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I've been recently working through the BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, and enjoying it very much. However, there's a particular motif that's bothering me, whose logic I haven't been able to figure out from context; that would be Mr. Jandyce's constant referring to events or moods that bother him by muttering something like,

the wind's blowing in the East.

One easily divines from context that's it's not a positive thing, because Jandyce only says it when someone dear to him is in trouble or some misfortune has befallen them, but I can't figure out why the east wind blowing would necessarily be a bad thing. Is there some sort of logic to this phrase, that can be explained by looking at its etymology?

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Might not be so much "the East" as it is that the wind is blowing, which is a way of saying that times are changing. Most people dislike change, so perhaps it's the sort of foreboding you'd expect from someone who says that a storm is coming. –  Neil May 16 '11 at 10:45
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I understand what you're saying, Neil, but I think the direction does matter. Consider that a west wind (a zephyr, one of my favorite words) is welcomed in spring, but the north wind is cursed for bringing the cold air off the Arctic shield in the winter. At least, where I live it is. –  KitFox May 16 '11 at 11:47
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I had the same doubt and found this explanation. –  user16122 Dec 17 '11 at 18:37

9 Answers 9

In England, the most common wind direction is from the southwest, which coming from further south in the Atlantic is often warm.

By comparison an easterly wind in England usually comes from the Baltic or Arctic and so is sometimes cold and bitter, and is unusual enough to be notable. Highly suitable for Bleak House.

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Which wind is most common depends on where in England you are — in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, for instance, that bitter northeast wind is the norm. But definitely agreed with your answer in general. –  PLL May 19 '11 at 23:12
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@PLL: Over the last five years the typical wind direction in Cambridge has been South South West –  Henry May 20 '11 at 0:52
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thanks, that’s very interesting; a good object lesson against relying on folklore and subjective impressions instead of actual data! I guess we just noticed the East wind more. –  PLL May 20 '11 at 10:52
    
"The eastern wind, the Russian wind, is not so nice. When the eastern breeze flies through the trees, it's full of ice." –  Tom Au Sep 11 at 21:56

I'm a bit thrown by "in" the East, but in Europe, at least in the colder seasons, when the wind is blowing "from" the East, it means the weather will be turning sharply colder. I don't have any sources to cite, just my own experience of ~40 years of living there. Easterly winds meant cold weather, which could mean hardship for some people in Dickens' time.

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Jarndyce says "the wind is in the East" (not exactly as the OP has in the quote), which does just mean it is blowing from the East: "the direction from which the wind is blowing is in the Eastern quarter" if you want a verbose expansion to try to clarify it. –  AAT May 16 '11 at 14:23

I would say it's an old superstitious phrase from the Bible in the context used by Charles Dickens in his novel Bleak House. Also, remember there were probably no meteorologist back then, so they had to look to the wind for information about coming "bad luck" that the East Wind represented. Wikipedia: "Some 17 references to East Wind exist in the Authorized King James Version of the English Old Testament. In chapter 41 of Genesis, the pharaoh's dream, that is interpreted by Joseph, describes seven ears of corn blasted by the east wind. In chapters 10 and 14 of Exodus, the east wind is summoned by Moses to bring the locusts that plague Egypt and to part the Red Sea so that the Children of Israel can escape pharaoh's armies. Several other references exist, most associating the east wind with destruction. Often this destruction is of the wicked by God."[1] Gen. 41: 6, 23, 27;Ex. 10: 13;Ex. 14: 21;Job 15: 2;Job 27: 21;Job 38: 24;Ps. 48: 7;Ps. 78: 26;Isa. 27: 8;Jer. 18: 17;Ezek. 17: 10;Ezek. 19: 12;Ezek. 27: 26;Hosea 12: 1;Hosea 13: 15;Jonah 4: 8;Hab. 1: 9

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Alright, so now I’m reading the old tale and I started to ask myself the same question. Thus, here and now, I’ve come upon your very same question thanks to Google. I think that the speculations above about the meaning behind Mr. Jarndyce’s words are more than correct – the reference to the East is simply a metaphoric device pointing to countless instances of the darkness rising up from Eastern winds. I believe, however, that the text has a simpler answer.

