Mary: “‘Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow.I cannot be dictated to by a watch” (1983 BBC Mansfield Park, scripted Ken Taylor), Fanny, Mary, and Edmund walking into the part, MPII,Ch 9)
Dear friends and readers,
I’ve gotten into my project of study towards writing a paper on the curious pattern of “important” or bad Tuesdays I found several years ago in Austen’s novels as I drew out the timelines for her novels.
First, I’m returning to the novels rereading them and am almost through S&S and have confirmed for this first published novel there are three of these Tuesdays, with two named specifically. The day Elinor is humiliated and mortified by Mrs Ferrars in front of the Steeles, Dashwood, Brandon, Mrs Jennings and whoever else was at that dinner party is called “the important Tuesday” and a study of the timeline of S&S bears this out.
Two or three important Tuesdays:
The day Willoughby left his card is referred to by him as “last Tuesday” on the night of the snubbing, and my calendar bears out that the snubbing or the morning after of the terrible letter was a third Tuesday.
Monday or Tuesday 15-16 January 1798. “Nothing occurred during the next three or four days . . . about the end of this time” Dashwoods engaged to attend Lady Middleton to a party. Marianne’s public suffering is at least not prolonged. The meeting occurs soon after the Dashwoods enter the room: “They had not remained in this manner long . . . ” The important statement for the chronologist is Willoughby’s “I did myself the honour of calling in Berkeley-street last Tuesday . . . My card was not lost, I hope.” (1:6:175-77; 28:148-49) Tuesday or Wednesday 17 January 1798. The first letter in the novel we get to read; four altogether, one by Willoughby, and three by Marianne. “The next day . . . a cold, gloomy morning in January,” Marianne writes Willoughby last letter which is sent from his lodgings to where he is breakfasting with Sophia Grey at the Ellison’s. During long breakfast she receives the reply (“Bond Street, January“), together with her 3 letters of 4, 11, and 17 January 1798, and the lock of her hair. Around 1 o’clock Elinor is perusing Willoughby’s letter and remains dazed by Marianne’s side until the coming of Mrs. Jennings’s “chariot” to take Mrs. Jennings to Mrs. Palmer’s rouses her to go over the letters with Marianne.
All pivotal moments in the novel. The card produces Marianne’s second letter. The snub needs no explaining. The dinner party leads to Lucy Steele being taken into Fanny and John Dashwood’s house and then her exposure and Edward’s ejection.
“I did myself the honour of calling … last Tuesday … My card was not lost … ?” in S&S (1995 BBC, scripted Emma Thompson): a week later Wednesday dawn after Willoughby turns coldly away Tuesday night, snub/mortification, deep distress; Marianne writing, Elinor sitting by
Tuesday 13 February 1798, “The important Tuesday” dinner party which “introduces” Elinor and Lucy to Mrs. Ferrars who “distinguishes” Lucy in order to spite Elinor. Elinor overtly snubbed. (2:12:231-36; 34:196-99).
“The Important Tuesday” in S&S (1971 BBC, scripted DConstanduros): John and Fanny Dashwood’s dinner party: Mrs Ferrars has done all she can to mortify Elinor; Marianne defends her fiercely; Mrs Jennings to her right
Now I want to add to this an account of those days where we get three indications of time: day, month and if not the exact date (though in some of the novels we do), a indication of precisely which week in the month is meant. For example, when Elinor meets Nancy Steele in Kensington Gardens, we told this occurred on “the second week in March” and on a “Sunday. Since Austen has given us sufficiently precise information on when Easter occurred, the year may be arrived at (1798).
What months are mentioned: “very early in September,” a “showery October” “The first week of January” their departure from Barton to London “on the approach of January” “Latter end of January” Lucy to come to London because Edward will be there in “February” “a cold gloomy morning in January” “early in February” the two Miss Steeles present themselves in London. It was “last November” they came to Barton Park; Colonel Brandon remembers “February … almost a twelvemonth back”;and we are told the Dashwoods and Palmers and Mrs Palmer are considering leaving London the “end of March for the Easter holidays” and in the event leave “in the very early days of April.”
I’m looking at the distances and time carefully calculated: Cleveland (we are told) was within a few miles of Bristol, the distance to Barton was not beyond one day, though a long day’s journey (3:3:237) and intense attention paid to time: Marianne “draws up a statement of the hours, that were yet to divide her from Barton, 3:3:237; they’ll be home “in little more than three weeks’ time. Brandon “calculated with exactness the time in which she might look for his return”, 3:7:264. “How slow was the progress of time which yet kept them in ignorance”, 3:7:267. Brandon and Willougbhby’s stories filled with continual time-keeping, time words.
