Grand Tours: The Caress of an Italian April ; Great Writers and Their Adventures in Literature. This Week, Elizabeth Von Arnim and a Hotel to Die For

The Independent (London, England), April 28, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Grand Tours: The Caress of an Italian April ; Great Writers and Their Adventures in Literature. This Week, Elizabeth Von Arnim and a Hotel to Die For


Elizabeth von Arnim was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1866 and was acknowledged during her lifetime as one of the wittiest women in England. Her connections were impressive: she was a cousin of Katherine Mansfield, mistress of H G Wells, and sister-in-law of Bertrand Russell. Elizabeth was a pseudonym - her maiden name was Mary Annette Beauchamp. In 1890 she married Count Henning von Arnim and went to live in Germany, where she wrote her first novel, `Elizabeth and Her German Garden'. Von Arnim died in 1910 and Elizabeth married the second Earl Russell in 1916, though it was not a happy marriage. She went on to write three more novels of which `The Enchanted April', from which this extract is taken, is one.

F F F

Mrs Wilkins lay with her arms clasped round her head thinking how happy she was, her lips curved upwards in a delighted smile. In bed by herself: adorable condition. She had not been in bed without Mellersh once now for five whole years; and the cool roominess of it, the freedom of one's movements, the sense of recklessness, of audacity, in giving the blankets a pull if one wanted to, or twitching the pillows more comfortable! It was like the discovery of an entirely new joy.

Mrs Wilkins longed to get up and open the shutters, but where she was was really so very delicious. She gave a sigh of contentment, and went on lying there looking round her, taking in everything in her room, her own little room, her very own to arrange just as she pleased for this one blessed month, her room bought with her own savings, the fruit of her careful denials, whose door she could bolt if she wanted to, and nobody had the right to come in. It was such a strange little room, so different from any she had known, and so sweet. It was like a cell. Except for the two beds, it suggested a happy austerity. "And the name of the chamber," she thought, quoting and smiling round at it, "was Peace."

Well, this was delicious, to lie there thinking how happy she was, but outside those shutters it was more delicious still. She jumped up, pulled on her slippers, for there was nothing on the stone floor but one small rug, ran to the window and threw open the shutters.

"Oh!" cried Mrs. Wilkins.

All the radiance of April in Italy lay gathered together at her feet. The sun poured in on her. The sea lay asleep in it, hardly stirring. Across the bay the lovely mountains, exquisitely different in colour, were asleep too in the light; and underneath her window, at the bottom of the flower- starred grass slope from which the wall of the castle rose up, was a great cypress, cutting through the delicate blues and violets and rose-colours of the mountains and the sea like a great black sword.

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