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A Jane Austen Event Calendar

As a result of a careful scrutiny of the calendars in Austen’s novels during which I constructed an Austen event calendar for each as part of an on-going study of her use of letters in all her novels in order to shed light on the possible origins of P&PS&S, and even in part MPas epistolary narrative I have come across a curious and repeating pattern.

With the exception of Northanger Abbey, Austen pointedly makes certain similar kinds of pivotal events in her longer finished novels occur on a Tuesday. These events often include a snubbing or humiliation of the heroine or hero (or anti-hero or co-heroine) as a significant part of the event, and they lead to denouements or climaxes. In most of these one does not have to work out that the day is Tuesday; Austen tells you this more than once:

The Snub

Sense and Sensibility

In S&S the dreadful traumatic moment wherein Willoughby snubs Marianne occurs on a Tuesday which I make out to be Jan 16, 1798; he says to Marianne, did not you receive my card which I left in your house last Tuesday; the following morning when in the early dawn we find her awake, and half-hysterical while writing her last letter to him is specifically said to be a Wednesday.

The party at which Lucy Steele and Elinor Dashwood meet “their” prospective mother-in-law is called “the important Tuesday” which I make out to have occurred on Feb 13, 1798. It is at this party Lucy makes her fortunate impression on Fanny Dashwood and Mrs Ferrars, and this leads to Fanny inviting Lucy & Ann Steeleto her house in order to fend off her husband thinking they ought to invite Elinor; their coming to her house leads to the revelation of the engagement; at this party Mrs Ferrars does all she can to mortify Elinor and Marianne becomes publicly deeply distressed as she identifies with what is going on within Elinor.


In P&P the Netherfield Ball at which the Bennet family so shames Elizabeth, and during which Darcy becomes aware that everyone is saying Bingley will marry Jane, which awareness leads him to removing Bingley occurs on Tuesday, Nov 26, 1811; Bingley remembers it months later as having occurred on Tuesday, Nov 26, and the year we owe to Chapman (though it has been disputed);

I will also say that using Chapman’s calendar, one finds that Elizabeth meets Wickham in Meryton in front of Darcy and Bingley for the first time on a Tuesday, but since I had to work it out and since the mortification would have to be attributed to Wickham–though it is Darcy who goes white–it does not quite fit pattern; but still it’s there, so I mention it.


In MP: we are told that Fanny and William arrive in Portsmouth on a Tuesday night which I make out to be Feb 7th (the year is either 1809 or 1797, the latter being Litz’s choice, the former Chapman’s); that night begins the long pivotal and medicinal lesson Sir Thomas meant Fanny to have; she is mortified, snubbed by her family (as after all she is not “theirs” any more);

the night of Mrs Frazer’s party which is so fatal to Henry and Maria is we are told more than once a Tuesday, March 14th. We are not there; we must piece it out from the letters, but what happened was Maria snubbed Henry and he was humiliated and determined to make her yield to him once again.


In Emma: the Coles’s party where Emma makes such a fool of herself, telling Frank on the one hand the piano is a gift from Mr Dixon, is herself mortified by the piano playing of Jane, but at which Jane suffers far more from knowing what is being said about her, from the preening triumphant offers of Mrs Cole to let Jane use the piano anytime (echoing Lady Catherine de Bourgh to Elizabeth), from the flirting of Emma and Frank occurs on a Tuesday which day is mentioned more than once; Jo Modert (and I agree) makes it out to be Feb 15th, which makes the day of the piano’s arrival to be Valentine’s Day (Mon, the 14th–Frank went for his haircut on Sat, the 12th);

Frank leaves Highbury on a Tuesday which Jo Modert (and I agree) makes out to be Shrove Tuesday; again we are not privy to the scene of Jane’s loss but we see Frank try to and think he is confessing his love to the obtuse Emma; in 1814 Shrove Tuesday is Feb 22nd and it works out;

Emma’s nadir, the day after Harriet has made her aware that she loves Knightley and made her partly believe Knightley loves her is a Tuesday; again we are told it is Tuesday more than once; the odd cold weather is emphasized; Jane too has her hard time for Mrs Weston has visited her and Mrs Weston reports their conference in a carriage; Emma writes to Harriet telling her they must not see each other; it is the next day, Wednesday, that the sky clears and Knightley proposes; this Tuesday is Old Midsummer Eve, July 5th, the Wednesday July 6th, is Old Midsummer Day.


In Persuasion: the intensely dramatic concert party at which Captain Wentworth is partly snubbed; where he experiences an agon of jealousy; where Anne tries to come out of her shell and let him know how much she loves him, which is countercrossed by Mr Elliot’spresence occurs on a Tuesday which I make out to be Feb 21st 1815; the all important conference of Anne with Mrs Smith in which Mrs Smith spills all those beans occurrs on the next day, Wednesday; the days are carefully named.

