There is a curious lacuna in Jane Austen studies one would have thought had been filled long ago. No-one has as yet drawn out and explained the chronology of Sense and Sensibility. From Austen’s other five novels scholars have educed detailed calendars most of her readers have accepted as really in Austen’s novels because these have explained hitherto puzzling elements in her novels. Only Sense and Sensibility has been left out.1
There has been one brief attempt to draw out the chronology of Sense and Sensibility, Patricia Craddock’s “The Almanac of Sense and Sensibility.”2 Craddock did not carry her project through consistently or thoroughly. Throughout most of her essay she remains undecided between wide-ranging pairs of years (1794- 95, 1797-98, 1800-1, and 1805-6). When, at the end of her piece, she suddenly dates the Easter of the novel as 31 March, as this date enables her to suggest the calendar of Sense and Sensibility as we now have it was based on a 1792-93 almanac, she ignores the fact that the dates we have for the Juvenilia are precisely these and that the Juvenilia are the work of a much younger mind.3She also does not cite Austen’s sister, Cassandra’s memorandum, in which, if Cassandra is somewhat vague about the date of an earlier version of the book, she nonetheless most decisively said: “I am sure something of the same story & characters had been written earlier & called Elinor and Marianne,” and that the Sense and Sensibility we have is a text “begun Nov. 1797.”4 More importantly–for the whole point of a calender is to explain what we have in Austen’s text — Craddock does not check to see if and how this date coheres with various other quite definite indications of time the novel offers. She never stops to examine exactly how many years the action of this novel circumscribes.
Nonetheless, when at the opening of her essay Patricia Craddock asserts that her examination of the underlying calendar for Sense and Sensibility made her sense what she had found was the “early structure” of a previous “epistolary version” of this novel, she was correct.
I have already quoted Cassandra’s decisive comment that Sense and Sensibilityexisted in an earlier version called Elinor and Marianne. To this I add the characteristically modest, and carefully-qualified, but determined statement Austen’s niece, Caroline Austen made in 1869 that Sense and Sensibility was first told in letters: “Memory is treacherous, but I cannot be mistaken in saying that Sense and Sensibility was first written in letters, and so read to her family.”
The problem Craddock had was that she felt she could only assert that the time-scheme in several different sections of the novel shows the novel we have “closely resembles that of the year of the original epistolary version of the novel, 1795.” Thus she only begs the key question of what this epistolary version was like. Craddock makes even less of an effort than Brian Southam in his brief and somewhat half- hearted reconstruction of who wrote to whom.5Like Southam and others who have wanted to discuss what the earlier version of the book may have been like in order to shed light on the present version, she probably felt herself unable to figure out who wrote to whom.
My counter argument is that the sort of specific details of who wrote to whom are not important because they are not indications that we have an epistolary narrative. There have always been and will continue to be countless omniscient novels in which characters write letters to one another from different places, and in which such letters may be crucial to the plot or revelation of character.6 What marks Sense and Sensibility as epistolary is what in her seminal book on epistolary narrative, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form, Janet Gurkin Altman calls “epistolarity” by which she means the use of certain complex formal properties which are fundamental to the structure of the plot or story of the novel: “multiple plots,” “disruption of the temporal line by nonchronological ordering,” “multiple correspondents” (each character giving different coloring to a story), and “lacunae” (the punctuation of a story with letters and the use of intervals between letters in which further meaningful events happen).”7 These structures make all truths in such novels relative, a function of the mind that reports them, and lead to psychological depths, variety of perspective, and circularity of argument that forms the groundwork of the inescapable subjectivity of epistolary novels. My argument for the present epistolary nature of Sense and Sensibility as derived from its original basis rests not on my ability to speculate, but rather on the calendar for Sense and Sensibility I have extrapolated, and which reveals a basis for the epistolarity of the novel’s plot-design, a plot-design which helps to account for the feeling so many readers have had, that this is a novel which was originally epistolary. In brief, the extant calendar in Sense and Sensibility allows for a story to be told in letters by different people over a considerable period of time and from different places; and the calendar reveals Austen used temporally rearranged and juxtaposed telling of a story or stories which is precisely the ironic structure fundamental to epistolary narrative.
The first problem that confronts the serious chronologist of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is that the chronology of this novel is convoluted and lengthy. While in Austen’s other five novels we can find references to events which occurred before the novels open, the time when these events occurred is left imprecise, and the precise details of the earlier events are not crucial to our understanding the specifics of the present-time events and characters before us. In Sense and Sensibility events that occurred before the novel opens are crucial to our getting the irony of what’s happening as we watch events unfold in present time. A few examples: the illegitimate children and death of Eliza Brandon; Lucy Steele’s and Edward Ferrars’s engagement; Willoughby’s intimate involvement with Eliza Williams whose character mirrors that of Marianne and whose mother looks like Marianne nine months previous to the time we watch him court Marianne before Colonel Brandon.
The time span of this book is extraordinary. The only other of Austen’s novels to cover more than one and one half-years, Mansfield Park, chronicles a mere ten (the novel begins when Fanny Price is nine and ends when she is nearly nineteen). The mood and action of Persuasion is the result of what happened eight years ago, and Pride and Prejudice takes us back to Darcy and Wickham’s boyhoods. But in none of these three — nor in Emma in which Austen’s narrator briefly tells the genesis of Jane Fairfax’s and Frank Churchill’s situations and characters — does Austen work up a chronology that may be consistently plotted backwards in detail to the earlier time. Sense and Sensibility is grounded in a chronology which is internally consistent for 37 years.
An extraction of the chronology thus necessitates paying attention to the book’s many flashbacks. Two are long and elaborate and have long been commonplaces of those who criticize the novel as in places crude or very early work. I speak of Colonel Brandon’s history of himself and Eliza Brandon (2:9: 204-11, 31:173-78), and Willoughby’s history of himself and Eliza Williams (3:8:319-27, 44:271-77). But equally essential to the construction of the novel’s calendar and its ironic parallels are its many other flashbacks which are scattered throughout the novel, and which are all much shorter than Brandon’s and Willoughby’s tales, and have thus escaped attention.
In this category we have Lucy’s and Edward’s histories of Edward’s time at Mr. Pratt’s school, their falling in love, their engagement, their correspondence (1:19:101-3, 22:130-34; 2:1:140; 3:13:362, 19:88- 90; 22:111-14, 23:118, 49:307). There are the scattered bits of Mrs. Jennings’s history of her family’s comings and goings, which she tells in spontaneous spurts and appear to be included merely for the reader’s entertainment (1:20:114-15, 2:4:160, 8:196-97; 20:98-99, 26:135, 30:165-66), but in these the history of Brandon is further unravelled, and they dovetail in signficant ways into that history. There is Nancy Steele’s garrulous talk which punctuates at widely dispersed intervals the present time stories and and further explains their background (1:21:123-25, 3:2:272-75; 21:105-7, 38:229-31).
In Sense and Sensibility we have a chronology which encompasses or is built out of pieces taken from six comparable love stories which occurred at parallel points in time, which, if presented through letters would be in dramatic contrast — and would not have been so set up if such an effect had not originally been intended. The most striking examples are: the death of Mr. Henry Dashwood which occurs in the same month of the same year that Willoughby and Eliza elope from Bath; Edward’s sojourn with Lucy in Longstaple, which occurs during the most intense phase of Willoughby and Marianne’s relationship; Marianne’s solipistic involvement with Willoughby at the very time he is duelling with Brandon over Eliza Williams and courting Sophia Grey. The original dramatic irony and parallelism still in the book reveals the book’s original epistolary structure.
The second problem the chronologist of Sense and Sensibility confronts leads away from the epistolary nature of the text and its uses of time, and recalls the debates scholars have had over the chronology of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Northanger Abbey.8 In these four novels Austen withholds just enough information to prevent her reader from knowing with precision in which years the novels are set. One cannot make an ironclad case for specific years or the decades across which the action of Sense and Sensibility takes place either. In her “Advertisement to Northanger Abbey we find that she worried lest her readers find her novels “obsolete” (“by the authoress,” unpaginated in Chapman and Butler), and I suggest one reason Austen covered her tracks was that she wanted to obscure how often she had rewritten the novels, to prevent readers from noting inconsistent references in them: her letters show an intense concern with verisimilitude and alert willingness to be literal about what occurred together in history so as not to disturb the most literal-minded and pedantic reader.
In the case of Sense and Sensibility, it is only in the second and then increasingly in the third volume of the novel that events are attached to cited months, dates, or days of the week. But I can offer a reasoned conjecture which makes sense of the data we do have by following MacKinnon and Chapman’s procedure of using Easter as my point of departure. This is my basis for eliminating years in which the present action of the novel cannot have taken place; we then examine which of those possible years left fit with the other indications of time in the novel.
Let us first observe that after the long phase of the novel which occurs in London (15 chapters), we are told that the Palmers plan to leave London for Cleveland “about the end of March” so that they may be fully ensconced at Cleveland “for the Easter holidays” (3:3:279, 39:236). This tells us that in the year the novel is set Easter took place not in the very first days of April, but rather within the first week or so. The actual departure of the Dashwoods takes into account the “more than two day” journey the women expect to take between London and Cleveland is “very early in April” (3:6:301, 42:255) so that the party may still be in time for Easter. Using John Cary’s New Ininterary or an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads, I reckoned on a two and one-half day trip and aligned that with the indications of time that begin once the Dashwoods arrive at Cleveland (see calendar below).9 That Austen was scrupulous about the relationship between distance and time in her own novels and examined others for their verisimilitude is a commonplace in the scholarship, but lest it be thought I am attributing more care and exactitude than is probable I’d like to point out that among the very few remarks she did make about her art or that of others we find the following active objection to some details about travel and time and distance in a novel by her niece Anna Austen’s sent her in manuscript:
“I have scratched out Sir Tho: from walking with the other Men to the Stables &c the very day after his breaking his arm . . . I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book — & it does not seem to be material that Sir Tho: should go with them. — Lyme will not do. Lyme is towards 40 miles distance from Dawlish & would not be talked of there. — I have put Starcross indeed. — If you prefer Exeter, that must always be safe.”10
There are four years between 1793, the earliest year in which many Austen scholars have conjectured Austen could have written the story Cassandra called Elinor and Marianne, and 1811, the year in which she published the present Sense and Sensibility in which it was possible for Jane Austen to have her characters leave London either at at the end of March or very early April and yet get to Cleveland in time for Easter: 1798, 1801, 1803, and 1809.11 We may exclude 1801, 1803 and 1809: if it were 1801 the women would have arrived on Easter Sunday, not in time for Easter Sunday; if it were 1803, when Easter fell on 10 April, there is no need to leave so early; if it were 1809, Easter fell on 2 April. That leaves 1798. I have drawn a calendar which is consistent for the 37 years using the 1797-1798 calendar as the span of action in present time of the extant novel as we have it as the more probable and indeed the only possible of all four choices.
1798 has others claim to probability before all other years too. Let us recall the jotted memorandum in which Cassandra wrote that Austen began “Sense & Sensibility” in “Nov. 1797,” she also wrote that Austen began “First Impressions” (the earlier version of Pride and Prejudice) in “Oct 1796” and “Finished” it “in Augt 1797,” and wrote “North-hanger Abbey . . . about the years 98 & 99.” The sense of the note is that Austen wrote full drafts of these three novels in a row.
It will be said did not Austen revise Sense and Sensibility between 1809 and 1811, the first two years of her life at Chawton Cottage, and could she not have, as she did for in the case of Pride and Prejudice reset the novel into the years of her last revision?
First, 1809 is subject to the same objection as 1801; there is simply not enough time for the women to take their more than two day journey from London and still make Cleveland in time; further as will be seen below the years, 1809-10 do not fit the timeline of the extant novel.
Equally importantly, we do not know that Austen did indeed thoroughly reviseSense and Sensibility during the first two years she lived at Chawton Cottage. It has always been supposed so. But we do not know this. All her letters tell us is that on 25 April 1811, she is correcting the sheets for publication. What revisions we hear of are recorded on 20 January 1813, and they are of book now called Pride and Prejudice (Letters, 182, 202).
The tendency to suppose something about Austen’s writing habits or when she wrote or revised a given novel and then to have that supposition become received truth occurs again and again in Austen studies. One reads that she stopped writing when the family went to Bath and only began again when they arrived in Chawton Cottage. As there is not a shred of evidence to support this contention, and a number of studies have shown or assumed from the evidence of differing references in the texts that Austen continued to write throughout the decade,12 so there is no comment anywhere among the Austen papers or Austen’s letters to suggest what Austen did to Sense and Sensibility between the years 1798 and 1811. The year of my calendar is based on my belief that during this time Sense and Sensibility underwent another much less thorough or very minor revision compared to the one which turned First Impressionsinto Pride and Prejudice, one which added a few new elements to the book, but which kept the original years intact, and did not much change the the sutures which covered over the original change from an epistolary to omniscient book.
It is certainly true that the 1811 book contains material which cannot have been written as early as 1798: we know the words of the savage conversation between John and Fanny Dashwood in Chapter Two paraphrase or play upon words which were written down as a result of what Austen once ironically called “the conspiracy” of “the whole World” to “enrich one part of our family at the expence of another” (Letters 88). Considerations and pressures which were anything but unselfish directed the behavior of the relatively comfortable older brother, James Austen, when Austen’s father relinquished his living to him; it was not easy for Austen’s others brothers to join James or the wealthy brother, Edward Austen-Knight, to come up with money for their mother and sisters when their father died. Edward apparently did not think to invite them to come and live on either of his estates until after the death of his wife, Elizabeth. The situation of the three women in the book who live in a cottage upon the estate of a wealthy male relative repeats the situation of the Austen females who came in 1809 to live in a cottage upon the estate of Edward Austen-Knight.13
In addition, it is also true that the chronology of the book we have reveals abrupt switches in pace, contains sudden gaps in time which is metaphorically papered over by references to letters which we no longer have but are merely described, and one sudden backtracking when Austen suddenly puts material in that occurred earlier in a place later in time and then has to account for not telling us about this earlier.
An example of the first occurs when the Dashwoods arrive at Barton Cottage (1:6). The novel suddenly changes character: where it had been contracted and moved over decades swiftly just coming down to dramatize this or that scene, indications of time become “frequent and precise” (Chapman’s words for time in Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey), dense with detail to the point that we can tell what time of day an event occurred. The change is sudden, and since the chapter which contains the conversation between John and Fanny Dashwood appears in this section, I suggest it was the 1797 version of Sense and Sensibility which began in September — I remind my reader that Pride and Prejudice and Emma begin in September too.
There are also a number of gaps in time where the daily realistic chronology (not psychological time), which had been tracked in a snail- like movement from day-to-day and almost hour-to-hour, suddenly moves irregularly ahead to another group of events in a different place. In each of these intervals we are told of letters which passed between the characters as a way of filling the gap. For example, there is a three- week break in the narrative between the introduction of Lucy Steele and revelation of her engagement to Edward and more of his history (late November into early December or 1:21-22, 2:1; 20-23), and Mrs. Jennings’s invitation to the older Dashwood daughters to come with her to London (the end of December, Chapter 25). In this and the next gap in time we are reminded of the continuous correspondence between Edward and Lucy. What is placed before our eyes is Elinor’s long meditation in solitude, which is strikingly easy to recast and reads more vividly as a first-person narrative than it does in the present third-person form.14
There is a sudden indeterminate interval or gap in time between Willoughby’s encounter with Marianne at the party and its immediate aftermath (16 – 19 January, 2:6-9, 28-31) and the arrival of the Steeles (from Devonshire) and John and Fanny Dashwood, and Edward and Mrs. Ferrars (from Sussex) in London (5 February, 2:10-12, 32-34). Here again time is filled up references to letters. We are told that upon learning the truth about Willoughby from Elinor’s letter, Mrs. Dashwood writes “long letters . . . quickly succeeding each other” which express her anxiety, solicitude, advice to Marianne to “bear up with fortitude,” and advice to Elinor that she and Marianne “not . . . shorten their visit to Mrs. Jennings; the length of which, though never exactly fixed, had been expected by all to comprise at least five or six weeks” (2:10:212-14; 32:179-80). When Lucy arrives in London, she can irritate Elinor with feigned surprise at finding Elinor still in town. Of course Lucy has come to town because a letter from Edward told her he and Elinnor are there (2:10:217-18; 32:183-84). When Elinor sits down to write to Edward Ferrars to tell him of Brandon’s offer of a living later in the novel, Austen accounts for her knowledge of Edward’s address by the quiet ironic remark “fortunately, she had heard his address from Miss Steele” (3:3:283; 39:240).
The last sudden intervals of indeterminate time occur after Marianne and Elinor return with their mother to Barton Cottage and depend upon letters from John Dashwood, Mrs. Jennings, and Colonel Brandon to learn of what is happening in London (see the end of April and middle of May in the calendar below). This time Austen does not just describe but quotes from displaced letters. I quote just a portion one by Mrs. Jennings, as it just one of several first-person narratives by her deftly slipped into the present Sense and Sensibility by Austen:
“I do think… nothing was ever carried on so sly; for it was but two days before Lucy called and sat a couple of hours with me. Not a soul suspected anything of the matter, not even Nancy, who, poor soul! came crying to me the day after, in a great fright for fear of Mrs. Ferrars, as well as not knowing how to get to Plymouth; for Lucy, it seems, borrowed all her money before she went off to be married, on purpose, we suppose, to make a show with, and poor Nancy had not seven shillings in the world; so I was very glad to give her five guineas to take her down to Exeter, …” (3:13:370-71; 49:314).
