Two years ago, as autumn was coming to an end, I wrote a column about winter scenes in literature. That was back when I blogged about books for The Huffington Post or The Huffington Kellogg’s or whatever that site is called when you visit it while eating breakfast cereal.
As winter approaches again, I thought I would write another weather-related literature piece, only this time expand it to all four seasons in order to not repeat myself. Myself, myself, myself. Okay, I just repeated “myself.”
Anyway, weather can add to a fictional work’s drama, be a plot device, test the courage or cowardice of characters, reflect their moods, serve as symbols or omens of what is happening or will happen in a story, or even get a book or your Kindle device soaking wet. That wetness, of course, symbolizes the need to hold your water glass more tightly while reading.
I’m finally reading Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and weather is an element in that fabulous first installment of the “Millennium” trilogy featuring the impressive computer hacker/”punk prodigy” Lisbeth Salander. In the novel, Stockholm-based financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist loses a libel case after being set up when doing a story about a nasty industrialist, and then moves to a small town after being offered an unexpected one-year assignment. Blomkvist is a bit bitter about his legal comeuppance, and the bitter cold of the small town sort of symbolizes that. To misquote Freud, sometimes an icicle is more than an icicle.
Crime and Punishment‘s impoverished Raskolnikov, who lives in a bare-bones room in St. Petersburg, often shivers from that Russian city’s frigid weather. But his shivering is also a manifestation of exhaustion, confusion, pangs of conscience, and fear of being caught/desire to be caught for the murders he committed. Why did Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s protagonist kill? It wasn’t just…in cold blood.
There’s a mix of temperatures in J.M.G. Le Clezio’s Desert, as exemplified by this line: “The wind blew relentlessly, the desert wind, hot in the daytime, cold at night.” The intense heat creates a mesmerizing, lethargic, almost hopeless mood in the novel — and the temperature extremes echo Desert‘s counterpoints: its juxtaposition between plot lines in the distant and more recent past, and the contrast between protagonist Lalla’s life in Morocco and France. One more juxtaposition: The hot-titled Desert helped Le Clezio win a Nobel Prize he accepted in chilly Stockholm (where he didn’t meet Mikael Blomkvist. 🙂 ).
Heat is also a palpable presence in Geraldine Brooks’ March, in which the father of Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women leaves New England to be a minister for Union troops on the southern front lines of the Civil War. The much warmer climate and the fever March suffers when he becomes desperately ill make heat a literal and figurative representation of his misery. Say it ain’t so, Jo. 😦
In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the heat at one point is described as “unbearable” — which could also describe the horrors and tribulations that novel’s African-American characters have to face before and after the aforementioned Civil War. That was long before the U.S. became a post-racial society…um…the U.S. never really became a post-racial society — as the unindicted police killing of Eric Garner illustrates.
The drenching precipitation toward the end of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is yet another “when it rains it pours” moment for a determined but beleaguered Joad family that can’t catch a break. The epic flood that concludes George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss is the only way incompatible siblings Maggie and Tom Tulliver can (tragically) reconcile (due to Maggie’s heroic efforts). The dramatic storm in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre occurs just after the two protagonists declare their love — and doesn’t bode well when a tree is split by a lightning bolt. From Lowood to lowered wood. 😦
In L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the tornado is a major plot enabler that sends Dorothy on a course to the Land of Oz. “A course of a different color” in the famous film version of Baum’s book.
Climate change, which of course includes weather change, devastatingly affects the migratory patterns of monarch butterflies in Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, which is not about the way stressed airline passengers act.
On a more positive note, David Lodge’s Paradise News is about a British man traveling from crummy-weather England to gorgeous-weather Hawaii, where his life improves as much as the climate. Aloha to loneliness and all that.
And last but not least, in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Anne’s deep enjoyment of autumn and spring illustrates the enthusiastic nature of her personality and the gratitude she feels for being in a lovely rural area after life in a drab orphanage. But her new mother Marilla initially has a personality that’s rather…wintry.
What are some of your favorite fictional works in which weather is a significant factor?
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— For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here. I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.