Thursday, August 10, 2006


People endlessly write offering the advice that you must never start a novel with a description of the weather. I think this might be a ploy to make sure you don't get a better weather description than the one in one of their imminent concoctions!

What better way to begin? The Man Without Qualities is often criticised for this. What greater analogo-metaphor? The meeting of fronts warm and cold; occluded fronts; cloud formation: cirrus, cirro-stratus, cumuls, cumulo-nimbus; changes of wind direction and speed; winds at different altitudes criss-crossing each other to create confusion in the mind of the observer; rain; snow; humidity; temperature.

One knows a film version would start with the camera angled up on the sky, slowly cranking down onto the city below, and finally zoom in on individuals.

There was a depression over the atlantic. It was travelling eastwards, towards an area of high pressure over Russia, and still showed no tendancy to move northwards around it. The isotherms and isotheres were fulfilling their functions. The atmospheric temperature was in proper relation to the average annual temperature, the temperature of the coldest as well as the hottest month, and the a-periodic monthly variation in temperature. The rising and setting of the sun and of the moon, the phases of the moon, Venus and Saturn's rings, and many other important phenomena, were in accordance with the forecasts in the astronomical yearbooks. The vapour in the air was at its lowest. In short, to use an expression that describes the facts pretty satisfactorily, even though it is somewhat old-fashioned: it was a fine August day in the year 1913.

The Man Without Qualities, Wilkins and Kaiser trans., 1952

To get it one must include the first four paragraphs as the beginning. This man was an engineer and scientist by training, don't forget.

Compare this to The Magic Mountain:

An unassuming young man was travelling, in midsummer, from his native city of Hamburg to Davos-Platz in the Canton of the Grisons, on a three weeks' visit.

Lowe-porter trans. Martin abnd Secker, 1928.

It seems descriptions of the countryside and journeys are perfectly acceptable (especially from train windows) but not weather!


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Site Feed