Andrea here . . . Today I’m musing about the weather. What with all the recent climate catastrophes around the globe, it’s made me focus on how much I take for granted that whatever the day brings—rain, shine, cold or heat—it’s usually merely a minor nuisance or one of those welcome small pleasure, not something that has a profound impact on my life. Modern life, with its astounding array of ways to avoid the inconvenience of bad weather, makes it easy to forget what an awesome force it can be when roused to showing its teeth.
Here at the Wenches, we’re particularly aware of the power of weather. The horrific fires in Australia, where Anne lives, and recent the “bomb” storm, which created dangerous flooding and winds in Nicola’s part of England, are chilling reminders of how, despite our hubris in thinking we can bend Nature to our will, the cosmic forces are far beyond our control.
However, I will not launch into a rant on how we had better wake up and pay attention to the warnings science is giving us on what lies ahead if we don’t change our own behavior . . . there are enough other places on the internet where that sort of discussion is taking place. (Plus I don’t want my blood pressure to shoot through the roof!) Instead, the thought of weather also got me to musing about it in a writerly way— and here are a few (admittedly) random thoughts—sticking mostly to British historical novels.
I don’t tend to use weather as a “character” in my stories (though I do use descriptive touches, like swirls of mist or the sound of rain, to add color to a scene.) However, there are some basic literary tropes that take their essence from the weather. A fierce storm and a shipwreck—from Shakespeare’s The Tempest to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Sir Walter Scott’s The Pirate, it’s proved a popular plot device.
And there’s the storm that strands a group of people at a country house or remote inn . . . Both romance and mystery writers have a heyday with that premise. In the mystery genre, the characters usually face an unexpected adversity, and often a “ticking clock”—whether it be a murderer in their midst or the pressing need to be somewhere at a certain time—will add urgency to improvising a solution. In romance, the trope can present a more beguiling challenge. The delay can spark unexpected chemistry, rekindle old flames or give time for the enemies-to-lovers trope to develop.
Weather can also be present on the page in a more subtle way, used by the author to create the aura of a threat or a metaphor for adversity. It was a very strong motif in Milton’s Paradise Lost. As for novels, Wuthering Heights immediately comes to mind. The description of the windswept moors is a metaphor for untamed Nature in both the landscape and Heathcliff and Catherine. Charles Dickens and many of his contemporaries used weather—the cold, the damp, the noxious air in London—to emphasize the struggles of working class to survive in the city.
Victorian mystery and detective novelists like Sir Artur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins loved using fog and rain, those two quintessentially British weather phenomenons—to send chills up a reader’s spine. And the pages often give us wing rustling through the rookeries, or the oaks on a moonlit moor to add atmosphere.
A last random thought—we tend to laugh at Jane Austen’s Regency comedy-of manners books with incessant chatter about the weather. But we tend to forget that weather had a huge influence on so much of their world—beginning with farming. A drought or flooding could mean terrible harvests, which brought with them the threat of starvation. Travel, whether by ship or carriage, was also a potentially life-threatening undertaking if the weather turned filthy. I have a feeling that we may all be coming full circle to Austen’s characters in Emma, for whom weather was a very serious topic.
What about you? Are you thinking more about the weather theses days? Do you live in a place where you’ve noticed real shifts in weather patterns? And lastly, any favorite books where weather is a key character?