This takes us to the strange eruption of one Mrs. Denison, a lady never heard of before or again, and the placement of her dinner party. The reader will notice in my calendar that after the birth to Mr. and Mrs. Palmer of a son, Thomas (born “a few days” after the February 14th meeting of Elinor, Lucy, and Edward [2:14:246; 36:207], Mrs. Jennings vanishes from the present book for a fortnight-long vigil first over her daughter’s parturition and her grandson’s first week and one-half of lifel. Between 15 February and 3 March, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood find themselves constrained to “spend the whole of every day at Conduit Street” (2:14:246, 3:1:257; 36:207, 37:217). It is during this interval that Mrs. Dennison’s musical party takes place. While there Mrs. Dennison’s mistaken belief that Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are staying with John and Fanny Dashwood leads John Dashwood to think he and Fanny ought actually to have the Dashwoods spend a week of Mrs. Jennings’s day-long absences from Berkeley-street with them, which suggestion Fanny pre-empts by saying she was about to invite the Steele sisters to Harley Street.
There is a whole group of oddities here. First, the musical party cannot be more precisely dated. Yet all the events in the novel from the time of the Dashwood’s arrival at Barton Cottage (1:6, see above and calendar below) are chronicled with precision except for those intervals accounted for by letters up until this musical party is introduced. The events surrounding and leading up to the musical party are tracked precisely. Time always moves forward during this portion of the novel, and carefully delimited time intervals begin once again when Mrs. Jennings, Elinor, and Marianne resume their daily schedule at Berkeley Street. It is only the party itself and its important consequence, the coming to Harley Street of Lucy and Nancy Steele, that are left indeterminate (again see calendar below).
Second, the musical party is introduced abruptly, without any preparation, and by a sentence whose awkwardness we fail to notice because its sharp irony deflects our attention: “I come now to the relation of a misfortune, which about this time befell Mrs. John Dashwood. It so happened that . . . ” (2:14:248; 36:208-9). Then suddenly jumbled into the text are a series of incidents several of which we are told occurred earlier in time, to wit, Mrs. Jennings’s first visit with Elinor and Marianne to Fanny Dashwood; Mrs. Dennison’s mistaken interpretation of their presence at Harley Street; and the subsequent double invitation (see calendar). These are hurried through to get back to the ironic frame of the paragraph which points our attention towards the musical party:
“The consequence of which was, that Mrs. Dashwood was obliged to the exceedingly great inconvenience of sending her carriage for the Miss Dashwoods; but, what was still worse, must be subject to all the unpleasantness of appearing to treat them with attention: and who could tell that they might not expect to go out with her a second time? The power of disappointing them, it was true, must always be her’s” (2:14:248; 36:209).
I suggest Mrs. Dennison and her musical party constitute an afterthought smuggled in to explain how Lucy and Nancy Steele came to live at Harley Street, which circumstance Austen found she could not do without or change unless she were to rewrite how Fanny came to know that Lucy and Edward were engaged. We are told that it was “during the evening” of the party that the idea he ought to invite his sisters to his home “struck” John Dashwood so forcibly that later that night when he and Fanny came home that he “startled” her with a thought-out proposal. We are also told that “the next morning” she “wrote to Lucy, to request her company and her sister’s, for some days” (2:14:252-54; 36:212-13). “Within ten minutes” of the arrival of this letter on the same day, Lucy shows Fanny’s letter to Elinor and also “instantly discovers” her visit to Lady Middleton was “always meant to end in two days time” (2:14:254; 36:213).
I would not want to give up the musical party. The satiric flair with which Austen personates the awful Robert Ferrars is in the vein of the opening memorable and grating conversation between John and Fanny Dashwood. But that’s not why Austen wrote the scene. She wrote it so she could account for the presence of Nancy and Lucy Steele in Harley Street with some appearance of probability. This way she kept the comic first person narratives of Mrs. Jennings, John Dashwood, and Nancy Steele (which were probably originally ironically juxtaposed letters) at the center of the novel’s structural secondary climax (the first is Lucy’s confiding to Elinor that Lucy is engaged to Edward).
In the calendar which follows I have imitated Chapman’s format. I have italicized all dates or days of the week which are quoted from the novel. I have also provided brief intervening explanations of how I arrived at given dates or sequences, with some commentary upon those sequences — mostly pointing out the epistolary nature of the structuring of events. I have, however, differed from Chapman by giving all the pages from which all information is taken or inferred. Ours is a gumshoes operation. Thus I have also provided consistently longer descriptions of what occurred on each date and, where necessary, the place in which it occurs as well as supportive quotations from the text. Letters are not only written from and by one character to another; they are written from one place to another.
We begin with the material offered to us through flashbacks (1762- 96). Chapter One begins in February 1796. This date was arrived at in the following way: I first calculated how long it would have taken Mrs. Henry Dashwood and her daughters to travel from Norland Park, Sussex, to Barton Park, Dorchester in “very early September” (three days), and then reckoned back “six months,” the amount of time we are told Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters lived with John and Fanny Dashwood at Norland.15 I also call the reader’s attention to two dramatic events which occur at the same time, and which an epistolary narrative would have made effective use of: while Mr. Henry Dashwood lies dying and extracts a promise from John Dashwood to provide for his stepmother and stepsisters, Willoughby and Eliza elope.
