Monday, September 17, 2007

Eric and Autumn

Eric's at Romancing the Blog today, asking about romances set in autumn.

This picture of Cymon and Iphigenia, although it looks autumnal to me because of the colour-scheme, actually proves Eric's point that "When it comes to love, [...] Spring has always gotten all the best publicity". According to Giovanni Boccacio in the Decameron (Fifth Day, Novel 1), the encounter took place as follows:
'twas the month of May--a mass of greenery; and, as he traversed it, he came, as Fortune was pleased to guide him, to a meadow girt in with trees exceeding tall, and having in one of its corners a fountain most fair and cool, beside which he espied a most beautiful girl lying asleep on the green grass, clad only in a vest of such fine stuff that it scarce in any measure veiled the whiteness of her flesh, and below the waist nought but an apron most white and fine of texture; and likewise at her feet there slept two women and a man, her slaves. No sooner did Cimon catch sight of her, than, as if he had never before seen form of woman, he stopped short, and leaning on his cudgel, regarded her intently, saying never a word, and lost in admiration. And in his rude soul, which, despite a thousand lessons, had hitherto remained impervious to every delight that belongs to urbane life, he felt the awakening of an idea, that bade his gross and coarse mind acknowledge, that this girl was the fairest creature that had ever been seen by mortal eye.
Appropriately for an academic blog about romance, love has the power to change Cimon: although previously "neither his tutor's pains, nor his father's coaxing or chastisement, nor any other method had availed to imbue him with any tincture of letters or manners", having met and fallen in love with Iphigenia, "Cimon, whose heart, closed to all teaching, love's shaft, sped by the beauty of Iphigenia, had penetrated, did now graduate in wisdom with such celerity as to astonish his father and kinsmen, and all that knew him."

Getting back to autumn, I imagine the season personified, looking rather like the sleeping Iphigenia,
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers. (from John Keats's Ode to Autumn)

The painting of Cymon and Iphigenia is by Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton and comes from Wikimedia Commons. More details about it are available here. Leighton's Flaming June has a similar colour-scheme and depicts a similarly somnolent female.


  1. I like to think I'm as lovely in the autumn as in the spring! Though the whiteness of my flesh is somewhat dimmed--napping outdoors will do that.

    What could I post in return.... A few lines of Petrarch, inspired by Laura? :)

  2. A few lines of Petrarch, inspired by Laura?

    I'd much prefer it to this (musical version here) or this (musical version here). It would definitely be better than "Yo amo a Laura" which came into being because

    "The main problem for MTV was that it was really seen as an international channel," says Carlos Martin, a creative director at Tiempo BBDO in Madrid. "It's not made in Spain or seen as a channel for Spaniards. So, they wanted to develop a very local campaign with local insight."

    To remedy the problem, the agency employed a little reverse psychology and created a chirpy, pastel-colored pop group called "Los Happiness." Decked out in multicolored sweaters and khaki pants, the clean-cut foursome released a video on MTV and YouTube called "Amo a Laura" ("I Love Laura") in which they vowed to save themselves for marriage and encouraged like-minded viewers to avoid the evils of MTV.

    The video quickly spread, becoming Spain's first YouTube viral hit. News outlets started to pick up the story and TV and radio stations began playing the song, which placed the campaign square in the middle of a larger debate raging in Spanish society about traditional values.

    Moving on to drama, there's a Laura in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie.

    Lauras don't seem to get to have a good time very often.

  3. Lauras don't seem to get to have a good time very often.

    I see what you mean:
    Saint Laura was a 9th-century Spanish martyr, a nun who was thrown into a vat of molten lead by the Moors.


    And even Petrarch's Laura wasn't really Petrarch's--she turned him down.

    On the bright side, you're a rara avis: it isn't as common a name these days.

  4. Yes, looking on the bright side, I haven't ever been thrown into a vat of molten lead, I haven't had pleurosis, my fiancé didn't die in a freak stock car accident, so I must be one of the few lucky Lauras ;-) Probably helps that I'm not fictional.

  5. On another side though, Laura, your imagining the association between Iphigenia ( as represented) and Keats's Autumn is striking, if not surprising--since the spring-like Iphigenia inspires and eventually awakes,but Keats's autumn is, alas, his last--and spring, in his case, is not far behind (or ahead).

