First published 1905. Here is a selection of covers...I like the castle:
Elizabeth von Arnim is rather noted for the enchantingness of her books. Elizabeth and Her German Garden is one that stays with you despite its overtones of unhappiness - for the protagonist and, by implication, the author - in the writing, and Enchanted April is just beguiling. At the start, Princess Priscilla has a fairytale quality. It reminded me, with its middle European setting, of Thackeray's The Rose and the Ring, or Andrew Lang's varicoloured Fairy Books. Lothen-Kunitz is in the fairytale heart of Europe - not the lands of great forests and lakes, but a soft, flower-filled haven where no one is ever unhappy. Or, at least, that ought to be the case, but Princess Priscilla is deeply unsatisfied. The youngest of three sisters, she's received a better education than princesses usually have. This isn't intentional - her father thinks she's studying the ladylike accomplishments of music and drawing, but his librarian, Fritzing, adores young Priscilla and her reading list is more appropriate for a young prince, a person for whom action will be paired with study. So it's not exactly surprising when her life of luxury and inaction begins to pall. When her father announces that it's time for her to marry an entirely suitable prince, a cousin from a neighbouring kingdom, she decides that she will put up with it no longer and instructs Fritzing, who can deny her nothing, to set in train her plans for running away.
Posing as uncle and niece, the pair flee to England, whose virtues Fritzing has extolled to his pupil. Here they will take up the simple life, in a country cottage. Unfortunately, neither is suited to such an existence - Fritzing's experience of the English countryside is of getting himself around as a single and comfortably-off young man on a walking tour - and their descent on the Somerset village of Stymford rapidly becomes little short of disastrous.
From the start the reader can see that it's very unlikely to work out - Priscilla hasn't the knack of relating to people on an ordinary level and she deals with her new acquaintances with a combination of warmth and imperiousness which makes both friends and enemies. The most implacable of the latter is Mrs Morrison, the vicar's wife, who thinks she's a designing hussy. Mrs Morrison's son Robin, on the other hand, falls instantly in love, as does the young lord of the manor. Confusion ensues, especially as Priscilla and Fritzing have forgotten to agree some of the most basic elements of their story, such as their pseudonames.
Von Arnim's style is chatty and discursive, an ever-present authorial voice observing, interpreting and even disapproving. "I shall chronicle," she says, "and not comment. I shall try to, that is, for comments are very dear to me." And she embarks on a fresh paragraph of moralising. Later she says, "And now I come to a part of my story that I would much rather not write." Priscilla is the erring child of her heart.
My borrowed, 1905 copy of Princess Priscilla came from the deepest vaults of the library service, it seemed, a first edition purchased in 1949 as part of a gift to commemorate the end of the war, since when it has been loaned out a total of 12 times. It's in good condition for a book more than 100 years old, and it seems rather sad that it probably hasn't seen daylight for more of the last 50 (someone did borrow it in 2009). I'm amazed that it hasn't gone the way of most of the older books in the library system, and can only suppose that being a bequest saved it. It's exactly the sort of thing I pounced on in my local library when I was growing up, and I'm sorry that it's so obviously a casualty of the compulsion to restock the shelves regularly with chick lit and thrillers and only emerges when someone takes the trouble to trawl the catalogue looking for antiques. Because it's worth reading, and not only as a curiosity - it's witty and diverting and has something to say - lightly, charmingly - about impossible quests and the follies of youth and age. Ardent princesses and old men in ivory towers take note!