After an exceptional stretch of summery weather, lasting all through September and into October, fall has suddenly arrived in the Pacific Northwest. The days are shorter. Rain and wind have returned. The leaves are turning.
The other day, when I went out for my morning constitutional, I had multicolored maple leaves crunching underfoot and the occasional spider web hitting me in my face. I also took a plastic bag along with me, into which I hoped to collect enough blackberries to make a small cobbler – the last of the season.
Even though my outing was on foot, not horseback, it made me think of an excerpt from my second Austen-inspired novel, For Myself Alone:
John and I embark upon our ride shortly after noon, I on Viola and he on an ancient gelding called Max. The plan is to make for the glade in order to gather some of the blackberries that grow in the brambles round its fringes. Viola is eager, as am I, to set a brisk pace; Max and John are not so well able to follow suit. So the refreshing gallop I had hoped for must come in fits and starts. I race off for a stretch and then wait for John to catch me up. Still and all, the cool air and the beauty of the wood, both tinged with the first hints of autumn, do not disappoint.
Then I began wondering what Jane Austen had written about this season. As you know, she’s not prone to using long, flowery descriptions. And, off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of any specific references to “autumn” in her work. So I did a search. Most of the examples I found simply used the word as a point in time, such as, “since the beginning of our acquaintance with him last autumn…” But I did find a couple lovely passages that do poetic justice to the season.
[Fanny] went, however, and they sauntered about together many an half-hour in Mrs. Grant’s shrubbery, the weather being unusually mild for the time of year, and venturing sometimes even to sit down on one of the benches now comparatively unsheltered, remaining there perhaps till, in the midst of some tender ejaculation of Fanny’s on the sweets of so protracted an autumn, they were forced, by the sudden swell of a cold gust shaking down the last few yellow leaves about them to jump up and walk for warmth.
Jane doesn’t give us pages of extravagant description. Instead she paints a perfectly recognizable picture in just a few lines. My favorite passage, though, is from Persuasion, chapter 10. This scene takes place on the group walk to Winthrop:
Anne’s…pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves, and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which had drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling. She occupied her mind as much as possible in such like musings and quotations…
And a bit further on:
The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory.
Ann has had to watch Captain Wentworth show his preference for the younger, blooming Louisa. She has heard him praise Louisa for her character of decision and firmness. Anne endures all this whilst knowing that the captain, whom she still loves, condemns her for being too easily persuaded, and that the beauty of her own spring has long since passed. It seems there is nothing but decline and decay ahead. Do you suppose Jane was feeling this way about her own life when she wrote this?
What a poignant picture – sweet and painfully sad, like the season itself. Imagine what a different feeling this scene would have taken on had the walk occurred on a cheerful spring day or in the heat of summer. No doubt Austen purposefully planned that it should take place in the fall instead, so that the season would set the mood for all Anne’s melancholy reflections.
How does fall effect you? Is the change in seasons a simple matter of fact to you, or does it take on some special significance? Austen refers to the way autumn is portrayed in poetry. Do you have a favorite verse on the subject?
By the way, the cobbler was delicious.