The English attitude to weather is famous. Borderline stereotypical. The weather is our small talk, our unifying force. Who hasn’t made silent friends with a stranger on a train, or on the street in the middle of a downpour with a “why does this happen to us?” look on our faces?
Alexandra Harris’ book Weatherland is about how we see the weather, or more specifically, how writers and artists see and depict the weather. She covers everything from Beowulf to Chaucer, from Shakespeare to Woolf, and from Turner to Hockney. Her argument, that the English weather is intrinsically linked with art, and that the two form a constant loop of influence is strongly made. We can look back at Dickens’ novels and assume London never saw the sun in his era, and likewise Elizabethan portraits only depicting sunlight can lead one to assume they never knew rain.
This is an absolutely wonderful book, almost impossible to try and break down here. It’s rife with fascinating stories – the most interesting of which you’d never guess (the invention of the barometer is a highlight, and I never thought I would actually type that sentence). It helps enormously that Harris is an excellent writer and a compelling guide through history. The book covers a vast amount of time, but never once feels bogged down or slow.
In the end, it may be our own subconscious obsession with the weather that makes this book so readable, or more likely it’s Harris’ own engaging style. Weatherland is fantastic.
Any Cop?: A great book. One that will not only appeal to those interested in the history of the weather, but those with an interest in the arts too. Alexandra Harris has written a fascinating examination of both.