By Megan Powell, Serena Kerrigan-Noble and Hannah Spruce
The colder weather and darker evenings stretching before us mean that the festive season is approaching, and the Classics team here at The Publishing Post have some great book recommendations to cosy up to with a blanket and a hot drink. From Anne of Green Gables to Wuthering Heights, there is no shortage of classic literature perfect for the chilly season, from settings that transport readers into the characters’ lives to plots enticing enough to fulfil the dark nights.
For this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” we have a list of comforting, autumnal reads: John Keats’ atmospheric delineation of the English countryside; the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s pining heroines; and the sweeping drama of Brontë’s classics. Without a doubt, these classics prove to be perfect companions to bookworms as the nights draw colder and the season’s festivities grow.
As winter approaches, one poet we recommend is John Keats. His poetry perfectly encapsulates that bittersweet sense of time passing and the cyclicality of renewal and decline, which the cold months inevitably prompt. From the monastic cellar at the beginning of The Eve of Saint Agnes to the hillside of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, the wintry season is frequently an external indicator of a forlorn internal state in much of Keats’ work.
However, decay and beauty not only exist side by side, but are often coexisting with one another. Following a walk in the English countryside during the autumn of 1819, John Keats wrote his ode To Autumn, a poem which crystallises his sense of the abundant beauty of the season. It is the perfect example of Keats’ theory of negative capability – the absence of the ego in the presence of something greater; unlike his other odes, it is the Autumn itself that is both the subject and the form. A harvest of sound and imagery, the poem synthesises the senses in order to conjure the season through the very act of reading.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
The most mature of Austen’s works is her final novel Persuasion, which is a perfect cosy classic for the winter. It follows the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, who reconnect after years of estrangement following a broken-off engagement. Despite being one of her shortest novels, Persuasion is Austen at her best. It is full of the wit, charm and beautiful storytelling that have defined her novels. There is a greater richness and depth to Anne and Wentworth’s story because of their period of separation, as their love has been harboured for many years.
Another distinction of the novel is that Wentworth is a self-made man who elevated his rank through his own dedication and talents. Anne Elliot is an intelligent, introverted and resilient woman whose self-reflections provide important and complex characterisations of her surroundings. They are both sensitive and subtle characters compared to some of the more boisterous figures in Austen’s works. However, they have both matured due to their experiences and their reunion is truly heart-warming. Wentworth’s letter to Anne captures some of Austen’s most romantic and powerful language.
As an accompaniment to the novel, we recommend the 2007 film adaptation over the recent Netflix adaptation, which fails to capture its beautiful language and the essence of the characters.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
This seminal classic by Charlotte Brontë is undeniably a wonderful companion for the colder months. Jane Eyre is a Bildungsroman, following the titular protagonist until she asserts her role as governess at Thornfield Hall. Here, she meets Rochester, one of literature’s most cherished Byronic heroes. His brooding, aloofness and insecurity provoke Jane in some very tiresome conversations as she challenges his ideas, sparking great attraction between them. As Jane continues to work at Thornfield Hall, strange occurrences suggest that things are not as they seem.
To avoid spoilers, this book is full of mystery, love and extraordinary characters. Brontë’s novel was revolutionary then and still proves an essential footprint in the literary canon now. The themes depicted were ahead of time, establishing this as a timeless classic, and getting swept up in its drama makes it a great autumnal read. Like Persuasion, there are several adaptations to accompany the book to visualise the story and extend your seasonal escapism in the world of Brontë and Jane Eyre.