Posted by: Corri van de Stege | August 14, 2007

The pathetic fallacy

Look at that title: it sounds so much better than weather or English weather or miserable English summer or a description such as the rain sliding down he windows of the fast moving train obscures the view of the landscape covered by a grey blanket... even if that is quite an accurate description of the current situation.

In ‘The Art of Fiction’ David Lodge provides wonderfully succint chapters  on different aspects of writing, covering topics such as Metafiction, Surrealism, Allegory and Ephiphany but also the more seemingly mundane such as Weather.  In the latter he talks about how novelists invent weather that is appropriate to the mood that she/he wants to evoke.  John Ruskin called this effect the pathetic fallacy, ‘the projection of human emotions onto phenomena in the natural world’. 

It seems quite appropriate to be reading this chapter after a long dull day when the weather is all but inspiring and the train swishes along the Yorkshire counryside, heavy with green clumps of trees and grey muddy yellow-toned fields, just gone over with a combine harvester which has neatly rolled everything in identical rolls, and all this shading into the greyness of the sky in the distance. 

But, Rusking tells us that to describe intention or human characteristics to the weather (or anything else for that matter) would be to commit the pathetic fallacy.  Is that bad?  No, obviously not, because Austin and Dickens and many others were guilty if judged.  The thing is to do this well.  And on my journey I feel like the weather is the total cause of my gloom and despondency.  Contemplating the weather has certainly not done much to inspire my mood and it is not helped when I discover, getting off the train, that I have left my umbrella behind, and have to walk all the way to the end of the car park to my car in the pouring rain, clouds don’t seem so romantic all of a sudden, the weather a total nuisance.

Driving back I contemplate whether to listen to the News (China is bad now, because they have delivered poisonous toys to the children of America and England; food poisoning and death of e-coli; etc.) or console myself with the Classical Channel.  Instead I opt for Kiri te Kawana and Lesley Garreth, both in the songs of the Canteloube and the Bailero.  I decide that I actually prefer the lighter approach of Lesley Garreth, fancying myself with the shepherds in France, just writing….


  1. The weather does play a huge role in shaping my daily bout of things-to-do. Here in SF where we don’t see the sun until late afternoon thanks to the layers of fog typical of Indian summer, I tend to be having a sluggish morning.

    The gloomy weather, now that I have given deeper thought of the matter, has probably been responsible for the choice of my reading which, in most cases, are riddled with struggles and sadness!

  2. Matt – and to think that the English consider the weather to be their prerogative! But I agree with you, weather definitely affects moods.

  3. Weather and latitudes. They both affect moods as they do affect the idiosyncrasies of people.

  4. Jose: And train journeys, I’ve discovered! See my next blog. There I am committing the pathetic fallacy, on purpose.

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