Go directly to the Persuasion Calendar
The calendar supporting Persuasion reveals that the novel is in a heavily unfinished state; that the book was supposed to have the same kind of underlying hidden ironic story that we were to find out only at the close of a third volume. Since Anne did not have an opportunity to tell Lady Russell the truth about Mr Elliot, we were to have a Tuesday of intense mortification and reversal for both Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth (either at a card party organized by Lady Russell, or a gathering at a performance of a play bought by Charles for a Tuesday evening in Bath). We were to learn that Mrs Clay and Mr Elliot had a longer-standing relationship than Mrs Smith knows. As it stands, Anne Elliot says more than once that Mr Elliot’s conduct does not make sense. We were to learn more about why he
happened upon the party at Lyme, and why he looked so at her. We were to discover what was in the package he was delivering for Mrs Clay in Bath; why she made such a point of wanting to walk with him; where he went;
what they were conferring over near the White Hart when spied by Mary Musgrove.
As to the movement in time, it is inconsistent somewhat in the manner of Mansfield Park. Until Anne arrives in Bath time is often indeterminate. Once she arrives, one finds a time-line which is as exquisitely traced as the time-lines of S&S, P&P, NA, and much of MP (MP moves differently because of the use of epistolary narrative in the first two-thirds of the third volume). My calendar also reveals that events were already planned to occur after our novel stops. What we have is a novel which was suddenly brought to a close. A curtain pulled down in the middle of a play whose further acts were in readiness on the stage of our author’s mind, but not yet dramatized.
First there is the long sequence which precedes the novel’s opening, but which Austen worked out in accordance with real events in the Napoleonic wars at sea. We can see how Austen had fully imagined the interconnections of the time of Anne’s romance with Wentworth and the 8 years following.
What follows is a calendar not for the first half of the book, but for the first seventeen chapters of the novel. Note all the indetermine intervals of time. Not until the 6th chapter of Volume Two does time become determinate; it is at the opening sentence of this chapter (“It was the beginning of February and Anne having been a month in Bath…”), that we find ourselves suddenly moving in the delicately worked out sequences of time that are characteristic of S&S (from the sixth chapter on.) There we can find this sentence echoing the line from Persuasion: “It was very early in September”(VI:24).
This intensely imagined way of coping with calendar time and sliding into it the inner world of
imaginative time of the heroines of each book begins at the opening of P&P, NA (once Catherine reaches Bath), and MP (once the Crawfords arrive and we arrive in Sotherton on a Wednesday morning in August- August the 3rd if the year is 1808 as I think it is). The indetermine kind of time that we have in the first 2/3’s of
Persuasion is characteristic of Emma
throughout with the difference that Emma will consistently zero in on certain days to
erect a playful calendar that is consistent with church and folk festivals of the year.
What is different about Persuasion is the inconsistency.
Summary and Final Comments
- As with Emma in first part of book we move along and suddenly zero in
on a moment in time; there is a telling time by seasons: furniture
timed by 4 summers’ wear and 2 children; given scenes as
epitomizing or typical rather than rooted in a specific time or
place. Again as with Emma the scaffolding is there and Austen
knows where she is in calendar time but only lets us know
when it suits her purpose; she has learnt how to put down
a dialogue as having occurred without needing to anchor it
specifically in a calendared time; curious formulaic repetition
of time creates an effect of nostalgia.I picked Emma for this summing up because it was written directly before Persuasion and so should show
a similar level of maturity. If I am right, we would find
things at the close of the third volume which would make an
endless re-reading of Persuasion ironic and a hidden mystery.
The two novels would be closely alike except the latter is
truncated. Its use of time in the second half of the book
mirrors a less flexible use of time found in Austen’s
first 4 novels; in the opening sequence she was either
going to reach for the kind of dual time we find in Emma
or move back to her earlier way of plotting eventually.
- Some of the inconsistencies:There are a number of inconsistencies and contradictions. Some may be
deliberate (Mr Elliot does not account for an extra 2 weeks he
spent after Lyme and before coming to Bath; he says he was
there but 24 hours, Mrs Smith says her gossip told her he came for
a day or two before Christmas). Some areas not corrected,
suggesting that she came back to correct and device was not a
fool-proof crutch but rather a way of anchoring the dream in a
frame of reality we all agree to observe: the whole of the week
from the time of the concert party to Wentworth’s revelation of
his heart has numerous contradictions.
- The calendars of Austen’s last two novels received little attention from Chapman.
He did remark that Persuasion begins in summer 1814, and suggested a mapping for that portion of the novel which takes place
in Bath. As I show in my mapping there is in the novel a
day-by-day accounting for time within a precisely plotted very few weeks in
February of 1815. He also noted that the number of indeterminate internals in
Emma and Persuasion feel similar and are more frequent
than in Austen’s other four novels, suggesting that those chapters of
Persuasion which are situated in Uppercross
and all of Emma may be aligned against the seasonal changes of one year.
Such as the bibliography is, I include it:
- Chapman, NA & P 302-4.
- Jo Modert, “Chronology Within
the Novels,” The Jane Austen Companion, edd. J. David Grey,
A. Walton Litz, and Brian Southam (New York: Macmillan, 1986), 58.
Go to the Persuasion Calendar
Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the
most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. Drawn from a variety
of sources, including the original Chapman calendars and period Almanacs, her
work has been recognized as the most thorough and certainly inclusive of all
Austen Calendars. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and
the three unfinished novel fragments; one of the calendars has been published
as “A Calendar For Sense and Sensibility” in the Fall 2000 edition of the
Philological Quarterly. To see more of her work on Austen visit her website to find
For information on how Ellen created her calendars, click here
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