Easter seems much nicer than Christmas to me with its pagan emphasis on bunnies, bonnets and chocolates. It takes place just as the weather perks up and the birdies start their flirty chirping among the early blossoms. The austerity and self-sacrifice of Lent is over for those of us who renounced box sets and Haagen Dazs; April is, to quote T.S. Elliot, “breeding. Lilacs out of the dead land.” Writers shake off their winter depression and pick up their pens with renewed enthusiasm.
The Christian concepts of rebirth, renewal, and redemption offer us hope and inspiration plus a rich source of imagery which is why Easter features in so many seminal works of literature:
- In Shakespeare’s Richard II, the king compares himself to Christ on Good Friday as he is about to hand over the crown to Bolingbroke and so inaugurate the 85‑year cycle of depositions and murders dramatised in the Wars of the Roses plays.
- In Good Friday 1613, Riding Westward, John Donne, who is about to take religious orders, sees himself at a crossroads in his life. Unable to contemplate the Passion directly, he is riding away from Christ’s crucifixion in the east.
- In Easter Wings (1633), George Herbert rejoices in his devotions – “Lord … let me rise / As larks, harmoniously / And sing this day thy victories”, and also plays innovatively with the pattern of words on paper by creating two wing-shaped verses.
- Goethe’s Faust’s fateful meeting with Mephistopheles occurs at Easter, after a chorus of angels, glorying in the resurrection, stop him killing himself.
- In Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen uses Easter to mark the novel’s turning point, when Elizabeth is staying in Kent and Darcy, visiting his aunt nearby at Rosings, stuns her by proposing. Although Elizabeth rejects him, the events that follow make them allies. The entire romantic fiction genre aptly gets going in the season of renewal.
- In his last novel Resurrection, Tolstoy employs the Russian Orthodox Easter service as a touchstone for the repentant and would-be resurrected sinner hero, “one of the brightest memories of his life”. It’s a bit sexy, too.
- In Easter 1916, Yeats, despite his previous hostility to armed nationalism, honoured those who died in Dublin’s Easter Rising as Christ-like martyrs possessing “a terrible beauty”. The phrase “Easter Rising” had been used before this, with a somewhat different meaning, to refer to Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
- In Unkept Good Fridays, Thomas Hardy pays tribute to the “unpenned… nameless Christs … men whom rulers slew”, victims of torture and oppression, who have no Good Fridays commemorating their suffering. It’s a ferociously grumpy antidote to religious Easter poems.
- In Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury Easter 1928 provides the setting for much of this radically modernist deep south family saga, in which some scenes recall Christ’s suffering and others suggest hope of new life.
- In Richard Yates’ Easter Parade, judged by some to be a better novel than Revolutionary Road, Easter is the last moment of innocence for two sisters with lives of frustration ahead of them.
You can renew your creativity at our workshop on multi-sensory descriptive writing on Saturday 6 May at The Trafalgar Arms