It’s that time again; at least, it is for half the planet. The seasons turned and it’s spring, time of new beginnings and fresh growth. Frankly, it doesn’t feel very spring-like here at 53 degrees north, 4oC and a flurry of snow. Then hail. Then sun. Then some more snow… Still, we have had the Equinox, clocks changing, Pesach, Easter… so it is incontrovertibly here.
To celebrate, then, below are a few examples of written works that celebrate spring, transformations, and new starts in life, together with some seasonal quotations. All of the main characters emerge from spring (or “spring”) quite altered.
A Room With a View (1908) by E.M. Forster not only opens in an Italian spring, the season is an ever-present metaphor and motif. “Don’t go fighting against the spring,” warns the bohemian Mr. Emerson in the early chapters of the book. Lucy Honeychurch resists at first. Yet we see her sacrifice of middle-class respectability – along with her uptight and pretentious fiancé Cecil Vyse – for a more rewarding life in the arms of George Emerson. And “In the company of this common man the world was beautiful and direct. For the first time she felt the influence of Spring.”
In Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) by DH Lawrence, spring sees the start of another affair. As we may expect, spring symbolises sexual awakening (Freudian?), when Constance embraces a new-found sensuality, beginning when “little gusts of sunshine blew”. In the end, a literal new life is awaited, with hope of a new beginning: as “… they would have to wait till spring was in, till the baby was born, till the early summer came round again.”
Enchanted April (1922) by Elizabeth von Arnim is generally less well-known today, but a best-seller back when it was published. Another trip to Italy, this time to the Italian Riviera, and another transformative effect. This time, on on each of four female adventurers: young wives Lottie Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot, who are joined by beautiful socialite Lady Caroline and the older,formidable Mrs Fisher. Though light on plot, the descriptions of spring in Italy are languorously sensual. And all in all, “It was, that year, a particularly wonderful spring, and of all the months at San Salvatore.”
Finally, The Secret Garden (1911) by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a children’s book, but no matter. As with the above novels, it’s set in times past – like the memories of perfect childhood spring days. This time spring echoes the transformation of Mary Lennox, from sour, neglected, yet materially spoiled, horror to outward-looking and caring friend, able to see the beauty of the world around her. Alongside force of nature Dickon, they discover a garden hidden behind a wall and bring it back to life. They also discover a cousin Mary never new existed, setting both her grieving uncle and his son, the embittered Colin, on a path to a new life of their own. ‘Is the spring coming?” [Colin] said. What is it like?” [Mary] replies: “…It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
In another part of the north of England, not far from the Secret Garden’s setting, I know just what Mary means.