I would like to preface this calendar with a conversation I had with
Judy Warner around the time the group conversation on the
novel had reached the sequence of chapters wherein Catherine
visits the Abbey (Chapters 21-24 or II:6-9).
From: Judy Warner
Ellen: The calendar is fascinating.
Subject: A Calendar for NA
"I read this weeks chapters with
calendar in hand, looking for time references, and was shocked at how
many times day, moment, minutes,-time words and references are made. I
want to look at another Austen book to see if this is usual and I'm just
noticing it for the first time. Did you notice the passage-and there
were other references to clocks and watches,at the end of Chapter V
'..when taking out his watch, he stopped short to pronounce it with
surprise within twenty minutes of five. ......the strictest punctuality
to the family hours would be expected at Northanger.'"
Thanks for sending this to us.
Chapman, p 162
Judy Warner warner@ultranet
In response to Judy Warner:
First I'd like to say this minute keeping of time may be
found in all Austen's novels. It is particularly consistent
throughout S&S, P&P, and most of NA. Since
we have no reason to disbelieve Cassandra's clear
statement that full complete drafts of the above three
novels were written one after another between 1796
and 1799, I would say that this keeping of time was
one way Austen used fundamentally to slow down time so as to
allow for an even slower version of time to emerge
in her texts: psychological time. She didn't need
to read Stephan Zweig's oft-quoted statement about
the biographer's and novelist's art which I quote
here as it is so beautifully said and lucidly differentiates
between psychological and diurnal time to capture
both of which is essential to the modern mature
"Only in semblance are the outward and
inward seasons of a life identical; in verity,
wealth of experience is the sole measure of
living, and the spirit is timed by another clock than that
of the calendar. Under the intoxication of destiny,
the mind may traverse lengthy periods in a few days; whereas
long years may count for nothing when life is void of
momentous spiritual happenings. Just as the historian
pays little heed to slow and stagnant epochs, and
his interest is focused upon a few and scattered but dramatic
and decisive moments--so, for the biographer, who is
concerned with the inmost story of a life, only the pulses
of passion count. A human being is not fully alive except
when his best energies are at work; and when feeling is
active, time moves swiftly though the clock-hands circle
at the customary pace" (Stephen Zweig, Preface to his
biography of Mary [Stuart], Queen of Scots).
As we read next week's chapters (Chapters 21-2, or II:6-7)
we will see Austen
moving between the two kinds of time. She will spend
whole chapters tracing the movements of Catherine's
mind over the brief spaces of time in which she will
first see some mysterious object (a chest, a drawer,
a funeral monument or picture), consider it, dream
over it, and then react like the Gothic heroine she
is. This imitates our real experience of time which
slows down as our minds become enthralled or
excited or gripped or absorbed by something.
But Austen will also write and interleave passages
into those written in the psychological which make
her novels move or feel like they are moving according
to calendar time. This she does to achieve verisimilitude.
Before her, an author would say in one paragraph well
here I jump ten years because nothing much happened
(Fielding's procedure in Tom Jones) or tell a hectic
series of events which must have taken years in
three swift paragraphs and then slow down again
(the cruder novelists like Eliza Haywood would do
this). Both are jarring and make us remember we
are reading a book; they interrupt the reverie in
which we believe we are really "in" the book and
experiencing people talking, thinking, acting
on a screen within our minds.
I think she learned to do this by writing slow
paragraphs which give us little daily things that
happen during a day and nailing these to a calendar.
One of the chapters of NA opens thus:
"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,
Friday, and Saturday have now passed in review before
the reader; the events of each day, its hopes and fears,
mortifications and pleasures,have been separately stated,
and the pangs of Sunday only now remain to be described,
and close the week" (1995 Penguin, Butler ed,
Ch 13, p ).
When I said time becomes indeterminate at the Abbey,
I only meant relatively because there are a number
of such passages as Judy Warner quoted at the close
of Chapter V (p 162 in Chapman); one of the most
striking occurs on the day Chapman makes out to
be the 19th of March (Vol 2, Ch 9, p 193 in Chapman),
with which date I agree. As Catherine slips away from
the Tilney family so as to explore Mrs Tilney's bedroom
on her own we are told:
"there was no time to be lost,
The day was bright, her courage high; at four o'clock,
the sun was now two hours above the horizon, and it
would be only her retiring to dress half an hour earlier
than usual (Penguin, Ch 24, p168).
Chapman says of this: if we look at the calendar for
1798 (or more accurately almanac) we will find
that in that year "on March 19 sunset at Greenwich
is at 6 hours 9 minutes. It would be like our author
to get this right" (Chapman,NA, Appendix, p 299).
Austen also uses time to garner yet more beauty
which is realistic for her text. A few paragraphs
before the above, sometimes after church ("It was
Sunday," Penguin Ch 24, p 166), Austen remarks
on how Catherine's "courage was not equal to"
her "wish" of explored the wife's apartments
"after dinner, either by the fading light of the sky
between six and seven o'clock, or by the yet more
stronger illumination of a treacherous lamp" (Penguin,
Ch 24, p 166).
Where did she "learn" to do this--or where had she
seen it done before. Well Radcliffe had begun to
write omniscient narratives which observed
psychological time, but were not convincing
when you began to think about how all the events
related to one another, and could at times feel
ludicrous even while reading. The source for
this kind of calendar time is epistolary narrative.
Richardson nailed days down and used
psychological time. One argument then for
thinking that both P&P and S&S were
originally epistolary is their mutual consistent
use of this kind of determine time together
with psychological time.
The later three novels also use the calendar though
more fluidly; Austen seems to be able to pick
up where we are in the calendar at will, but not
have the need in the text to tell us. That she
knows where we are has been shown by the
calendars various critics have constructed for
Emma, MP, and Persuasion. Edith
mentioned that the piano arrives at the Bates's
residence on Valentine's day if we realize
Austen is using an 1813-1814 almanac; Emma
does differ from the above two novels in the
playfulness with which Austen plants "clues"
by using her almanac. MP differs because
during that section when the novel begins to
veer towards becoming an epistolary narrative,
it begins to show the kind of careful use of
ironic juxtaposition of events we find in S&S
and other epistolary novels of the period.
Finally, the opening of Persuasion is
indeterminate, while the later section at
Bath resembles the opening section at
Bath in NA. Whether this suggests
the novel is in an unfinished state, I leave
to others to think about.