A disappointing lack of Easter eggs

easter - when morning breaks
Spring is sprung!  Image from When Morning Breaks: An Easter Parable, by Charlotte Murray, 1895

In our novels, relatively little happens at Easter, although it’s mentioned incidentally quite a bit, generally as a marker of the passage of time – things are due to happen before or after Easter but rarely take place on the holiday itself.

One of the few mentions of anything actually taking place during Easter is to be found in Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth and her companions at Hunsford Parsonage go to church on Easter Day, and are consequently invited up to Rosings Park to help Lady Catherine entertain her visiting nephews, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy.  Sadly, there’s no mention of any celebrations that might have been observed, and not an egg is to be found in the whole chapter – the only refreshments mentioned are coffee and the delights of Lady Catherine’s observations on music.

Unlike Elizabeth, the protagonist of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man flatly refuses to attend church at Easter, even if it means risking the displeasure of his Catholic Irish mammy:

After a pause Cranly asked:
—What age is your mother?
—Not old, Stephen said. She wishes me to make my easter duty.
—And will you?
—I will not, Stephen said.
—Why not? Cranly said.
—I will not serve, answered Stephen.
—That remark was made before, Cranly said calmly.
—It is made behind now, said Stephen hotly.

Terence Conway, of Charlotte Riddell’s 1888 novel The Nun’s Curse, becomes acquainted with a different Easter-related difficulty, in the form of Irish matrimonial customs.

“You could get married at once?”
“We could, sir, at Easter.”
“Easter is a long way off.”
“We are close on Lent now.”
“What has that to do with the matter?”
“We couldn’t be married in Lent.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t rightly know, but people doesn’t marry then.”

Lenten deprivations – of various kinds, including the type that Patrick Corrigan is politely not spelling out for Conway in the above conversation – are traditionally broken by Easter eggs, but there’s only one mention of these in the corpus.  This is to be found in Middlemarch, wherein the following observation on feminine appeal is made by Mr. Chichely:

 “[Dorothea Brooke is] not my style of woman: I like a woman who lays herself out a little more to please us. There should be a little filigree about a woman–something of the coquette. A man likes a sort of challenge. The more of a dead set she makes at you the better.”

This comment, according to the narrator, comes from “a middle-aged bachelor and coursing celebrity, who had a complexion something like an Easter egg, a few hairs carefully arranged, and a carriage implying the consciousness of a distinguished appearance”.

On that note, we wish a happy Easter to all of our readers!

In the absence of any chocolate examples, please enjoy these eggs from a 19th century natural history text, courtesy of the British Library Labs images collection.

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