[In Philological Quarterly, the calendar begins here:
1762-78. Birth of Colonel Brandon; shortly after his cousin, Eliza, an orphan, comes to Delaford Abbey, to live; she and he brought up together. “Our ages were nearly the same, and from our earliest years we were playfellows and friends . . .” When novel opens, Brandon is 35. (2:10:50, 2:9:205; 10:44, 31:173)and carries on to
Wednesday 20 September 1797. Willoughby and Marianne meet “one memorable morning,” the rescue and his departure “in the midst of an heavy rain.” Later that “morning” “in the next interval of fair weather,” Sir John calls and tells what he knows of Willoughby. (1:9:41-42; 9:37-38)
Thursday to Wednesday 21-27 September 1797. Willoughby calls “early next morning,” then “every day;” before the “end of a week” Mrs. Dashwood hopes for and expects a marriage. (1:10:46, 48-9; 10:41- 43)]
I then point out the detailed character and ironic contrasts and parallelism of the underlying epistolary plot-design as revealed by the extant calendar:
From October through to the last two or three days of the visit of Edward Ferrars to Barton Cottage, I arrived at the dates by working backwards from the time of Willoughby’s sudden departure from Allenham, which occurred “about a week” and one day after Brandon suddenly rushed to London. This frantic departure Brandon tells us (in February, “almost a twelvemonth back” from the time of Willoughby’s and Eliza’s elopement) was the result of a “letter from” Eliza Williams, “last October” (1:9:208, 31:176). These events cohere with the time of Willoughby and Brandon’s duel in London, which Brandon says occurred after Eliza Williams almost immediately gave birth in the country and “within a fortnight after” Brandon himself arrived in town (2:9:211, 31:178). All these events as described and dated also tally with Edward’s arrival at Barton cottage in mid-November (a time when dead leaves cover the ground) which followed hard upon the two weeks he spent at Longstaple with Lucy and Anne Steele, and a “month” after he left Norland Park (1:16:87, 22:134; 16:76, 22:113). The days between Willoughby’s sudden departure and Edwards’ arrival are gone through through one-by-one as the phases of Marianne’s grief.
The day of the arrival of the Palmers (Thursday 23 November 1797) until the break in time between Lucy’s confiding the whole of her history to Elinor, and the movement of Mrs. Jennings and Elinor and Marianne Dashwood to London depends on working backwards and forwards from two statements: one by Elinor and the other by Lucy Steele. In early March (on a day that can be dated by explicit references to days and weeks of the month given us by the narrator and Nancy Steele in Volume 3, see calendar below) Elinor tells Marianne that she has known about Lucy’s engagement “these four months. When Lucy first came to Barton Park last November, she told me in confidence of her engagement” (3:1:262; 37:221).
That Lucy and Anne first came to Barton Park towards the close of November is confirmed by Mrs. Palmer when she tells Elinor she met Colonel Brandon in London on the Monday morning before she and Mr. Palmer set out from London for Barton Park (20 November, see calendar below). Again working from a minimum three day road trip, we find the Palmers arrived late at night on 23 November 1797. This is consistent with the Steele’s arrival on 27 November, the day after Sir John and Mrs. Jennings invite them to stay at Barton Park, and Elinor’s reference to “last November” as the time “when Lucy first came to Barton Park” (3:1:262; 37:221).
To discover exactly what day it was when Lucy confided to Elinor her history is made easy by Lucy. Although the Steeles arrived at Barton Park in late November, Elinor sees Lucy more “than twice” (see below Thursday 30 November 1797) before she discovers why during their second encounter Nancy Steele says she knows Edward Ferrars very well. This throws us into the first week of December (still four months before the middle of March) for the first conference which Lucy dates in the second by saying she was “somehow or other afraid I had offended you by what I told you that Monday” (2:2:146; 24:123). The Monday referred to in the year 1797 was 4 December 1797.
I remind my reader that there is an indeterminate interval of time between Lucy and Elinor’s last conference and the arrival of the Dashwoods and Mrs. Jennings in London which is filled up by Elinor’s long meditation.16 Built into the Dashwoods’ time at Barton Cottage are also a whole host of ironic contrasts which parallel correspondences in an epistolary novel would make effective use of: for example, Marianne’s “season of happiness” occurs just when we lose sight of Edward, and Elinor is anything but happy; at the very time Willoughby is declaring his undying affection for the Dashwoods and Barton cottage as is, Brandon is removing Eliza and her new-born baby to the country; at the very time of Marianne’s most violent affliction, Willoughby and Brandon duel and Edward is visiting Lucy Steele.
Finally, there is a reinforcing parallelism of similar events up to the time the girls leave for London which the epistolary format would bring out strongly. On or about the very day Mr. and Mrs. Palmer left Cleveland so suddenly and hastily for London, the Dashwoods girls see Edward Ferrars galloping urgently on the road which lead to Barton Cottage (see above, 15 November 1797 and below, 23 November 1797) Here we can also note that Austen keeps her eye not only on the time it takes to travel from one place to another, she also makes the way a character goes on a trip reveal facets of that character’s imagined personality and relationships with others. In excuse for her leaving the day after she has arrived at Barton Park, Mrs. Palmer says: “It was quite a sudden thing our coming at all, and I knew nothing of it till the carriage was coming to the door, and then Mr. Palmer asked me if I would go with him to Barton” (1:20:110; 20:95); the swiftness of the trip reminds Mrs. Jennings of Brandon, but, given her daughter’s “situation,” she deprecated it, and we see Mr. Palmer’s lack of concern for his pregnant wife (1:19:106-7, 19:92-93); we also that Charlotte did not try to make any choice of her own felt. There is a parallel here with the Steele young women too: they are ready at a day’s notice to go and live with just about anyone who has access to a comfortable house and a table with food upon it.
[In Philological Quarterly, the calendar continues here:
1-22 October 1797. “A showery [first three weeks of] October.” “This was the season of happiness to Marianne.” (1:11:53- 54; 11:47-48);It includes two significant Tuesdays:
Tuesday 7 November 1797. Marianne had excused herself from going with mother and sisters; her morning private interview with Willoughby, “violent affliction,” his refusal to accept an invitation to return, and departure. “My visits to Mrs. Smith are never repeated within the twelvemonth.” Mrs. Dashwood’s assertion that for previous “fortnight” Willoughby had behaved liked an “engaged man;” “in the interim” between 6 and 7 November 1797 Mrs. Smith had discovered Willoughby’s affair with Miss Williams and demanded Willoughby marry her as price of her forbearance.” (1:15:75-78, III:8:323; 15:66-68, 44:274)
Tuesday 9 January 1798. “About a week after their arrival,” on a day Willoughby refers back to (see below 16 January 1798) as “last Tuesday,” Willoughby “watches” Dashwoods “out of the house,” and leaves his card, which Marianne sees when they come “in form the morning’s drive.” That “night” Middletons arrive in Conduit Street; Lady Middleton has a bad cold and Sir John business to conduct. (2:5:169- 70, III:8:326-27; 27:142-44, 44:277)
It breaks off at:
Wednesday 10 January 1798. “The next morning” Marianne “insists on being left behind when others went out;” a note from Lady Middleton arrives telling them she and her family arrived the day before, and inviting them to a dance; Marianne forced to go, and hears from Mrs. Jennings that Sir John had met Willoughby in London “this morning” and invited Willoughby to come, but Willoughby refused. Willoughby later confirms Mrs. Jennings’s story (“I blundered on Sir John, I believe, the first day of his coming, and the day after I had called at Mrs. Jennings’s”). (2:5:169-72, III:8:326-27; 27:143-45; 44:277)
Thursday 11 January. “After breakfast” Marianne writes to Willoughby; “about middle of day” Mrs. Jennings goes out by herself and Elinor writes her mother a letter urging her to ask Marianne whether she and Willoughby are engaged or not; “her letter scarcely finished,” Col. Brandon comes to ask whether he has a chance of “succeeding” with Marianne as Willoughby and she “openly correspond, and their marriage is universally talked of.” (2:5:171-73, III:8:326-27; 27:144-45, 44:277)
I then point out how Austen indicates the first traumatic climax of Marianne’s story occurs on a Tuesday:
The night of the traumatic climax of Marianne’s romance with Willoughby may be precisely dated by inference from what just precedes and follows it, and by Willoughby’s statement that he left his card at Mrs. Jennings’s house “last Tuesday” (see below, 16 January 1798). We are told nothing of significance occurred for four days after 11 January 1798; five days later or 16 January 1798, was a Tuesday in 1798. Willoughby then cannot refer to last Tuesday as a week ago if the party occurred 17 January 1798. The party therefore occurs on Tuesday 16 January 1798. The narrator tells us that “early in February, within a fortnight from the receipt of Willoughby’s letter” (see below, 1 February 1798), Elinor sees the announcement in the newspapers of Willoughby’s marriage to Miss Sophia Grey. Willoughby’s letter has therefore to have also been delivered before Thursday 18 January 1798. Since we are told he sent it the morning after in response to hers to him, the inescapable conclusion is the day the final letters between Willoughby and Marianne were exchanged occurs on Wednesday 17 January 1798.
As has been said, there is an indeterminate interval of time between 16-19 January 1798 and the arrival of the Steeles and then the Dashwoods of Sussex in London. The dates which begin with 27-29 January 1798, are arrived at by reckoning forwards and backwards from the time Elinor and Marianne met John Dashwood “at Gray’s in Sackville street” (a jeweller’s), and from his and Fanny’s dinner party. This party plays a pivotal role in the plot by bringing Lucy to the attention of Fanny Dashwood and Mrs Ferrars; like the final interview between Willoughby and Marianne, it occurs on a Tuesday in the middle of the month.
[In Philological Quarterly, the calendar resumes here:
Tuesday 9 January 1798. “About a week after their arrival,” on a day Willoughby refers back to (see below 16 January 1798) as “last Tuesday,” Willoughby “watches” Dashwoods “out of the house,” and leaves his card, which Marianne sees when they come “in form the morning’s drive.” That “night” Middletons arrive in Conduit Street; Lady Middleton has a bad cold and Sir John business to conduct. (2:5:169-70, III:8:326-27; 27:142-44, 44:277)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).
It includes one significant Tuesday:
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).
It breaks off at:
Sunday 11 March 1798. “The third day succeeding their knowledge of the particulars” [John Dashwood’s report], was so beautiful, so fine a Sunday as to draw many to Kensington Gardens, though it was only the second week in March.” Elinor and Mrs. Jennings meet Nancy Steele and Nancy gives many particulars of Edward’s and Lucy’s behavior and narrates climactic scene between them. She names and connects specific days of the week with specific events, i. e., “we came away from your brother’s on Wednesday, and we saw nothing of him not all Thursday, Friday, and Saturday . . . this morning he came just as we came home from church . . . ” See also 8-10 March 1798 above. Marianne said to be absent because Willoughbys again in town. (3:2:271-75; 38:229-32)
Monday 12 March 1798. Letter from Lucy to Elinor, “Bartlett’s Buildings, March;” she gives different version than Nancy of above scene with Edward; he stayed “two hours.” (3:2:277-78; 38:234)
I then point out how various correspondences are alluded to at points in the narrative where it becomes indeterminate and how some typical uses of letters surround the second traumatic climax of Marianne’s story (i.e., her illness):
At this point I interrupt our chronology because the following interval of time includes the trip from London to Cleveland Park, Somerset and the references to Easter that led me to conjecture and use the years 1797-8 for this calendar. I want to point out that using Sunday 8 April 1798 as a starting point also coheres with when we are told the discussions of when to leave London occurred and with other events we are told occurred in the middle of March right after Lucy’s letter of 12 March 1798 (see above).