Ester and Ada’s own speculations in the book conclude the questionable nature of Mr. Jarndyce’s eccentric obsession with the winds when Ester explains that:

Ada and I agreed, as we talked together for a little while upstairs, that this caprice about the wind was a fiction; and that he [Mr. Jarndyce] used the pretense to account for any disappointment he could not conceal, rather than he would blame the real cause of it, or disparage or depreciate any one. We thought this very characteristic of his gentleness …" (end of Chapter VI).

Mr. Jardynce’s winds serve the purpose of developing Mr. Jardynce as a character in the novel and not so much to make discreet references to some meteorological anomaly.

Of recent, I can relate to the speculative advances from others about the meaning of “wind in the East” after living in the capital of the province of Cádiz in Spain for the last month. The infamous Levante, or “wind from where the sun rises” (levantar, in Spanish, means “to rise”), brings the heat of the Saharan Desert to Cádiz and suffocates everyone in the city, sending sand into my eyes on the beach and spilling it into the streets of the Maritime Walk. Coming from Africa, which here lies in the East, this wind is hot, not cold like the Eastern wind in the book which hits England from the chilly Balkan countries. Conversely, the Poniente, or “the wind from where the sun sets” (poner, in Spanish, means “to set”), enters from the West, across the Atlantic, pulling all the briskness from the surface of the ocean into the city to make the nights a little less sweaty and a little more sleepable.

Anyway, I guess I share all of that trivia with you in hopes of coming theologically closer to one of my dreams which is to eat in Apontiente, a contemporary, chic gastrobar here in the province of Cádiz before I have to leave the city and head back to native lands. If only I has the inheritance of Lady Dedlock!

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Spiritual meaning of "East wind" has a good explanation:

The signification of the waters of the Red Sea was similar to that of the waters of the flood in the present passage, as is evident from the fact that the Egyptians (by whom are represented the wicked) were drowned therein, while the sons of Israel (by whom are represented the regenerate, as by Noah here) passed over. By the Red Sea, the same as by the flood, is represented damnation, as also temptation; and thus by the east wind is signified the dissipation of the waters, that is, of the evils of damnation, or of temptation, as is evident from the song of Moses after they had passed over (Exod. 15:1-19); and also from Isaiah:--

And also this one:

The other east wind is the top of a low pressure system (they always turn counter clockwise), which will wipe out fishing for days and create a constant east wind. The same is true for the lower part of a high pressure; it will blow from the east for days and shut down the fishing.

Maybe this is why it is considered a bad thing.

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I think your second quotation is about fishing on Lake Erie so unlikely to be uppermost in Dickens's mind. –  Henry May 16 '11 at 11:22
    
@Henry Fishing on Lake Erie might not have been something Dickens thought about, but I don't think it's a stretch to consider that Dickens was using a colloquialism from sailing. I mean, seeing as how he lived on a very large island in a port city on a river and all. –  KitFox May 16 '11 at 11:42
    
Actually, it's about "How does the east wind affect fishing?". –  user8568 May 16 '11 at 18:39
    
@user8568: which, again, is something specific to Lake Erie and not the whole world. –  siride Sep 5 '13 at 7:30

When my brother took a navigation course in the UK they told him 'When you're facing north, if the wind is coming over your right shoulder the weather is more likely to worsen'. That would be an East wind. I think Dickens probably was aware of that general principle. He was writing in the UK after all.

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My understanding is that an east wind typically precedes a powerful storm. So saying that the east wind is blowing is equivalent to saying that a storm is coming.

Obviously, this is not true everywhere in the world, but it seems quite consistently true in what we generally refer to as the "western world".

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This is certainly true in Boston, where certain bad rainstorms are called nor'easters. But is this true in London, where rain hats are called sou'westers? –  Peter Shor May 16 '11 at 23:23

The context in which Mr Jarndyce refers to the east wind (he "only says it when someone dear to him is in trouble or some misfortune has befallen them") may have the lyrics of the nursery rhyme "When the Wind is in the East" as a possible origin:

"When the wind is in the east, 'Tis neither good for man nor beast"

http://www.rhymes.org.uk/a111-when-the-wind.htm

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This is a good theory, but it seems from the nursery rhyme that a wind in the east already had a negative connotation. –  KitFox Sep 1 '11 at 12:18

In the Old Testament references to an 'East Wind' are linked to change, like Moses calls on the East Wind to deliver the plague of locusts to the Egyptians prompting the Exodus. The sun rising in the East led monotheistic religions to deduce that God resides in the East, so winds from the East were usually the destructive forces of God.

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