Uncategorized

The symbolism of the seasons in literature, with four brilliant examples

Spring is my favourite season, and this month we have the perfect topic to discuss in our authors’ Round Robin;

round robin, helena fairfax, freelance editor

Does the season ever play a part in your setting? How do you think seasons affect setting and plot, either physically or metaphorically?

The seasons definitely play a part in my own novels, but before I say how, here are four examples of how they are used to brilliant effect by classic writers.

Spring
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr Tumnus, the faun, says:

‘It is winter in Narnia and has been for ever so long… always winter, but never Christmas.’

Winter here is symbolic of the power of evil and the witch’s reign. I still remember reading this book as a child and the children’s wonder at the end, when the snow finally begins to melt and the first green shoots appear. Good has prevailed and spring comes to Narnia at last!

Summer

For summer I’ve chosen Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, one of my favourite poems.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
     So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

The final line of this poem always moves me. Shakespeare’s love is greater even than a perfect summer’s day, which is ‘all too short’. So long as men can breathe, his loved one will continue to live within the lines of the poem he has written for her.

Autumn
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The seasons play a major role in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It’s spring at the beginning of the novel, and Nick Caraway is at ease with the wealthy people he meets, describing one scene as ‘warm and soft, almost pastoral’. As summer progresses, the heat intensifies and tensions start to rise.

Gatsby dies in the swimming pool in the first few days of autumn. The gardener had wanted to drain the pool, because he was worried about it filling with falling leaves.

By the time autumn is under way, Nick’s warmth of feeling has begun to die away, and his dreams wither. Disillusion and cynicism have set in.

Winter
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Just as in the Narnia stories, Dickens uses winter to symbolise bad things in his A Christmas Carol. Here’s how he describes Ebenezer Scrooge:

‘The cold within him froze his own features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait… A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and on his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.’

I love the idea of Scrooge’s office being permanently chilly, even in the summer. (I once had a boss like that :) )

*

Winter also means Christmas, and I love the build up to Christmas Day. Even though it’s only spring now, I’m working on a Christmas story for the sequel to our anthology Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings. It’s a story about how arguments are forgotten and the most unlikely people come together. Winter can be a time of hope, just as much as spring.

I’ve written a post previously on pathetic fallacy, and how I love using the weather and the seasons as helena fairfax fiction set in hotelssymbols in my own writing.

My novel Felicity at the Cross Hotel is set in the Lake District, where the weather is notoriously fickle. Patrick’s best friend dies on the day of a freak storm, and his life is changed forever. The novel begins with Felicity’s arrival in the Lakes, and the first line is symbolic: ‘At last it had stopped raining.’ Her arrival signals a new start for Patrick and his hotel.

In Penny’s Antique Shop of Memories and Treasures, Penny and Kurt are both in a metaphorical winter in their own ways. When they take a walk together London’s Richmond Park, the first crocuses are out. Spring is on its way for them both!

And it’s not just with the seasons that I enjoy playing with symbolism. The name Felicity is symbolic, and so is the ‘Cross’ Hotel, which is a place of unhappiness until Felicity arrives. Kurt is Kurt by name and curt by nature.

And so you see, a topic on symbolism and metaphor is right up my street! I’ve very much enjoyed this month’s Round Robin, which was organised by author Robin Courtright.

***

 Do you have any favourite examples of how the seasons are used in films or literature? If so, I’d love to hear them!

And if you’d like to read the other authors’ take on this topic, please click on the links below.

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Dr Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1A3 
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com

14 thoughts on “The symbolism of the seasons in literature, with four brilliant examples

  1. The only things that occur to me are John Sandiman (John Macnab)’s moment of clarity atop the Quirang on Skye at New Year when he decides to take on Macnab’s mantle and steal the Book of Deer; and my own biographical memory of exchanging a Partick becalmed in winter for the palm trees of Hollywood and a meeting with Miss Landau on Sunset Boulevard.

    Both were pretty magical, but both were based on my actual experiences. I think a good writer will use every part of the scene he or she can (dialogue, setting, weather) to draw the most meaning and subtext possible from it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like what you say about a good writer using every part of the scene he or she can. And I hadn’t noticed the symbolism of you leaving a frozen Scotland for the balmy West Coast to meet Juliet Landau in Dear Miss Landau. I love it!
      Thanks for dropping in, and for your great comment!

      Like

  2. Thank you for a fabulous blog today. Your examples are wonderful. I do use seasons in my writing but not with the same depth of subtle meaning. Another layer to add to my writing. Thank you.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment, Susan. I had great fun choosing the examples for this blog. There were many more I could have mentioned, but these are some of my favourites. I’m so glad you found the post useful. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so true about our readers having experienced these things, Rhobin. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but of course everyone has experience of the changing seasons and can relate to the metaphor.
      Thanks for organising another great topic!

      Like

    1. I haven’t read any of Catherine Fox’s novels. I’ve enjoyed checking them out on Amazon. I see Acts and Omissions has a snowy cover and begins in January. It seems the perfect example. Thanks very much for the recommendation. I’ve downloaded a copy to read!

      Like

  3. Hey, Helena. Wow! Another powerful post. Because I write very much in the current day, the seasons are very important to my stories. However, I’m a literal person, and the symbolism just gets past me. I certainly don’t intentionally layer it in, and truth be told, I often miss it in others’ books. LOL I get it when it’s pointed out as you so beautifully have done in this post, but yeah, most of the time, it goes over my head. Might be something I try to work on when I start the next book. I’ve shared. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your comment, Marsha, and thanks so much for sharing the post. If you do introduce symbolism into your next book, I’d love to know how and in what way exactly. As you can tell from my post, I love symbolism of all kinds :) Thanks for dropping in!

    Like

  5. Thank you for Shakespeare’s Sonnet–it brought back wonderful times I spent in a college class dissecting his sonnets. So deep and meaningful. I wish I knew where my book of sonnets was, but that class was so long ago and lost after many years of re-locating. I’ll find them on the web, I’m sure.
    Yes,I do use the seasons to add to the tone and setting of a story. I don’t know why, but when I begin a story, I always know the weather that will help set the mood. Thanks for making us aware of the seasons in literature.
    JQ Rose

    Like

    1. Hi JQ, writing this post reminded me how much I love this sonnet. I’d love a book of the whole collection.
      That’s interesting you always know the weather when you begin a story. I didn’t with my first novel, but now I’m much more conscious of it, and it plays a big part in my wip.
      Thanks very much for dropping in. I’m glad my post brought back such great memories!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.