Whenever it rains like it did today at noon, I remember the camping trip I went on in upper Ontario. It was, I think, twenty-three days long, and I think it rained for three weeks of that trip. Not just a little rain, but a lot of rain and sometimes so hard that you could not see the other canoes. It was a wearying trip.

Weather is an part of an English person’s persona. Ride a bus in any city after rush hour and the retirees on the bus will talk about the weather. I left England because of the weather. Five years of it cured me of the charm associated with perpetual late fall. I have often wondered if the weather affected the cabinetmaking trade in the 18th century. It must have in some way that I haven’t thought of.

The things I remember on that canoe trip were the two moose we saw, one from about six feet away, the fact that the fish never bit and that the blueberries on blueberry hill were not that sweet. It was extremely miserable and I still remember the look on the customs man at the airport in Montreal when he asked to look in my back pack. He must have lived with that smell in his nostrils for at least a week.


Carson McCullers’ novel, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”, is about as bleak a picture of American life in the 1930’s as could be imagined. Racism, economic uncertainty, adolescent angst, unrequited love and flat out despair are all rolled into one that leaves one with a cold sense of foreboding. “The Grapes of Wrath”, Steinbeck’s vision of the 1930’s migration to California by thousands of share cropping farmers from the Dust Bowl, by contrast, leaves one with a sense of hope.

Frances (Fanny) Burney (1752-1840) was among the first English women novelists.  The daughter of Dr. Charles Burney, a well known musicologist and organist, her life included trials such as near fatal ennui as lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte and near fatal breast cancer where ten male doctors removed a breast without anesthetic. Her novels (the first of which was “Evelina”) documented the improbability of romance between those of disparate economic backgrounds. Jane Austen took up where she left off. Her outlook, skepticism of class notwithstanding, is upbeat.

The America of the 1930’s, particularly in the south, was a circumscribed place for many. McCullers expands and massages the theme with a relentless morbidity. Contrast that with the celebrated, “Forrest Gump”, a movie determined to prove that opportunity was merely a matter of chance that almost anyone could pick up on. The line in between is Fanny’s and is the one I prefer to follow.