  6. I suspect that a person's impressions of the seasons are likely to be affected by what the climate is like in the particular location where a person lives/grew up, and the particular plants that grow in that area. For example, spring in Japan is associated with cherry blossom, whereas in the UK it's perhaps more likely to be daffodils or snowdrops which come to mind. In terms of the liturgical Christian calendar, in the northern hemisphere one has death in springtime (Lent, leading up to Easter) and birth in winter (Advent, leading up to Christmas). Except that in the southern hemisphere the seasons don't match up that way. Then there are personal associations with events which happen/have happened at particular times of year. For example, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US happened in autumn, but the equivalent in London took place in summer and the ones in Madrid happened in springtime. People may also have personal associations with particular times of year, whether that be birthdays or anniversarys of deaths, marriages etc.

    I associate autumn very firmly with colour, so anything golden brown is autumnal to me. Where I am, spring can sometimes be colder than winter, summer's variable and there are usually wasps. Autumn, like baby bear's porridge, is just right for me. So I put those things together and I get the impression of autumn as a warm, sleepy golden age, in which things come to fruition. So sleepy people dressed in orange/brown make me think of autumn.

    Also, because I'm thinking of autumn in terms of fruition, I'm not thinking about death, decadence or decay. Then again, I don't think of any season as being about death - for me winter is about hibernation and unseen growth underground. If anything, summer's the dangerous month because of forest fires and heat waves (my impressions of summer are shaped by where I spent my summer holidays as a child).

  7. The contrast of the beginning of the death of the year and harvest time -- a kind of birth, the fruition of gestation -- is very interesting.

    I hadn't thought of the seasons as appropriate setting for love stories, though. When writing linked books they tend to roll through them all, offering different benefits and challenges.

    I will say that writing historicals set in winter can be difficult. Christmas is merry. Are there any winter romances that aren't at least partly Christmas books? Are there any southern hemisphere June/July books?

    That aside, winter in England tends to a damp cold that's hard to escape, making those spacious mansions pretty miserable. It's notable that domestic pictures of aristocrats and even monarchs tend to show them in small rooms with big fires and lots of shawls around. I grew up without central heating so this ambience is familiar.

    I'm rushing ahead of the seasons, but that must be what's in the back of my mind when autumn comes around.


  8. I grew up without central heating so this ambience is familiar.

    I'm very glad I grew up in flats that did have central heating. So for me, the autumn and winter are a time when it's cosy and warm indoors, and I can curl up with a good book by a warm radiator ;-)

    I also like the crunching feeling of autumn leaves underfoot (not quite so nice when they go squelchy and slippy). And roast chestnuts are delicious.

    I can see how, historically, in a chilly mansion, autumn might not be quite so pleasant, but would that not have been the season for house parties? And was the post-Christmas to post-Easter period the time of the London Season? If so, that starts of the post-Christmas season off with quite a bustle of courtship and other social activities.

    In somewhat warmer climates, autumn sounds rather Dionysian:

    Midnight in the vast bowl of the Alazani valley.

    Outside, the infinite darkness of the Kakhetian night, heavy with the thick sweet scent of grapes.

    Inside, two tables, eight guests and the demented rhythms of a pair of village musicians.

    Expectation flickered in the air like the lightning that darted among the peaks of the nearby mountains. [...] It had been a mild summer and the harvest was three weeks overdue. But in mid-October, the sun burned with a ferocity that filled the grapes with hot juice and split their skins.

    In the village of Kisiskhevi, horses and carts clattered through avenues of walnut trees laden with the bounty of autumn - wicker baskets piled high with rkatsiteli grapes.
    (Robert Parsons, BBC).

    Here's the grape harvest, as depicted in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. February looks extremely cold, but I suppose that might encourage people to snuggle up closer to each other.

  9. Also from an agricultural perspective, "The sheep farming calendar has changed little over the years. The 'year' starts with tupping in late autumn" (from here) and "UK wheat is harvested in August, having been planted the previous September" (from here). So I think autumn could be a good time for the planting of metaphorical as well as literal seeds.

  10. I hadn't realized "tupping" came from sheep farming. Or that it referred to the ram's role. So what's the verb for the female sheep's role? "Stand still"? Or maybe "Brace yourself, Bridget"?

  11. The tup's on top and the ewes are usually submissive.

  12. Probably helps that I'm not fictional.

    Of course, that could be remedied so that you've got at least a fictional alter ego. Who's got lots of fun. (You're giving me ideas ...)

    I love depicting landscapes in my novels and I normally use the seasons to reflect the mood of the story at hand. My next novel will move from merry autumn to a bleak winter and the conflict will be solved just before Christmas, with the protagonists' families all present in order to reflect the family spirit of the holiday. In contrast to this, the Christmas celebrations in Castle of the Wolf weren't quite so merry, as you know, and the book moved from bleak winter into a spring full of hope and new beginnings.