I bring up two more Tuesdays which are there but not as clearly marked or worked up as the above: the day the Uppercross party arrive at Lyme is a Tuesday, but it must be worked out from the calendar; it would be Nov 22nd, and Louisa fell on Wednesday, the 23rd: events include Anne’s first encounter with Mr Elliot on that Tuesday;

it will be remember that Charles Musgrove bought some tickets to go to the theatre on a Saturday night which can be worked out as Feb 25th, but Elizabeth had a party so he exchanges them and everyone was to go to the theatre on the next Tuesday. This Tuesday–during which Lady Russell would not have had the information Anne ought to have given her about Mr Elliot–never came off.


In The Watsons: the opening sentence of this unfinished novel tells us the ball at which Emma sees Mr Howard for the first time and dances with little Charles was a Tuesday, October Oct 13th: I make the year out to be 1801–I disagree with the dating that has been offered thus far for this book, and think it is far more worked up than has been realized, and what we have is not an early but a later draft.


In Lady Susan: Tuesday is the day of Lady Susan’s major crisis in the novel as we have it, the day Sir James arrives and the Vernons begin to understand for the first time why Frederica fled school, and Reginald confronts Lady Susan and drives her to make Sir James leave; I make it out to be Feb 18th if the year is 1804 (again I disagree with recent published scholarship and think Chapman’s original date of 1804-5 for the book was right); on the Wednesday morning we have an exactly parallel scene to that of Marianne in S&S behind Frederica’s letter to Reginald: she wrote it at dawn while half-hysterical;

While the final denouement of the novel occurs on a Monday–that being the day Reginald comes to London and finds himself confronted by Mrs Manwaring in Mr Johson’s house an is convinced that Lady Susan is at that moment indulging in her affair with Manwaring, all the nasty ugly letters between the two of them are written on Tuesday the following day, and the Wednesday sees the departure of Reginald for Parklands and Lady Susan for Churchill to take back Frederica.


I found no pivotal Tuesdays in Sanditon and while Catherine (Northanger Abbey) goes for her first drive with the Thorpes on a Tuesday, which day is named and described as “a fine mild day in February ” (I make it the 13th), the other dances, balls, snubbing and the ejection of Catherine from the Abbey occur on serendipitous days; there is no attempt to make them work out on a Tues/Wed pattern.

I am intrigued that NA doesn’t have this pattern. This is because so often one reads that NA “must” be early even though it clearly is the product of a mature revision and sparkles and moves in ways extant in S&S, which is in fact the earliest and least mature aesthetically speaking of the novels. People are always at a loss to “prove” NA is early. In fact its rapidity of movement, expert control of internal and external time, brilliant incisive writing and allusions of all sorts, is reminiscent of Persuasion. I rather think the chance that led them to be printed together has something to tell us. Both Bath novels, too (by-the-bye). Maybe the Tuesday pattern is our one clue to suggest it was in its earliest drafts first. It has a clearly worked out calendar; in fact at times it is more nailed down to day-by-day movement than the other 5. It suggests Austen used calendar time to teach herself how to represent time in a manner that has verisimilitude and can make the reader feel he or she is in a real world like his or her own as to time and distance. Myself, I believe Lady Susan is not an early novel; it’s too disillusioned, too knowing. So Tuesday being worked into the novel can be an indication it came after Austen started to work this curious pattern into her books.

I posted the above in a series of postings to Austen-L a while back, and on that list Stephen Bishop, Elvira Casal, and a few others suggested to me off-list and on list that this use of black Tuesday may related back to Mary Queen of Scots who Austen wrote about in her History of England, is said to have sympathized with, and who had a bad night one Tuesday in 1585 because she was executed the next day, Wednesday. I agreed Austen seemed to have sympathized with Mary (though I’m not sure she’s not satiric about Mary too) and there’s evidence Austen read and was influenced by Sophia Lee’s The Recess an emotional memoir-novel in which we spend time with the traumatized and tragic twin daughters of Mary; nonetheless the seriousness of the events and their connection to humiliation which connects them to Austen’s presentation of many mortifying ogres and snobs in her novels beginning with Lady Grenville and Maria in the Juvenilia, going on through Aunt Norris and Fanny and then onto Sir Walter and Anne Elliot (her father prevented the marriage to Captain Wentworth as much as Lady Russell) to my mind suggests a depth of emotion here which may relate to something in Austen’s private life which we can’t know of because perhaps there’s no record.

I have however found one pattern in two novels Austen knew well which has given me pause and made me think it could be an on-going in-joke: in Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison Charlotte is coerced into marrying Lord G on a Tuesday, and much fuss is made about this; it’s called the important Tuesday; the letters are littered with references to the looming Tuesday, and then of course the dreaded Tuesday night (when Charlotte will have to go to bed with the man), and we are treated to how awkwardly she “navigates” Wednesday morning. Great debates occur whether Charlotte should have a public or private wedding on the important Tuesday. Now my view is whatever Austen’s brother said about Grandison in his preface is suspect because he was presenting a pious face to the public. In many of her references to GrandisonAusten mocks this book; she found it as ridiculous as she did fascinating. All this heave-hoing about Tuesday might have struck her as ludicrous.

