I tend to view my favorite books as seasonal. When the leaves start falling, for example, it means that it is time for the Dashwood sisters to make an appearance in my reading schedule. Each year, I re-read Jane Austen, or at least skim my favorite parts, depending on the backlog of books on my reading list. Like most avid readers, I am always buying books or finding new ones I want to read while browsing the library. But I make time for Jane Austen. It does not seem like winter unless I am mourning Fanny Harville with Captain Benwick or quite like summer if Miss Woodhouse is not painting Miss Smith’s portrait with Mr. Elton lurking in the background.
I am not sure at what point in my re-reading I started to view these novels as being dependent on the season, but it is so ingrained in my mind now that I tend to follow the same schedule:
Autumn: Sense and Sensibility. At one point in the novel, Elinor wryly says to Marianne, “It is not every one who has your passion for dead leaves.” The novel is about change, but not butterfly from a cocoon change and perhaps the sisters are not always the better for it. It is the change of pain and hard-earned experiences. The Dashwood sisters experience all of the agonies of being in love without hope of reciprocation. There is a scene in the 1995 movie where Marianne walks alone through the blowing wind and overcast sky to gain a view of Willoughby’s home. That scene reminds me of autumn, the landscape is so reminiscent of it, and so are Marianne’s dashed hopes as she, for the last time, looks upon a place that is so well-known to the man she loved and that she can never hope to know herself.
Winter: Persuasion. In the first chapter of Persuasion, it is said of Elizabeth, the eldest Elliot daughter:
“Thirteen winters’ revolving frosts had seen her opening every ball of credit which a scanty neighbourhood afforded; and thirteen springs shewn their blossoms, as she travelled up to London with her father, for a few weeks annual enjoyment of the great world.”
There is a great sense of loss inherent in the novel. Anne and Captain Wentworth have been separated for nearly a decade. Captain Benwick has turned to poetry to make up for the loss of his fiancee. Even the terrible Elizabeth earns some pity for her winters of revolving frost and still no name to list by hers in the book of all books, the Elliot family history. It is a beautiful, but melancholy, book, one appropriate for a winter’s evening. It is like sitting by the fireside with a cup of hot chocolate, watching the snow fall, feeling at times chilly, but mostly comfortable in the company of those beloved to you. (Alternatively: Mansfield Park and Lady Susan. Perhaps there is something about the extremes of the season that lead to multiple options.)
Spring: Pride and Prejudice. I feel like this is the easy one. Jane Austen herself described it as light, bright, and sparkling. Elizabeth Bennet has no fear for her future. Everything is blossoming and spring-like as she attends balls and fearlessly confronts powerful and rich men and women. She is afraid of no one. She is not afraid of being a spinster and refuses to marry simply for money where she does not love. There is still the pain of disappointed love for Jane, but there is also the reassurance that everything is going to be fine. This is a novel about promising beginnings, in fact begins with brilliant and funny dialogue about a new neighbor, and does not descend too far into sorrow to lose sight of the prospect of budding happiness.
Summer: Emma. Between strawberry picking and the Box Hill excursion, this novel is the perfect summer read. Emma tends to make difficulties for herself, either through cruel words or her inability to correctly read others. She believes that she is an expert in matchmaking, in understanding others, but, for most of the book, she does not make a single correct prediction. It is all played for comedy, however, and even when the heroine does not do the right thing, she tries to make up for it. Many of the crucial scenes take place out of doors, outside of the comfortable realm of tea in the drawing room, which I think lends itself to reading outside on a perfect summer day. Jane Austen said she created a heroine in Emma Woodhouse that no one besides herself would like very much. Despite the fact that I have little in common with her, I do quite like Emma and the book that she inhabits. (Alternatively, Northanger Abbey—”Oh, what a Henry!”—and Jane Austen’s juvenilia.)