somalia, leaving Matty alone but hopeful of a reunion in a few months' time; Bertie lies to the police about Billy allowing Hannah to keep Billy but also, as a result, sending Mrs. Brunowski to be hanged; Nanny Simmons sees Hannah with Billy; Lydia makes up with Mr. Fowler and they seem to have a promising start; Mrs. St. John finds out she is expecting and is on the verge of taking a drastic action; Isabel Hutchinson is to be married to Captain Mason despite his liaison with Mrs. St. John; Jack does not tell Lydia that he fought for her honor; the Lamson-Scribners might make up with Hugh, and tons more possibilities and hints. I've made up some parts of the continuing story, but I'd love to have seen an actual sequel. I wouldn't mind even if they did a series now...after all, it's been 10 years, and I am sure the actresses haven't aged that much. The children might have, and that's fine, though I'd miss little soulful-looking Bertie, and cheeky Harriet. I looked up some pictures of the actresses now, and they really don't look aged. For example, Hermione Norris, who plays Mrs. St. John, looks decent and only a tad aged, but she is 40, after all.

Anyway, I feel better having written this entry. I think it'll help me learn to let it go.

P.S. I know it's been ages since I've written last. It's been a whirlwind since then, really. However, I've written now and that's what counts.