I learned from my favourite high school teacher, Miss Collins, that the pathetic fallacy is the personification of inanimate objects. The example I still remember is in William Collins’ (no relation, as far as I know) Ode to The Passions:
Pale Melancholy sat retired;
And from her wild sequestered seat,
In notes, by distance made more sweet,
Poured through the mellow horn her pensive soul.
I found this luscious and transporting and it sealed my love of language.
In works from the last century, I’ve noticed weather and landscape becoming increasingly important in setting the tone of a novel: in fact, the landscape is sometimes more real than the characters.
In film, of course, cinematography is hugely powerful in creating mood. The director’s choice of setting and collaboration with the camera operator create effects varying from subtle to knock-you-on-the-head. I don’t think I can count the number of graveside scenes I’ve watched where the weather is grey and wet, or flashbacks to scenes of a happy childhood where the sun was shining. But I can think of scenes where I felt exhilarated or sentimental or frightened at the time but only afterwards thought about a detail of the setting that might account for that feeling.
This winter, the weather has set the tone for our lives. A white Christmas, now: how could you not behave appropriately? This required healthy, old-fashioned, family-style living — walks in the snow, romping with the dog, and afterwards reading and playing board games rather than relying on electronic devices. People were nicer to each other and more likely to interact.
Then came the weeks of rain alternating with more snow. We stayed stoic, laughing about slipping around on icy sidewalks as we pursued our social lives closer to home. We all had our stories about delayed flights, closed highways, or how it took three hours to dig out the car and then someone else took the spot. These were shared over and over, as everyone seemed endlessly fascinated by the weather’s effect on their existence.
Next: the claustrophobic, deadening fog. Pale Melancholy was out there at sea, pouring through the mellow horn her pensive soul, or perhaps it was the foghorns. People don’t have much tolerance for fog. It shuts you in and you can’t see the horizon. Conversation started to revolve around how long this winter was and how many people we knew were in Mexico. Moods plummeted.
This week, when I opened the front door early on Wednesday morning to pick up the paper, the world felt different. In the distance a bird sang. The sky was clear and seemed unnaturally high. It was not cold. The air smelled fresher, as though the wind were blowing from a different direction.
It was just a hint of spring. And my whole life seems to be on the upswing as a result.