Romance in the summer, satire in the winter


It is common experience that the weather and the seasons have an effect on our temperament. We know, for example, that people tend to be irritable and aggressive in very warm and humid conditions, as Benvolio pointed in Romeo [and Juliet:

I pray thee, good Mercutio, let's retire:

The day is hot, the Capulets abroad,

And if we meet we shall not 'scape a brawl;

For now in these hot days is the mad blood stirring.

This, of course, was in Verona, where the Latin temperament might be behind it all - but Anatole France noticed the same behaviour among his countrymen: "What a noble people ours is," he wrote. "They never make revolts in wintertime. All the great revolutionary days are in July, August and September; when it rains they go home, taking their flags with them. They will die for the idea - but they will not catch cold for it!"

An even more interesting idea, however, occurs in Martin Amis's novel The Information. Amis hypothesises that "the four seasons are meant to correspond to the four principal literary genres; that is to say summer, autumn, winter and spring are meant to correspond to romance, tragedy, satire and comedy."

Vivaldi's Four Seasons brings to life the effervescence of spring, followed by the humid adagio of high summer; the autumn section hints at wine, women and song in the quiet anticyclonic stillness of an Indian summer, and then the shivers of winter precede the final allegro portraying fun and games on the ice in a chill and boisterous wind. Franz Joseph Haydn, too, chose The Seasons as a theme, describing musically the brash renaissance of the Earth from winter, the hot and sultry breezes of midsummer, and the hunting festivals of autumn.

Amis treats the four classic literary genres in a somewhat similar way, and goes on to tell us what exactly corresponds with what: "It's obvious, really," he says. "Once you've got comedy and tragedy right, the others follow."

Summer, by Amis's reckoning, is the season of "romance: journeys, quests, magic, talking animals, damsels in distress". Autumn corresponds to tragedy, being appropriate to "isolation and decline, fatal flaws and falls, and the throes of heroes". Winter personifies satire with its "anti-Utopias, inverted worlds, the embrace of the tundra, the embrace of wintry thoughts". And spring, finally, is comedy, with "weddings, apple-blossoms, Maypoles, no more misunderstandings - away with the old, on with the new."

Now, isn't that an interesting thought?