But ah! In Clarissa it’s not funny. The central event of this book is of course the rape, and guess what, it occurred in the wee hours of a Monday night into Tuesday morning, and Lovelace’s famous letters where he said “And now Belford, I can go no farther. The affair is over. Clarissa lives” &c.” is dated “Tuesday morn. ” Clarissa herself goes mad all that Wednesday, sits–a la Marianne Dashwood and Frederica Vernon–from dawn to dusk writing mad letters to her rapist. And Clarissa too, no mean lady when it came to keeping time and accounts had her tombstone engraved with the date April 10th. Clarissa ran away with Lovelace from her father’s house on April 10th; it was a Monday, but the letters and the trauma about it are written in a long letter dated Tuesday April 11th.

Still the circumstances of each of the incidents are not romantic; they have in them no reference to history or gothic novels. They are also strikingly alike. On the issue, could it have been unconscious? I am beginning to be convinced not. There’s a wonderful passage in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest where the hero hearing pieces of the puzzle about his birth of which he still knows nothing, says something like well once is coincidence, and maybe twice, but all these times seems to indicate deliberation, a pattern (that’s a paraphrase). What seems to me striking is that one does not have to work out it’s a Tuesday; we are again and again told. In most of the calendar studies of Austen’s novels days have to be worked out; it’s not hard and Austen is just chock-a-block with data for the reader who’s into this way she has of structuring time. It is a serious consideration, that of giving the reader a realistic sense of time, one historical or the world’s and the other psychological and that of the story and weaving them together, and she’s brilliant at it. But it’s also a game of sort.

My sense of Austen is her deeply-felt comedy represents her way of dealing with the pain of life. The calendars themselves are constructs, ways of intensifying her reveries, pacing the movement of her plots, and rooting the dramatic and pictorial narratives and meditations in a framework which the reader can identify with and move through. This is clearly something someone does quietly. The calendar in Emma is particularly playful: Jo Modert shows Austen plants ironic clues for us, and aligns significant events with festivaland other seasonal days. It is the one calendar where Christmas day is specified: I mentioned the piano arrived on Valentine’s Day and Frank attempted to confess to Emma on Shrove Tuesday; Mr Elton left Highbury and Emma was forced to tell Harriet the ugly truth on Dec 28th, Innocents Day; Harriet is attacked by the gypsies on Friday the 13th; the visit to Donwell Abbey occurs on Midsummer Eve–and is also Harriet’s birthday, that is June 23rd (we are actually told not only Harriet’s birthday and her age, but Martin’s– he was 24 on the June 8th the summer before the novel opens); the trip to Box Hill occurs on June 24th, Midsummer Day, and so on. This is lovely and fanciful, and one is loathe to attach it to some deep stress.

Now if the Tuesday pattern is a joke, then I would say the family knew and I would favor Richardson. Austen wrote a funny play for the family to perform. They all read Richardson. It does suggest they were all as able to laugh at the semi-hysteria which runs through Clarissa and took a robust attitude towards sex and rape, for if it is Richardson it seems to me Clary’s rape between Monday and Tuesday, her running away on precisely those days, and the date engraved on the tombstone does link up a comic perspective with a traumatic one. There is certainly something ridiculous about the novel Clarissa. So I would go for a mock on Grandison and Clarissa more than the Mary Queen of Scots. The latter is just not that significant; it’s only one work, one Austen wrote when she was young, and one could argue she is also ironic towards Mary.

Still there’s the repeat of the humiliations, the snubbing, the outcast, and that brings us right back to the most charged and least subtle of these scenes in the Juvenilia: Lady Grenville’s brutal treatment of Maria, and that is autobiographically rooted, and it’s precisely that sort of scene that leaves no document, no trace. Some people scoff at Miss Bates’s deep pain. An incident that wounds one person is not noticed by many. We are further forever hindered and cut off from Austen’s private life by Cassandra’s having destroyed what the niece called the majority of the letters. The majority.

However–and I’m doing more than merely playing devil’s advocate when I keep saying however as I think there is something to be explained here beyond an in-joke since as I said before in-jokes are usually clear, pointed, and brief or somehow marked, not something one must hunt out–I am struck by the really close similarity in the pivotal events in a number of ways and their repetition throughout Austen’s career from the time of the really savage depiction of the brutally coarse Lady Greville’s humiliation of Maria in the Juvenilia. It’s not funny. Again and again, it’s a case of a party (as in it in this third letter and in the early Catherine, or the Bower–which however does not dovetail the narrative into a calendar), a group family setting. It’s anything but trivial and unimportant.

Ellen Moody is a Lecturer in English at George Mason University. Her discovery of the pivotal use Jane Austen makes of Tuesdays in her novels will form a chapter of a book she is writing on Jane Austen. She has published one book on Anthony Trollope and group conversations in cyberspace: Trollope on the Net, which was published in 2000 by Hambledon Press and is available for purchase. She is also a translator of Renaissance Italian poetry, and has published on English women poets and epistolary novels. She is currently working on an essay on George Eliot.

Further information on “Awful Tuesday” can be found on Ellen’s site.

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