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Author Patricia Nicol reveals a selection of the best books on: Epiphany 

Author Patricia Nicol reveals a selection of the best books on: Epiphany

  • Patricia Nicol considers the historical origins of the term ‘ephiphany’
  • James Joyce’s The Dead, describes an annual epiphany party
  • Jane Austen’s Emma shows Harriet Smith’s revelation of her love for Mr Knightley


Thursday is the feast of Epiphany. This has never meant much to me — nor, I am hazarding, most Brits. On the continent, there are feasts, pageants, gifting traditions, and cakes. In Ireland, it is the sexist-sounding ‘Women’s Christmas’, when husbands are meant to do the chores.

Here? I fear epiphany is mostly marked by confused people Googling ‘When do I need to take down my Christmas decorations?’ It didn’t used to be this way: Shakespeare named a gender-swap comedy for Twelfth Night. I blame the Puritans and their killjoy descendants.

Epiphany (derived from the Greek for reveal, or manifest) is a hat-trick feast-day. It marks the day the Magi were supposed to arrive at Jesus’s bedside. Also, Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist, and his first reported miracle — water into wine. Take that, Dry January!

One of literature’s most celebrated short stories, James Joyce’s The Dead, describes an annual epiphany party. As snow covers Ireland, guests gather for the Misses Morkans’ evening of song and dance. Though not rich, the women are generous, laying on a goose, ham, spiced beef, puddings of jellies and custards, figs, raisins, nuts, chocolates, ‘a pyramid of oranges and American apples’, all to be 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 concur with the standard literary interpretation of an epiphany, as a potentially life-changing revelation.

As, for example, in Jane Austen’s Emma when Harriet Smith reveals her admiration for Mr Knightley. For heroine Emma Woodhouse, suddenly ‘acquainted with her heart . . . it darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr Knightley must marry no one but herself!’

Elizabeth Strout is one of our wisest contemporary novelists. Her latest, Oh William!, sends a recurring character, Lucy Barton, on a road-trip with her first husband, William. He has made a discovery about his late mother, that ushers in other revelations and self-realisations.

Need cheering up this week? Then don’t just make Twelfth Night about taking down your tree, but celebrate Epiphany.

One of literature¿s most celebrated short stories, James Joyce¿s The Dead, describes an annual epiphany party

One of literature’s most celebrated short stories, James Joyce’s The Dead, describes an annual epiphany party

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk