Spring, They Wrote

As warmer weather arrives, we consider how five authors use spring as a means to explore themes of rebirth and renewal.

Spring arrives not just as a change in temperature, but as a declaration once more of life. Within literature, this season of rebirth is a major source of inspiration, as writers seek to capture its essence and create allegories about society’s relationship with nature. As the warmer months of the burgeoning season approach, we consider how authors render a sense of spring.

Image courtesy of Pantheon.

1. Spring by Ali Smith

Part of a seasonal quartet, Ali Smith’s Spring resonates with the urgent summons of the season, both from nature and from the challenges of the modern world. Readers follow Richard Lease on a journey of self-discovery after the death of a close friend sends him spiralling to revive failed relationships.

Things can change over time, what looks fixed and pinned and closed in a life can change and open, and what’s unthinkable and impossible at one time will easily be possible in another. Ali Smith, Spring.

Smith’s humane portrayal of flawed characters enables readers to journey alongside them through grief and creative stagnation, within the context of a humanitarian crisis and environmental degradation. The transition from the desolation of winter to the abundance of spring is palpable, as ego and loss are eclipsed by the promise of healing and renewal. Against the backdrop of a world in flux, Spring embraces the inevitability of change.

Image courtesy of Vintage Classics.

2. On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin

Bruce Chatwin’s first novel, On the Black Hill, follows the lives of two eccentric loners, identical twins Lewis and Benjamin Jones, who, we learn in the book’s opening sentence, have spent the past 42 years sleeping side by side in the bed their parents once shared. They live on a farm called The Vision, located somewhere along the border between Wales and Hertfordshire, England. The book recounts the twins’ cramped and frugal lives, though there’s not so much in the way of plot, and they barely speak to one another. Rather, the seasons provide the action.

Each winter brings difficulties – the cold tests the bond between the twins, pushes their parents to the brink of violence, and punishes the property – which begin to thaw with spring’s sunlight. “Be the winter as makes me mad,” the twins’ father says in a scene before their birth. “Some winters seem as they’ll never end.”

The characters live simple lives in dialogue with nature, leading to many memorable passages of precisely rendered pastoral writing.

A warm westerly breeze was combing through the grass-stems, skylarks hovered over their heads, and creamy clouds came floating out of Wales. Along the horizon, the hills were layered in lines of hazy blue; and they reflected how little had changed since they walked this way with their grandfather, over seventy years before. Bruce Chatwin, On the Black Hill.

With each passing year, society transforms a little more, technology draws a little closer to the twins, and their way of life grows a little more archaic. But spring is sure to come again.

Image courtesy of Scribner.

3. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Perhaps the most honest description of spring in Paris comes from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Within the chapter “A False Spring,” Hemingway articulates the hope – and then distrust – many in the city feel when the warm weather first arrives, only to be abruptly replaced by cold days once more.

In those days, though, the spring always came finally; but it was frightening that it had nearly failed. Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.

Throughout the novel, Hemingway also uses spring as a global mood and feeling. He expresses periods of time in seasons, portraying the general energy of the 1920s as a sunny warm spring full of youthful potential. A Moveable Feast also shows readers how cycling through the seasons of a year is tied to progressing through the seasons of life.

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.

4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

In The Secret Garden, the awakening of spring is not merely a backdrop but a character in its own right, a force that breathes life into the neglected corners of Misselthwaite Manor, where the novel is set. Frances Hodgson Burnett portrays a magical, child-like fantasy of a garden as an inviting space of prosperity and adventure.

Spring is explored within the novel’s subtext: its emergence coincides with the growth of the two protagonists’ friendship and the rebirth of dormant life. The more time the sickly Colin spends in the opulent garden, the stronger he grows.

Hodgson Burnett’s imagery honours the elements, describing spring as “…the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine.” Spring becomes an imagined oasis from city life, a symphony of the senses and the ultimate source of healing.

Image courtesy of Knopf Canada.

5. Pure Colour by Sheila Heti

Set against the backdrop of spring’s arrival, Pure Colour is a phantasmic exploration of a woman’s journey for self-discovery and self-authenticity. Mira must navigate the grief of her recently deceased father alongside her new infatuation for her classmate Annie. Overwhelmed by the conflicting desire for old comforts and curiosity of a new identity, author Sheila Heti draws on a surrealist lens, turning Mira into a leaf. Heti’s prose is shimmering, trippy and bizarre, using nature as a site of refuge from trauma and anguish.

Similar to The Secret Garden, Pure Colour utilises the idea of nature as a grounding force, away from the chaos of existence. Just as the allure of soft spring weather coaxes us outside, Mira sheds her form as a leaf to embrace humanity and new relationships. The challenges of intimacy and communication, as well as the complexities of human connection, are softly woven into this coming-of-age story.

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