Monday, January 3, 2011
We stumble upon the nearly invisible Mrs. Wilkins in her club on a dreary afternoon, little suspecting how the wisteria and the Mediterranean sunshine will transform her, giving her substance and glow.
Just the hint of wisteria in a newspaper ad is enough to begin the metamorphosis, and our Mrs. Wilkins gathers an unlikely combination of roommates for her impulsive vacation: Mrs. Arbuthnot, the efficient and sad church lady with a penchant for classifying the poor; Mrs. Fisher, a woman of respectability, memories and her own importance; and Lady Caroline, the beautiful and rather selfish blue blood of the group. Ah, you see how easy it is to slide each woman quickly into her proper envelope!
Yet somehow Lotty fails to see the obvious envelopes, first because her sense of her own awkwardness blinds her and then because the flowers of San Salvatore impose their beauty on everything she sees. Lotty expects heaven and therefore finds her paradise in the gardens and people around her. Though she does not realize it, that, more than the sunshine and wisteria, makes up the infectious magic of San Salvatore.
I think perhaps Lotty's expectation of beauty and her willingness to allow those around her to transform against the odds are the qualities that have set me pondering this week. Whether it's Lotty's faith in individuals, the magic of San Salvatore, or simply a delicious and unexpected reality of life, the characters in the novel do melt and soften and blossom, bursting out of the cubbyholes fashioned for them by the reader and by the characters themselves.
I find the scent of lilies and roses wafting into my own wintry week, and I begin to wonder if the expectation of beauty can hold the same power outside of fiction, away from garden paths and the flowering Judas tree. One could rightly call Lotty naive and warn of the dangers of blindly expecting goodness, but sometimes I find that a little naivete and a spritz of danger enhance loveliness. More often than not, we find what we expect to find in life, in our spouses, in the day that waits just outside our bedroom door.
Looking ahead to the next few weeks of winter, I propose to jump straight into lilies and expectations of sunshine. Why not? April and San Salvatore have plenty of enchantment to share with a prairie winter and soul ready to be delighted.