Seasons Of Love: Romance and the Calendar Year

Southern California, some people claim, has no true seasons. As a Southern California native, I would dispute that. We have our share of balmy springs, blazing summers, crisp autumns, and chilly winters. But I will concede that our seasons are less extreme–especially winter. In a tough year, we contend with rain and freezing winds, not ice, snow, and hail.

Consequently, when I started working on my romances, which are set in Victorian England, I knew I had to familiarize myself with English weather and English seasons. It’s easy and not inaccurate to describe the former as consisting of rain, rain, and more rain–I experienced that reality during a long-ago trip to the UK–but there’s more to any English season than just weather. There’s a series of rituals and traditions, a way of life, which sets the rhythm for the whole calendar year. And romance novels that capture and convey the atmosphere of a particular season are among my favorite reads.

Oh, to be in England,
Now that April’s here!

–Robert Browning, “Home Thoughts from Abroad”

Romance novels set in the spring often deal with the London Season–the hectic three-month social whirl that generally began after Easter and lasted through July. Many events of the Season–balls, concerts, dinner parties–focused on finding suitable husbands for young ladies of good family. But other things of moment were occurring: Parliament was in session, discussing matters of domestic and foreign importance; the Royal Academy of Art held its annual exhibition of works by England’s most notable artists; and sporting events like the Derby and Ascot were eagerly anticipated. A spring-set romance can be light and frothy in tone, like some delicious confection, or tense and dramatic, playing out against a backdrop of world-changing events.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

–Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

While the Season lasted into July, not everyone chose to stay in London for the whole duration. If the summer was especially hot, some repaired to seaside resorts at places like Torbay and Newquay. Sporting events like the Henley regatta, the cricket matches at “Lord’s,” and the yacht race at Cowes also lured people out of London for a time. A change was felt around August, as fashionable people began to anticipate leaving the city to spend more leisurely days in the country, often as guests at some house party. August 12 brought the adjournment of Parliament and the opening of grouse season, which sent eager sportsmen tearing up north to shoot birds for the next few months. Authors who set their stories in summer have the best of both worlds to choose from–the excitement of the ongoing London Season and the natural pleasures of the seaside or country. My novel, Waltz with a Stranger, straddles two seasons–spring and summer–and two settings, London and Cornwall, which provide the hero with a chance to know the heroine better.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun . . .

–John Keats, “To Autumn”

Misty mornings that sometimes yielded to soft golden afternoons; harvests and wine-making; gathering nuts and pressing cider . . . autumn in England could be a lovely season, provided you weren’t a game bird or a fox! Grouse season was followed by the opening of partridge season on September 1, and pheasant shooting on October 1. Fox hunting officially opened on November 1, but inexperienced sportsmen could get in some practice “cub hunting”–exactly what it sounds like–a month earlier. Still, autumn meant country house parties, leisurely nature walks, and parlor games or music in the evenings after a day of sport. And at night, it could also mean secret assignations among lovers who had to hide their passions by day. Romances set in autumn can explore the excitement and potential hazards of a day in the hunting field, or the domestic intrigues of houseguests hoping to avoid detection as they tryst in the dark. It should come as no surprise that autumn house parties are fertile breeding grounds for mystery and suspense plots!


O Winter! ruler of the inverted year, . . .
I crown thee king of intimate delights.

–George Cowper, “Task”

Hunting and house parties continue into the winter, but with a subtle difference as the days grow shorter and the nights come sooner and last longer. And a hush seems to settle over everything once the snows start to fall. Winter becomes a time for reflection, of turning inward and thinking about the year that’s ending and the one that’s soon to come. But winter can also bring a rush of gaiety and cheer. Some venture back to London for the “Little Season”–as Parliament convenes for a short session in December, starting off another round of parties and receptions. And of course, there is the English Christmas with its promise of comfort and joy, solemnity and cheer, that tries to appeal to the best in people–and encourage them to listen to their better natures not just at Christmas but the whole year around. Romances set in winter, especially at Christmas, often convey the same message, which makes them ideal holiday reads–among the first things I reach for when the winter doldrums strike!

What is your preferred seasonal setting for a love story? Do you have a favorite Christmas romance?

About the Author:

Pamela Sherwood grew up in a family of teachers and taught college-level literature and writing courses for several years before turning to writing full time. She holds a doctorate in English literature, specializing in the Romantic and Victorian periods, eras that continue to fascinate her and provide her with countless opportunities for virtual time travel. She lives in Southern California and is currently at work on her second novel.pamela sherwood
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