‘It’s a splendid day. Come for a row, or a stroll along the hedges, or a picnic in the woods, or something.’
(The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame)
International Picnic Day is a special day we really enjoy celebrating. Say the word picnic. It evokes happy memories, nice images and fun times with friends. What are the ingredients for a successful picnic day? Good weather, good company, good food and a nice scenery. Picnics have such a long cultural and literary history that we unintentionally get inspired by famous literary works, films and paintings when we think of them.
Let’s look at some famous examples of picnics in three literary works. Good weather might not always be guaranteed in the British Isles, but we can rely on the beautiful scenery. We can trace back a version of picnics in literary works to the story of Robin Hood. Although they were more like outdoors feasts back in the Middle Ages, hunters certainly enjoyed eating outdoors. If you are interested in the history of picnics, read the article ‘Picnicking Through The Ages on the NPR website. It will give you lots of information from the etymology of the word through to its medieval origins and the Victorian Age fashion of eating en plein air.
Let’s see three famous examples of literary picnics to get some inspiration for International Picnic Day. Organise an event with your family, friends, English language group or Book Club in June!
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Mole and Rat have a picnic in The Wind in the Willows
In Kenneth Grahame’s story, when Mole and Rat go on a picnic, they mean it seriously. They choose the location carefully, and of course they take a boat to get there. They even have a proper ‘fat, wicker luncheon-basket’ packed with all sorts of tasty food: ‘coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater’.
Here’s a language game for you and your students: find all the food words in this long word snake!
Picnics in Emma
‘They had a very fine day for Box Hill; and all the other outward circumstances of arrangement, accommodation, and punctuality, were in favour of a pleasant party.’
In the early 19th century picnics started to become very popular, especially among higher social classes. In Jane Austen’s Emma there are two picnic scenes, happening on two consecutive days. The first one is a strawberry picking, and the second one is one of the most famous scenes in the novel. The second picnic happens on Box Hill, and although everything is set up for a successful gathering, it goes horribly wrong. Emma insults Miss Bates, and then Mr Knightly has a row with Emma when he tells her that her behaviour was unacceptable, and they all go home feeling bad. We can learn some things from this scene: choose your fellow picnickers carefully and don’t start arguments or serious discussions. Just be a happy picnicker!
Picnic on a boat in To the Lighthouse
‘Mr. Ramsay opened the parcel and shared out the sandwiches among them. Now he was happy, eating bread and cheese with these fishermen.’
The picnic scene in the novel is an unusual one. Mr Ramsay, James and Cam finally reach the lighthouse, and they find some kind of closure, meanwhile another storyline, the story of Lily’s painting also comes to a closure, too. They eat bread and cheese sandwiches, and it’s a good reminder that a picnic with simple ingredients can be enjoyable as well, especially if you have it on a sailing boat.
Do you have any favourite scenes from other literary works?
There are several examples of picnics in the history of art and film as well. Do some research and find a painting you really like. Then think about films you’ve seen and share any picnic scenes you can remember!