Last week we had a storm here that – if it lacked biblical proportions – still had the force of a minor religious tract. Have you ever thought about what wonderful conductors of electricity metal fire escapes are? We found out when one got struck by lighting, accompanied by a thunderous boom, a block from where I live.
Nobody got hurt, but as I counted the arriving fire trucks, I thought about storms in fiction. How do novelists use the weather – the good, bad and the ugly? David Lodge comments in The Art of Fiction (Viking, 1993), an excellent collection of essays on devices such as the use of lists, names, and the telephone in fiction:
“We all know that weather affects our moods. The novelist is in the happy position of being able to invent whatever weather is appropriate to the mood he or she wants to evoke.
“Weather is therefore frequently a trigger for the effect John Ruskin called the pathetic fallacy, the projection of human emotions onto phenomena in the natural world. ‘All violent feelings … produce in us a falseness of our impressions of external things, which I would generally characterize as the pathetic fallacy,’ he wrote. As the name implies, Ruskin thought it was a bad thing, a symptom of the decadence of modern (as compared to classical) art and literature, and it is indeed often the occasion of overblown, self-indulgent writing. But used with intelligence and discretion it is a rhetorical device capable of moving and powerful effects, without which fiction would be much the poorer.
“Jane Austen retained an Augustan suspicion of the Romantic imagination, and satirized it in the characterization of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. ‘It is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves,’ her sister Elinor comments drily after Marianne’s autumn rhapsody, ‘How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind. What feelings they, the season, the air altogether inspired!’”
Weather in Austen’s novels, Lodge goes on to say, usually has an important practical bearing on her characters’ lives. But in her books and others’, it can serve other purposes, some related to the pathetic fallacy and some not, such as serving as “a metaphorical index” of characters’ inner lives or a portent of impending plot shifts.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.