The Warmth of the Sun

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It is a cold blustery day in Nashville. It makes me long for the warmth of the sun.

One of my favorite movies of all times is Enchanted April (1992). Four women—Lady Caroline (Polly Walker), Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright), Rose (Miranda Richardson) and Lotty (Josie Lawrence)—escape dreary, rainy London for a holiday in a seaside Italian castle named San Salvatore. Rose and Lotty arrive at the villa late at night after a long and scary journey. The next morning—and this is the moment I love—each woman walks to the window of her bedroom, throws open the shutters, and is engulfed in a flood of glorious sunlight.

The sun-drenched gardens, the wisteria, the ocean enchant the women. Although they begin the trip as strangers, the experience changes their lives.

I recently discovered that the movie is based on a book: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim (NYRB, 2007).  First published in 1922, the recent edition has an excellent introduction by Cathleen Schine. Von Arnim was a popular Edwardian author. She lived an interesting and varied life, marrying twice: once to a German count who owned an eight-thousand-acre estate in Pomerania; and later, unhappily, to the brother of Bertrand Russell. The setting of The Enchanted April is based on a Portofino castello that Von Arnim and friends rented in 1921.

It is a beautifully written little book. The opening scene between awkward Lotty Wilkins and dutiful Rose Arbuthnot is delightful. They meet by chance “in a woman’s club in London on a February afternoon–an uncomfortable club, and a miserable afternoon–” where each has noticed an advertisement in The Times for “Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.” Von Arnim is a witty writer. There are many scenes in the book that are humorous, for example, the description of Lottie’s relationship with her overbearing husband, and Mr. Arbuthnot’s confusion when he reaches San Salvatore.

The movie captured the beauty and loving spirit of the book. I did notice a couple of differences between the two. I leave it up to you to discover them. My local library has copies of both the movie and the book.

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