The Summer Season in Classic Literature: Some Classic Summer-themed Fiction and Plays

Summer fiction is usually equated with light, entertaining reads but there are many classic literary stories and novels which take place wholly or partially in the summertime.  Often the summer season itself becomes a crucial background element in the story and can symbolize or evoke many things, from disease and decay to the awakening of life and love.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – A mysterious but wealthy young man, Jay Gatsby, intrigues his middle-class neighbor Nick Carraway who observes the lavish parties Gatsby throws over the course of one summer in his mansion in West Egg, Long Island. Nick becomes fascinated with this mysterious character and Gatsby enlists his help in his quest to win back his lost love, Daisy Buchanan, who lives with her husband nearby.

Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill – Set in 1912, this autobiographical play follows a prosperous Irish-American family as it confronts demons from its past over the course of a long, foggy, late summer day at their vacation home in New England.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare – This classic Shakespeare comedy follows the events that happen in a fairy enchanted forest over the course of one magical summer night. Two pairs of lovers flee into the woods and fall under the spell of the fairy magic, while other mortals are caught in the disputes of the fairy King Oberon and Queen Titania.

Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams – Sebastian Venable’s mother and cousin each offer very different versions of how he died during his last summer tour of Mexico. Mrs. Venable says her son spent that summer searching for god, while his cousin Catherine says he was looking for more worldly pleasures in Mexico, which brought him to a very terrifying end.

Summer by Edith Wharton– Describes the first love affair of Charity Royall, a small-town New England librarian, taking place over the course of a long hot summer. Wharton’s descriptions of the summer, its contrasts of natural beauty and oppressive heat, mirror the twists and turns of Charity’s love affair, which must inevitably wane and die as summer ends.

The Swimmer by John Cheever – This short story follows middle-aged businessman Ned Merrill as he attempts the feat of swimming across the county to his home on a blazing midsummer’s day. But is it really summer? As the day continues the blazing heat of midsummer seems impossibly to change to the cold wind of fall, as Ned Merrill gradually realizes that everything he cherished in his life is gone forever.

- Michael K.


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