We are told these discussions fell “a few” or “three weeks” before the end of March, beginning of April; that is, in the middle of the third week of March, immediately after Lucy’s letter, namely, between 13 and 15 March 1798. This middling time of March includes the day Edward travels to Oxford, the one on which when the thought occurs to Elinor that as “It was now above a week since John Dashwood had called in Berkeley-street,” she ought to visit Harley Street (3:5:293-94; 41:248-49). As both Colonel Brandon and Edward had called the day before (see below), and we are given to understand these calls occurred a couple of days after Lucy’s letter was received and much discussion of a plan that would enable the Dashwood sisters to return to Barton (3:3:279-80; 39:236-37), the day Edward left London and Elinor visited John Dashwood would be either 16 or 17 March 1798.
These two days are consistent with two slightly varied comments on the plan which seemed “more elible than any other.” On the one hand, Elinor acknowledges that the plan’s drawback is it will “detain them from home yet a few weeks longer;” on the other, she says, since Cleveland is “within a few miles of Bristol, the distance to Barton” is “not beyond one day, though a long day’s journey.” If, therefore, they can manage to make the trip in one day with the help of a servant, they will be home “in little more than three weeks” (3:3:270-80, 41:248-49).
I also ask the reader to observe that we can add two following parallel sets of letters to the various correspondences we have already noticed. There is Elinor at Cleveland Park, Somerset, to her mother, at Barton Park, Devonshire; and there is Mrs. Jennings, also at Cleveland Park, to her daughter, Lady Middleton, in Conduit Street, London. In addition, as is so typical of epistolary novels, at the height of the drama, the letters themselves are not simply actors in the general turns of the story (e.g., as earlier in the book Sir John Middleton’s letter late in August 1797 brought the Dashwoods from Sussex to Somerset), but are central to the turns in theatrically- presented crises from hour to hour. To Elinor, as she watches by Marianne’s bed, time stands still; to Willoughby, because Sir John had read a letter Mrs. Jennings wrote to Lady Middleton suggesting Marianne was near death, time is a force to be beaten as he rides hard clear across England, travelling from London to Somerset in twelve rapid hours.
[In Philological Quarterly, the calendar resumes here:
Tuesday to Wednesday 13-14 March 1798. Elinor and Marianne have now been in London “rather more than two months;” a “plan” to “remove” with the Palmers “to Cleveland about the end of March, for the Easter holidays” emerges, is discussed, and agreed to once “their mother’s concurrence” can be “readily gained.” Another letter by Elinor to her mother sent off immediately when the plan is proposed. (3:3:279-80; 39:236-7)It includes two days of remarkably tight time-telling:
Sunday 15 April 1798. “On the morning of the third day” Marianne seems better. Elinor rejoices “that in her letters to her mother” she had made “light” of the illness, and “almost fixed the time when Marianne would be able to travel.” But “towards evening” Marianne grows worse; Elinor “resolves to sit up whole of the night;” Marianne awakens, exhibits “feverish wildness” with her “‘Is mamma coming . . . she must not go round by London;” Elinor goes downstairs to find Brandon; he offers to fetch Mrs. Dashwood himself; he then “hurr[ies] off his servant with a message to Mr. Harris,” while she “wr[ites] a few lines to her mother.” Brandon “calculated with exactness when Elinor might look for his return” and departs “about twelve o’clock [midnight];” she and a servant then sit up “hour after hour” watching Marianne “in sleepless pain and delirium.” Earlier this same evening Willoughby meets Sir John Middleton in Drury Lane Theatre Royal and Sir John tells him Marianne “dying of a putrid fever at Cleveland–a letter that morning received from Mrs. Jennings declared her danger most imminent.” (3:7:310-12; 43:262-64)
Monday 16 April 1798. “5 o’clock” or before dawn. Mr. Harris arrives at Cleveland, still talks with “confidence” over “a fresh mode of treatment,” and “promises” to “call again” in 3 to 4 hours. “Morning arrives.” Mrs. Jennings reproaches Elinor for not calling her for help; Marianne had been “for three months her companion.” Brandon arrives at Barton to find Mrs. Dashwood ready to leave, waiting only for “the Careys” who were “then expected every moment to fetch Margaret away.” At 8 o’clock Willoughby sets off from London for Cleveland. Around 9 in the morning Dr. Harris returns to Cleveland (he is “punctual in his second visit”); he has “still something to try.” At “noon” Marianne seems slightly better. Meanwhile Willoughby arrives at Marlborough in time for lunch. At Cleveland “half an hour” passes and “favorable symptom” yet “blesses” Marianne. “Four o’clock” Mr. Harris returns to Cleveland and congratulates Elinor on “a recovery in her sister.” “Six o’clock” Marianne “sinks into quiet, steady . . . comfortable sleep.” “Seven o’clock” Elinor joins Mrs. Jennings “in the drawing-room to tea,” after which Mrs. Jennings retires “to her own room to write letters and sleep.” Elinor expects to see Brandon and her mother “at ten o’clock.” “The clock struck eight,” and in the sick room Elinor hears sound of “a carriage driving up,” glimpses “four horses,” and “rushes” to drawing-room to meet Willoughby who for “half an hour” tells his version of all the events in which he has been involved. He then leaves for Combe Magna and “from thence to town in a day or two.” “Within half an hour of” his “leaving the house,” Mrs. Dashwood and Brandon arrive; “two minutes” after Mrs. Dashwood calms herself with good news, she is with Marianne. (3:7:312-16, 8:319-31, 9:333-34; 45:264-68, 46:471-82, 47:283-85)
It breaks off at:
Sunday 22 April 1798. “At the end of another day or two, Marianne growing visibly stronger every twelve hours,” Mrs. Dashwood begins to talk of going to Barton. (3:10:340-41; 46:289)
I explain the concluding dovetailing of time in the present Sense and Sensibility:
At this point in our chronology we are again confronted with an abrupt switch in pace and an indeterminate interval: we are not told exactly how many days intervened between Mrs. Dashwood beginning “to talk of going to Barton” and the actual “day of separation and departure.” Still the sense of the passage, and Mrs. Dashwood’s dispatch when once she made up her mind to accept her cousin’s invitation to come to live at Barton Cottage (see above August 1797), suggest she was held back only by the time it took Colonel Brandon and Mrs. Jennings to convince her to “accept the use of his carriage” (3:10:341; 46:289-90), a day to talk and a day to depart, two at most.
