rain drops

For the Rain, it Raineth Every Day …

Shakespeare, when writing this line in the song at the end of Twelfth Night, was being prophetic.

Very prophetic.

Clearly, he was projecting ahead to the late winter days of a year in the 21st century when rain had become such a common occurrence that any span of 24 hours when it did not happen was noteworthy. Remarkable.

Shakespeare knew a thing or two. He makes this line a chorus and also adds, for good measure:

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain.

Yes, we know what you are talking about, Mr Shakespeare.

In fact, his plays are full of references to the weather. As are his sonnets. So weather was obviously as much an obsession with Elizabethan/Jacobean society as it is with ours all these centuries later. Anyone familiar with British weather will recognise his reference in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the errors seasons can make when they take on features of another:

The Spring, the Summer,

The childing Autumn, Angry Winter, change

Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world

By their increase now knows not which is which.

Well, yes. We all know those summer days that feel more like late autumn and the spring ones that appear chillier than December. And by the way, have you seen any wild geese flying away yet? Because evidently, according to Shakespeare:

Winter’s not gone yet, if the wild geese fly that way.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Shakespeare’s plays are so full of weather references. Anyone living at the end of the 16th and into the early 17th century would be all too aware of the impact of the seasons to a degree that we, however much we moan about intemperate weather, are now mostly immune. Back then, hot summer days in the city could surely presage the possibility of plague. Winter days could see frozen fields and tracks that endangered animals and crops and access to food.

Weather has always been a useful tool for any writer, of course, with the technique of pathetic fallacy so helpful as a way of pointing and emphasising mood and emotions of a scene or moment.

Which gets me thinking about its absence.

Many writers, after all, live in countries where seasons are mostly invariable – where it is, give or take two or three degrees, hot all the time. Where the only variation is with the occasional monsoon rainfall. Where wardrobes contain only thin and light summer clothes because never are coats and boots and scarves and gloves required. They are entirely surplus to requirements.

How curious it must be not to have the structure of seasons and the constantly changing weather to refer to in the narrative!

In my last two novels I have made the change in seasons and the course of the year an essential part of their structure. Miller Street SW22 is even divided into the four seasons, starting with autumn and building up to the climax of the story in the summer. In The Odyssey of Lily Page, the story starts on a bleak winter’s day and proceeds through the year of 1983 with marked observations of the changes, culminating twelve months later in January 1984. I found it a very helpful strategy in pacing the story line, always a tricky aspect of novel writing.

And it’s useful for a writer to associate certain weather conditions with the tempers and emotions they might stir. Gothic novels are notorious for their gloomy, dark and brooding descriptions as when Mary Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein first unveils his creature:

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils.

No chance of such an event occurring on the summer solstice on a perfect June day!

But as I write this blog, the rain has stopped and sun has actually appeared. So instead of ending with a focus on another bleak weather narrative, I’ll let Shakespeare have the last word with a touch of spring optimism:

When daffodils begin to peer

with heigh! the doxy, over the dale

Why, then comes in the sweet o’the year;

For the red blood reigns in the winter’s pale.

The white sheet bleaching on the hedge,

With heigh! the sweet birds, O, how they sing!

Let’s hope that after all this rain, we are now heading for the sweet of the year – we certainly deserve it!

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