After S&S, I’ll go for Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, Lady Susan, The Watsons. Then the Juvenilia and then the letters.
What does this curious pattern mean? where does it come from? it’s an obsession with place as well as time: “What Edward felt on being within four miles … day after day passed off, and brought no letter, no tidings” (S&S III:12, 302-3)
Well, in 1998 when I was writing my paper, “A Calendar for Sense and Sensibility,” I was so intent on demonstrating my thesis that the S&S we now have represents a revision of an epistolary novel into an omniscent one, with add-ons of chapters (1-6 for example), insertions of chapters (like Mrs Dennison’s musical party, and new connecting chapters (the trip from London to Cleveland for example, where either the pace of the novel was so different from that of the central sections or its content self-explanatory instead of narrative — that I was ignoring one obvious source. Austen’s obsessive time-keeping. Hardly a paragraph is written in those sections which were epistolary where we are not old so many minutes passed by for this to happen, so such-and-such amount of hours, or days, and occasionally weeks or a fortnight.
I had simply been looking for the instances of humiliation, mortification, loss that occur on Tuesdays, seeing the descriptions and creating a general picture. I wondered if Austen combined some memory of a personal trauma with a way of deflecting it through jokes, and to make a joke of it, Austen just might have used “bad Tuesdays” in Richardson
>Clarissa: Lovelace announces the rape of Clarissa on a Tuesday: “Tuesday morn, June 13: “And now Belford, I can go no further. The affair is over. Clarissa lives. And I am your humble servant, R. Lovelace (Letter 257)
Grandison: Charlotte Grandison is married on Tuesday, it’s called “the Important Tuesday” and much attention is paid to coercing her acceptance of Lord G), many letters devoted to this;
whether bogus or not I know it but it’s said that Mary Queen of Scots had a very bad Tuesday night before her execution. Mary had a bad night one Tuesday in 1585 because she was executed the next day, Wednesday.
Now I shall take another trajectory which takes into account the calendars as such. I had not sufficiently considered how central is the keeping of and playing with time in the epistolary mode, especially when you have several central interlocutors, how this relates to the creation of a subjectivity that matters to the person experiencing it.
I’ve begun to read sources here: Norman Holland’s The I (the subject in intimate contact with another subject, self-formation); Janet Altman’s Epistolarity with its long section on temporality in epistolary narratives; and today I’ve been told about Stuart Sherman’s Telling Time: Clocks, Diaries and English Diurnal Form, 1660-1785: A revolution in clock technology in England during the 1660s allowed people to measure time more accurately, attend to it more minutely, and possess it more privately than previously imaginable. In Telling Time, Stuart Sherman argues that innovations in prose emerged simultaneously with this technological breakthrough, enabling authors to recount the new kind of time.
Perhaps worth while is to look into sophisticated writers’ use of time: Margaret Church’s Time and Reality (dealing with the awareness and uses of time in “modern” respected writers (Woolf, James, Proust), but I suspect I’d do better to see how Scott kept time in the portion of Redgauntlet that’s epistolary as opposed to the omniscient part. How much attention Richardson pays within a letter. Seek a few of the mass of epistolary novels of the era Austen knew so well, from the great by LaClos (Les Liaisons Dangereuses), to ordinary uses like de Stael (Delphine), to whatever is the most feeble — to see exactly what happens to time.
On my website I had suggested Austen was using time to imitate the pace of internal and external reality as we experience it in life. Now I want to look at how this keeping of time was also a form of controlled poetic utterance she could handle and shape step-by-step. Her metaphor of herself working on a tiny piece of ivory takes on a new meaning.
Now I need to take that more seriously and relate it to her sense of herself and her life story. That will (I hope) also provide a framework for my A Place of Refuge: The Sense and Sensibility films.
My underlying key idea is that authors who use epistolary narrative originally and with multivalent voices come to this from a life where they have themselves used routs, repetition, holding fast to time as a way of conquering and dealing with stress and depression. They seek control over their environment and shape for their existence this way. I saw Richardson that way, under his carapace Trollope and (from her letters and novels too and her picture and verse), Jane Austen.
I’ve long been fascinated myself as a person who needs routs in writers who make a sophisticated use of epistolary, e.g., Trollope’s Partly Told in Letters.
The Other Boleyn Girl: we never tire of these stories of compensatory victimhood; Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies the latest money-maker. Austen participated in these sorts of displaced emotions too