I live in a place with long winters, and though I love the snow and I love the winter holidays, it seems that once New Years is over, it is one long stretch until spring. I am always looking for ways to get through another long winter, so this month, I’m studying Jane Austen for inspiration. It’s fascinating to me that all but one of Austen’s novels begin in the autumn. (Northanger Abbey is the only one that doesn’t. It starts in the winter.) Each of the five novels follows a seasonal pattern with the dreariest part of the plot happening during the winter months:
- In Pride and Prejudice, Bingley and Darcy leave on November 30. After Christmas, Jane leaves to go on a trip with her aunt and uncle. Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins in January. Elizabeth is left at home.
- In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne and Elinor go to London for the winter. There, Marianne finds out that Willoughby is engaged to marry another woman. On the way home, Marianne walks in the rain, gets a fever, and almost dies.
- In Emma, Mr. Elton proposes to Emma. He then leaves, which seems to be a good thing but really isn’t because he returns with Mrs. Elton. Jane Fairfax also arrives during the winter, followed by Frank Churchill, which also seems to be a good thing, but really isn’t.
- In Mansfield Park, January begins with Henry Crawford proposing to Fanny. As a punishment for her refusal, she goes to visit her parents and stays with them for several weeks. Henry proposes to her again in February. In March, Tom becomes ill, and Fanny returns to Mansfield Park.
- Northanger Abbey begins right after the Christmas holidays. Catherine meets Henry Tilney in Bath in January and goes to visit his home in March. The winter setting hints that maybe things aren’t as great as they seem for Catherine.
- In Persuasion, Anne spends the winter in Bath, separated once again from Captain Wentworth. It isn’t until nearly spring when he returns.
It’s interesting to me that most of Jane Austen’s characters have similar coping strategies for dealing with winter. At least five of the characters travel to Bath, London, or Portsmouth. A vacation to visit family, meet new people, or see new sites can be a great distraction from the dreary winter weather. Even if you don’t have money to travel, it’s fun to pretend. I often contemplate my fantasy vacation to England and Ireland. Someday, I’m going to get there, and I already have a good idea of the places I want to visit when I do.
Right now, I am planning a vacation for this summer. Even though it won’t happen until later, it’s a great escape just to think of all the fun things I’ll be doing later on this year. This is the type of coping strategy Emma used during her long winter. She and Frank Churchill amused themselves by planning a ball at the Crown Inn. I have extroverted friends who love to plan parties during the winter. My more introverted friends would rather plan their Spring gardens. Either way, planning fun things can cheer us up.
Another coping strategy Austen’s characters use in the winter is walking. Anne, Elinor, and Fanny seem to walk just as much in the cold weather as they do in the warm. This shows their strength of character and determination to get through their challenges. Modern studies show that people who get outside more often during the winter months tend to be happier than those who don’t. Exercise is also proven to boost mood.
Anne and Fanny also cope with the winter months by finding ways to help other people. Anne goes to visit her friend Mrs. Smith while Fanny helps her younger sister learn to be a proper lady. Volunteering to serve others is another proven strategy to become happier.
How about you? How do you cope with cold weather? Be sure to tell us about any plans you have for fun vacations or parties.