Author Patricia Nicol unveils a selection of the best books on: Epiphany
- Patricia Nicol looks back on the historical origins of the term ‘ephiphany’
- James Joyce’s The Dead, describes an annual epiphany feast
- Jane Austen’s Emma shows Harriet Smith’s revelation of her love for Mr. Knightley
Thursday is the feast of Epiphany. It never meant much to me – nor, I risk, most Brits. On the mainland there are festivals, pageants, traditions of gifts and cakes. In Ireland, it’s a sexist-sounding ‘Women’s Christmas’ when husbands are expected to take care of household chores.
Right here? I’m afraid the epiphany is mostly marked by confused people who google “When should I remove my Christmas decorations?” It wasn’t so: Shakespeare appointed a genre swap comedy for Twelfth Night. I blame the Puritans and their pooper descendants.
The Epiphany (derived from the Greek to reveal or manifest) is a feast day with a hat trick. It marks the day when the Magi were to arrive at Jesus’ bedside. Also, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and his first reported miracle – water in wine. Take that, dry January!
One of the most famous short stories in literature, The Dead by James Joyce, describes an annual epiphany feast. As snow blankets Ireland, guests gather for the evening of song and dance by the Misses Morkans. Although not rich, the women are generous, lying on a goose, ham, spicy beef, puddings of jellies and custards, figs, raisins, nuts, chocolates, “a pyramid of oranges. and American apples ”, washed down with port, sherry and“ minerals for the ladies ”.
In Jane Austen’s Emma when Harriet Smith reveals her admiration for Mr. Knightley
Joyce’s character, Gabriel Conroy, has thoughts that evening that dovetail with the standard literary interpretation of an epiphany, as a potentially life-shattering revelation.
As for example in Emma by Jane Austen where Harriet Smith reveals her admiration for Mr. Knightley. For the heroine Emma Woodhouse, suddenly “got to know her heart”. . . he rushed through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley is not to marry anyone but himself!
Elizabeth Strout is one of our wisest contemporary novelists. Her latest, Oh William !, sends recurring character Lucy Barton on a road trip with her first husband, William. He made a discovery about his late mother, which sets the stage for further revelations and self-realizations.
Need to cheer yourself up this week? So don’t just do Twelfth Night to chop down your tree, but celebrate Epiphany.
One of literature’s most famous short stories, James Joyce’s The Dead, describes an annual epiphany feast