The Meaning of “August”
We use the word “august” in ordinary speech to refer to a person who is wise or highly respected or a thing or place viewed as majestic or grand. Interestingly, the Latin verb “augere” (to increase, honor or exalt) and the Latin adjective “augustus” (dignified, majestic, sacred, honorable) are also roots of the word “augur.” Ancient Rome had a religious college of augurs who divined the meaning of signs from the gods. The augurs studied the night sky in search of signs such as lightning, the flight of birds, or the appearance of shooting stars or comets and then provided guidance to the ruler.
In parallel with the original name of the Romans’ fifth month “Quintilis,” August was originally called “Sextilis,” meaning the sixth month. However, in 8 B.C., Sextilis became the eighth month of the year and was renamed to honor Emperor Augustus. To balance out the total days of the year, the Romans lengthened the month of August to include 31 days.
Knowing the history of the name of the month is useful to writers of fiction as is knowing the weather patterns associated with a particular month of the year. Understanding the meaning of the name unlocks the potential for using symbols or references, just as the weather allows the writer to create scenes and emotions.
August in Fiction
In her novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), Anne Brontë refers to every month of the year except for May, mentioning August eight times. Her usage reflects her familiarity with the meanings discussed above. In chapter 13, Brontë ties the night and the full moon to the narrator’s sense of autonomy beneath the cloudless sky clouded with the fear of others’ insinuations which recalls the augurs of early Rome:
“And I turned round to look at the old Hall. There was little besides the chimneys visible above my contracted horizon. I walked back to get a better view of it. When it rose in sight, I stood still a moment to look, and then continued moving towards the gloomy object of attraction. Something called me nearer—nearer still—and why not, pray? Might I not find more benefit in the contemplation of that venerable pile with the full moon in the cloudless heaven shining so calmly above it—with that warm yellow lustre peculiar to an August night—and the mistress of my soul within, than in returning to my home, where all comparatively was light, and life, and cheerfulness, and therefore inimical to me in my present frame of mind…”
The month of August reappears in Chapter 15, where Brontë ties the meaning to her respect for Mr. Huntingdon:
“August 25th.—I am now quite settled down to my usual routine of steady occupations and quiet amusements—tolerably contented and cheerful, but still looking forward to spring with the hope of returning to town, not for its gaieties and dissipations, but for the chance of meeting Mr. Huntingdon once again; for still he is always in my thoughts and in my dreams.”
Again, in Chapter 29, Brontë discusses an August evening:
“… Mrs. Hargrave did not visit London that season: having no daughter to marry, she thought it as well to stay at home and economise; and, for a wonder, Walter came down to join her in the beginning of June, and stayed till near the close of August….
In Chapter 30, during the month of August, Brontë recalls her respect for her old home:
“About the third week in August, Arthur set out for Scotland, and Mr. Hargrave accompanied him thither, to my private satisfaction.
Shortly after, I, with little Arthur and Rachel, went to Staningley, my dear old home, which, as well as my dear old friends its inhabitants, I saw again with mingled feelings of pleasure and pain so intimately blended that I could scarcely distinguish the one from the other, or tell to which to attribute the various tears, and smiles, and sighs awakened by those old familiar scenes, and tones, and faces.”
In Chapter 31, Brontë’s narrator tries to focus on the present, rather than trying to divine the future:
“August 20th. —We are shaken down again to about our usual position. Arthur has returned to nearly his former condition and habits; and I have found it my wisest plan to shut my eyes against the past and future, as far as he at least is concerned, and live only for the present: to love him when I can; to smile (if possible) when he smiles, be cheerful when he is cheerful, and pleased when he is agreeable; and when he is not, to try to make him so; and if that won’t answer, to bear with him, to excuse him, and forgive him as well as I can, and restrain my own evil passions from aggravating his; and yet, while I thus yield and minister to his more harmless propensities to self-indulgence, to do all in my power to save him from the worse.”
In Chapter 50, in the month of August, the narrator neglects to ask Lawrence to be the bearer of a message:
“Lawrence seemed to expect me to take advantage of this circumstance to entrust him with some sort of a message to his sister; and I believe he would have undertaken to deliver it without any material objections, if I had had the sense to ask him, though of course he would not offer to do so, if I was content to let it alone. But I could not bring myself to make the request…
He did not return till towards the latter end of August.”
And, again finally in the last paragraph of the novel in Chapter 53, making it the eighth mention of the eighth month in the novel, Brontë has the narrator marry in August:
“To return, however, to my own affairs: I was married in summer, on a glorious August morning. It took the whole eight months, and all Helen’s kindness and goodness to boot, to overcome my mother’s prejudices against my bride-elect, and to reconcile her to the idea of my leaving Linden Grange and living so far away.”
I enjoyed reading through Anne Brontë’s incorporation of the meaning and the symbols of August in this novel. I recommend that you read the book.
August in My Fiction
I am working on the timelines of my novels to figure out how to place the action according to months. To date, I have not focused on August.
My Writing Goals for 2022
Publish my second book of poetry:
My supportive poetry editor has reviewed half of my second poetry collection. I appreciated very much the comment with which she returned them, ” I will cherish these poems forever and shake my head in wonder over them.”
Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:
This month, I studied more about my topic.
Continue to work on my other novels:
The critique group workshopped two thousand words of one of my novels. I truly value their feedback and enjoy reading and commenting on their work.
I did not work on the other one.
Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:
Boulder Writers Alliance: I represented Boulder Writers Alliance at the Telluride poetry presentation by Joanna Spindler, who is the current Poet Laureate of San Miguel County in Colorado. Joanna is also the lead partner on the Bardic Trails Zoom virtual poet series in Telluride. She is a phenomenal poet and reader. Her heart and her mind shine through her work. I also worked on the BWA bylaws.
Denver Women’s Press Club: I read the newsletter which contains information about members’ publications, book launchings, and events at the clubhouse.
Women Writing the West: The WWW listserv is a terrific source for information and resources on writing about the West. The WWW conference this year is in Oklahoma.
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: The current president of RMFW, Z. J. Czupor, who is in the process of publishing a book on jokes, loves humor. He peppers the current newsletter with dad-style bits and bytes. The newsletter also features current members’ novels. The RMFW’s Gold Conference is in Denver this fall.
Document my writing progress through my blog and post it on the seventh day of each month, one blog per month in 2022:
Today is August 7, 2022, I am posting my eighth blog of 2022. This summer I am grateful for the availability of Zoom which allows me to participate with other writers across the state and across the nation. The women in my critique group live in three different time zones. The Telluride Poetry group is miles across the mountains from where I live. Connection with other writers is invaluable.
Today in History: Ann Beattie, the author of The Accomplished Guest and Chilly Scenes of Winter was born on August 7, 1947.