It’s time for a picnic. With friends or family around, you can spend the day relaxing in the shade and eating, drinking, and looking at the sky for signs of rain. The summer picnic is also very British.
There are so many great authors who have written about them, so it makes sense why. There are a lot of writers who have used a simple picnic to make a scene that they remember. This is a list of some of the best picnics that have been written about.
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
This is one of the best examples of eating outside in literature. It’s also the only time anyone has boiled down an entire meal into a single, mouthwatering word (a shame the Oxford English Dictionary never picked it up, if you ask me). Almost as soon as Mole has climbed aboard Rat’s boat, a “fat, wicker lunchbox” is shoved in his direction.
What does the Mole want to know about the box? Cold chicken, pickled gherkins, salad, French rolls, bread, beer, lemonade, and water are all in the sandwich. Mole: “O stop, stop! This is too much!” “Do you really believe that?” the Rat asked. On these little trips, “it’s only what I always take.” Other animals always tell me that I’m a mean animal because I cut things very small.
The best writers can make even cold tongue sound good when they write. It can’t. Mole says that it’s “enough to make any picnicker sick.”
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967)
In the event of your death, what would you eat for your last meal? A roast dinner, then? Steak and fries? Chicken pot pie, angel cake, and jellies? Or, would you go off the beaten path, literally, and eat them under the shade of a gum tree with milk and lemonade in your zinc-lined wicker basket?
As the start of Lindsay’s horror story about two schoolgirls and a teacher who go missing in the Australian bush, she writes: “Everyone agreed that the day was just right for the picnic to Hanging Rock.” In the summer, it was a “shining morning.” It was warm and still, with cicadas singing.
Blissful. Never mind the “poisonous ants” that swarm around the beauty spot, “laboriously dragging” bits of food “towards some subterranean larder dangerously close to Blanche’s yellow head, which is resting on a rock.” They have a “beautiful iced cake in the shape of a heart.”
“With their hunger satisfied and the food they didn’t expect to enjoy to the last bite, the girls climbed into the sun to meet their fate.”
1984 by George Orwell (1949)
The only food Winston and Julia bring is a “small slab of chocolate” when they go to a forest glade to hide from Big Brother. Sweet romance makes up for what the scene doesn’t have in food, but it’s still very good. This picnic is more about sex than food.
Bluebells were all over the ground, says Orwell. air seemed to touch one’s skin… The sound of ring doves came from somewhere in the heart of the wood.
But there must be chocolate first. There is also:
One of the pieces she gave to Winston was broken in half and given to her. Even before he ate it, he knew it was very different chocolate because of the smell. It was dark and shiny, and it had been wrapped in silver-colored paper. This is what chocolate used to be like. It was dark brown, crumbly, and tasted like the smoke from a fire. That’s not true. At some point, he had tasted chocolate like the piece of chocolate he was given by her. A whiff of its scent brought back a memory that he couldn’t put his finger on, but which was powerful and scary. When Winston ate the first piece of chocolate, it had already melted on his tongue.
The sex, of course, is very strong. But their happiness is only a dream. In the end, it turns out that Big Brother was watching us all along, after all.
Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (1930)
In fact, there can be some danger in going on a picnic, too. Rain isn’t the only thing that can send them south. A bottle of Bollinger that isn’t properly secured can be just as bad. When Jeeves writes Very Good, she gives a short warning about the dangers of going on a picnic How can he explain it? Here’s his favorite “mumbling toff,” Bertie Wooster.
He told me that when he opened his bag, he found that the champagne had burst, and that the salad dressing had soaked into his ham, which in turn had mixed with the gorgonzola cheese, making a paste. All right. He had some and said that he could still taste it even now.
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)
During Virginia Woolf’s family psychodrama set on the Isle of Skye, the Ramsays go on a boat to have their picnic. It’s a simple, cheap thing that happens near the end of the book, when Ramsey and his kids and some fishermen eat together. The lighthouse is getting closer.
“Mr. Ramsay opened the package and gave each of them a sandwich.” Now he was happy, because he was eating bread and cheese with these fisherman. In the beginning, Cam tried to throw her sandwich into the water. Her father told her that she shouldn’t waste good food. The way he said it made her put it back right away.
In the end, she learns a valuable lesson in picnic etiquette from her father. He gives her “gingerbread nuts, like the great Spaniards would give flowers to a lady at the window (so politely).”
The Iron Man by Ted Hughes (1968)
There is a “beautiful hill” where the family is having a picnic. On the grass, they put down a tablecloth. On the plate of sandwiches was a big pie with lots of toppings. There was a bottle of milk and a bowl of boiled eggs. There was also some butter and bread. They all sat on rugs and ate while waiting for the kettle to boil under a blue sky.
Idyllic. Only then does the ground start to shake. The middle of the tablecloth starts to sag. It got deeper as they watched, and all the food fell into the sag. The tablecloth was dragged into the ground by it, too.
Soon, a huge iron head comes out of the hole. An iron giant jerks and digs himself out. The family is in shock. Sanwiches are gone.
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence (1920)
There is no doubt about it: D. H. Lawrence was a big fan of a picnic. They show up in a lot of his novels, but mostly to set up sexy parties. Women in Love is his best work, though. First, there’s a Highland “water picnic.” It’s set up in a beautiful way by a lake.
They swim naked before dancing in front of a herd of “wild Scotch bullocks,” singing, and dancing. It’s time to go back to the picnic. They eat “hot and aromatic tea” and “delicious little sandwiches of cucumber and caviar and winy cakes.” The day doesn’t go well at the end, but it’s lovely while it lasts.
They also buy “bread, cheese, raisins, apples, and hard chocolate” when they go to Sherwood Forest later in the day. This is what they buy. There isn’t much of it for them to eat. Instead, they eat each other instead.
The Duel by Anton Chekhov (1891)
Even on a picnic in Chekhov’s world, there’s a lot of sadness. When Laevsky wrote his novella The Duel, he took the group on a coach ride to a gorge in the wild mountains. The group had a lot of fun there. Samoylenko makes “an awfully good soup of grey mullets” to try to bring peace to the party that is fighting. This seems like an odd choice of food for a picnic outside. Anyway…
“The fish soup was done by now. It was ready.” Ladling out spoonfuls at a time, they ate it with the religious solemnity that is only used at picnics.
It picks up a little when wine starts to flow. Nobody knew where their glasses were or where their bread was. This is how it always goes at picnics.” In the dark, everyone was too lazy to get up and put wood on the fire, so they poured wine on the carpet and on their knees, and spilt salt.
Laevsky says it was a “wonderful picnic and a magical evening.” The idyll can only last so long. I think bad times are going to happen, which is why the title of the story says so. This is, after all, Chekhov.
A hard-boiled egg and some bread with butter were in one hand. They were happily munching on both at the same time