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Literary Snow


By Kirsty McHugh, OUP UK

Oxford, over the last week, has been hit with some of the worst snow it has seen in about 30 years. It’s just the sort of weather that makes a girl want to curl up in front of the fire of an evening, reading a good book. But which books should you be reading if you want your fiction to be as snowy as the outside world? Here are a few suggestions.

Ethan FromeEthan Frome by Edith Wharton

Set against the bleak winter landscape of New England, Ethan Frome tells the story of a poor farmer, lonely and downtrodden, his wife Zeena, and her cousin, the enchanting Mattie Silver.

“Ethan Frome drove in silence, the reins loosely held in his left hand, his brown seamed profile, under the helmet-like peak of the cap, relieved against the banks of snow like the bronze image of a hero. He never turned his face to mine, or answered, except in monosyllables, the questions I put, or such slight pleasantries as I ventured. He seemed part of the mute, melancholy landscape, and incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence.”

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Snow proves to be crucial when Sherlock Holmes solves the mystery of “The Beryl Coronet”. You can read more about The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in this post.

“Fairbank was a good-sized square house of white stone, standing back a little from the road. A double carriage sweep, with a snow-clad lawn, stretched down in front to the two large iron gates which closed the entrance. On the right side was a small wooden thicket which led into a narrow path between two neat hedges stretching from the road to the kitchen door, and forming the trademen’s entrance.”


Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Bleak House defies a single description. It is a mystery story, in which Esther Summerson discovers the truth about her birth and her unknown mother’s tragic life. It is a murder story, which comes to a climax in a thrilling chase, led by one of the earliest detectives in English fiction, Inspector Bucket. And it is a fable about redemption, in which a bleak house is transformed by the resilience of human love.

“Upon the least noise in the house, which is kept hushed, his hand is at the pencil. The old housekeeper, sitting by him, knows what he would write and whispers, ‘No, he has not come back yet, Sir Leicester. It was late last night when he went. He has been but a little time gone yet.’

He withdraws his hand, and falls to looking at the sleet and snow again,until they seem, by being long looked at, to fall so thick and fast, that he is obliged to close his eyes for a minute on the giddy whirl of white flakes and icy blots.”

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women has remained enduringly popular since its publication in 1868, becoming the inspiration for a whole Little Womengenre of family stories. Set in a small New England community, it tells of the March family: Marmee looks after daughters in the absence of her husband, who is serving as an army chaplain in the Civil War, and Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy experience domestic trials and triumphs as they attempt to supplement the family’s small income.

“‘What in the world are you going to do now, Jo?’ asked Meg one snowy afternoon, as her sister came tramping through the hall, in rubber boots, old sack, and hood, with a broom in one hand and a shovel in the other.

‘Going out for exercise,’ answered Jo with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

‘I should think two long walks this morning would have been enough! It’s cold and dull out, and I advise you to stay warm and dry by the fire, as I do,’ said Meg with a shiver.

‘Never take advice! Can’t keep still all day, and not being a pussycat, I don’t like to doze by the fire. I like adventures, and I’m going to find some.'”

Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The second chapter of Emily Bronte’s only novel sees our narrator, Lockwood, stranded at Wuthering Heights thanks to a severe snow storm.

“The snow began to drive thickly. I seized the handle to essay another trial; when a young man without coat, and shouldering a pitchfork, appeared in the yard behind. He hailed me to follow him, and, after marching through a wash-house, and a paved area containing a coal-shed, pump, and pigeon-cot, we at length arrived in the huge, warm, cheerful apartment where I was formerly received. It glowed delightfully in the radiance of an immense fire, compounded of coal, peat, and wood; and near the table, laid for a plentiful evening meal, I was pleased to observe the ‘missis,’ an individual whose existence I had never previously suspected. I bowed and waited, thinking she would bid me take a seat. She looked at me, leaning back in her chair, and remained motionless and mute.”

With thanks to Minna Härkönen for letting us use her beautiful photo of Christ Church in the snow

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