Reading. von Arnim.
I woke to find that it had snowed in the night and that even now flakes are falling softly. The temptation is to spend the day inside curled up on the sofa, but I need lunch and I have a present to buy, so I find myself driving cautiously down the hill towards downtown. At lunch the light seems dimmer; the warm glow of the lamps is not quite enough to dispel the chill greyness of the streets outside. But from my seat overlooking the atrium I can see the twinkling lights that are twisted through the bare branches of the trees outside, and there is warm soup, a hot sandwich. And The Enchanted April.
In the darkness of winter I always turn to The Enchanted April as the promise of spring to come. On a dismal February day, wet and cold and gray, Lottie Wilkins comes across an advertisment in The Times which ran thusly: To Those who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine. Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let...The lure of wistaria and sunshine leads her to lean towards another woman sitting nearby, and to ask if she had read that advertisment as well. It is only the promise of a holiday in the warmth and sunshine of a faraway place, away from the cold misery of a London winter, but what happens is beyond what either of them could ever have imagined.
The four women who gather at the mediaeval castle of San Salvatore are all escaping their London lives - Lottie overshadowed by her brilliant, popular husband Mellersh, Rose withdrawn from her flamboyant husband Frederick, burying herself in her work with the local poor, Mrs. Fisher alone with her memories of the famous writers of her long-ago youth, and Lady Caroline surrounded by those who flock to her for her beauty and wealth, never seeing the real person beneath. In the golden light of San Salvatore, amongst the gardens filled with flowers, they are all transformed. And it all begins by chance, by a chance glimpse of a newspaper advertisement, by an impulsive question asked of a near stranger.
In the seductive beauty of an Italian spring Lottie is joined by her husband Mellersh, who is as much transformed by his surroundings as his wife, Rose and Frederick find their way back to each other, Mrs. Fisher learns to open herself to her new friends, and Caroline finally discovers what it really feels like to love and be loved, for more than her surface beauty and her family's wealth and social position, when she meets Mr. Briggs, the owner of San Salvatore. In one short month all their lives change as the days slip by and the blossoms fall from the trees.
I have never spent a month in Italy, but reading The Enchanted April is almost as good as being there, almost as wonderful as lounging in the shade of cypresses with the scent of flowers all around you and the view of a bay and distant mountains spread before your feet. In the darkness of winter it is a moment of spring, bringing all the color and warmth around you like a soft shawl.