Winter Warmers

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Image Description: ‘The Reader’ by Renoir

When November is at its drizzliest, literature can provide some much needed escapism. A good story can block out the harshest of winds or the bleakest of skies, and provide us with a window into sunnier climes. What follows are two of my favourite pieces of literature which I consider ‘escapist’ in different ways; while reading I invite you to brew a cup of warming tea and settle down with one or both of them over the coming rainy months. Happy days indoors!

‘Pride and Prejudice’, Jane Austen
Who can think of rain as they read the immortal words, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you?”? The sparring of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy has provided delight to generation upon generation of readers, and to delve into Austen’s most famous work is to enter a world at once entirely different from, and entirely similar to, our own. Her microcosm of manners, wit and heartache, delicately spun into inimitable Regency vignettes, promises to transport us without fail away from the dampest of surroundings. We recognise the emotions, the relationships, the sheer pettiness of the characters, but they sit at such a remove from our own lives that we can observe Austen’s creations from a position of satisfied distance. Reading Austen, we view the universal through a lens which is so precise, so intricate, that we cannot help but finish her books filled with a sense of deep security. Whatever else we may have to deal with, we aren’t going through the same trials as Elizabeth Bennet, and this allows us to relish all the more the comfort of an armchair and a cup of tea, as we use Pride and Prejudice to shield our view from storm-clouds outside.

‘The Whitsun Weddings’, Philip Larkin
Sometimes when it’s raining all we want is to wallow in a bit of good old pessimism. In this scenario, Larkin is the ideal companion; always ready to proffer wisdoms such as ‘life is first boredom, then age’ or mention ‘the sure extinction that we travel to/ And shall be lost in always’, his poems make for the best soundbites to recall whilst watching raindrops trickle down a window. And yet, somehow, in the sheer unremittingness of their pessimism, Larkin’s poems offer consolation; his supreme inspiration was the dreariness of life, and, unfashionable as it may be to say so, he managed to turn dreariness into beauty. When Larkin writes, ‘in everyone there sleeps/ A sense of life lived according to love’, he captures the little disappointments of the everyday whilst showing us the quiet wondrousness of hoping that things might turn out otherwise. Larkin’s poetry has hope in it if you look for it.

So, turn to Austen if you want to be whisked away with the literary equivalent of a glass of champagne; read Larkin if you want a hearty and bracing chicken soup. Austen will make you forget it’s raining; Larkin will make you focus so intensely on your experience of the rain that you’ll decide you quite like the rain after all. Make the most of being stuck inside!

Image credit: CarlosR38