The final calendared phase of the book is dovetailed into the above departure day by the narrator’s telling us Colonel Brandon appeared at Barton Cottage after a “three weeks’ residence” in solitude at Delaford (3:13:369; 49:313). It is similarly delimited when we are told by the narrator that the day Edward visits Mrs. Ferrars in London to gain her permission to marry Elinor was a “fortnight” after Robert’s elopement; that is, that Mrs. Ferrars had for “a fortnight” been “without any” son (3:14:373; 50:317). In addition, throughout the interval using the same kind of day-by-day and week-by-week chronicling we found in the novel from the time the Dashwoods first came to Devonshire (see above 2 September 1798), we can state exactly when Edward Ferrars arrived at Barton Cottage with the news of Lucy Steele’s elopement with his younger brother, Robert Ferrars.
This latter accounting for time is achieved through information provided by a letter (see above 17-26 April 1798). Mrs. Jennings writes Elinor to tell her that “two days” before Lucy eloped, Lucy visited Mrs. Jennings, and “one day after” this elopement “Nancy came crying” to her because Lucy had taken almost all Nancy’s money as well as her own. If we give Lucy and Robert the same three days travelling time to get from London to Devonshire as we gave Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters, we can date when they married, when Lucy wrote her letter to Edward, and, with further information provided (again by the narrator), when Edward rushed with such relief to Barton.
[In Philological Quarterly, the calendar resumes here:
?Tuesday 24 April 1798. “Day of separation and departure arrived:” Mrs. Dashwood “prevailed” upon to use Colonel Brandon’s carriage; Mrs. Jennings and maid leave in her chaise; Brandon takes “his solitary way” to Delaford. (3:10:341; 46:289-90)It includes more letters used centrally:
Thursday 3 May 1798. “The day after” Nancy “came crying to” Mrs. Jennings and explains she had “not seven shillings in the world.” It is through a later series of letters between Elinor and John Dashwood (“as a consequence of Marianne’s illness”) and an apparently on-going correspondence between Elinor and Mrs. Jennings that we first learn of Edward’s stay at Oxford, the elopement of Lucy Steele with Edward Ferrars and the desertion of Nancy Steele; parts of the withheld letters are quoted. At Barton for “two or three following days” from the Dashwood’s serious evening talk, Marianne’s recovery seems to halt; Margaret returns from the Careys. (3:11:352, 13:370; 47:299, 49:314)
It breaks off at:
Monday 21 May 1798. Edward’s first interview with his mother after he is engaged to Elinor. (3:14:373; 50:317)
The essay concludes:
Austen did not plot the concluding events in the stories of Lucy and Robert Ferrars, Mrs. Ferrars, and John and Fanny Dashwood with precision. Of Lucy and Robert Ferrars we are only told that they “earned” the “real favour and preference” of Mrs. Ferrars “before many months” after their marriage “had passed away.” Of this indefinite period they “passed some months” in “Dawlish” before Robert returned to London, and “procured the forgiveness of Mrs. Ferrars, by the simple expedient of asking it” (3:14:375-76; 50:319-20).
The paragraphs which then take us to the end of the story of Lucy and Robert Ferrars and John and Fanny Dashwood (3:14:375-76; 50:320) are, however, placed after we are told Elinor and Edward married “early in the autumn” (3:14:374; 50:318), but before the close of Marianne’s story, which is her marriage to Colonel Brandon “two years” later (3:14:378; 50:321). Thus we are encouraged to infer that Lucy’s relatively brief period of ostentatious penitence and humility and hypocritical gratitude (which includes sending notes to Mrs. Ferrars), and her and Robert’s settling in town with Mrs. Ferrars’s “very liberal assistance” near John and Fanny Dashwood began sometime after “early autumn” 1798, but concluded well before September 1799 (see calendar below).
Austen did take care to fit the conclusions of Elinor’s and Marianne’s stories into the novel’s calendared time in such a way as to make reference to a year-long cycle of time. If we take Elinor’s story to begin in September when the Dashwoods arrived in Devonshire–and certainly her parting from Edward occurs then–when we are told the ceremony took place “in Barton Church early in the autumn,” we see Austen aligning her action against the seasonal pattern of a year as she would do in Emma. Austen makes a joke of it, but underlines her intent when after Elinor and Edward then spend the “the first month” of their marriage “with their friend at the Mansion-house,” they are visited at the “Parsonage” by that garrulous lady, Mrs. Jennings, who always knew she would visit some couple or other at Delaford Parsonage “by Michaelmas” (3:14:374, 50:318). Three times earlier in the book Mrs. Jennings predicted “they would all” be “comfortably together in Delaford Parsonage before Michaelmas”–she just had the wrong couples in mind (2:10:216, 3:4:292, 5:293; 32:182, 40:247, 41:248).
Marianne’s marriage to Brandon, is made to correlate ironically with her first passionate rejection on Sunday 17 September 1797 (see calendar above) of Mrs. Jennings’s notion that Colonel Brandon is in love with her because, forsooth, “he must have long outlived every sensation of the kind” and thus it would be only a “compact of convenience (1:8:37-38, 8:33). This joke’s on Marianne, for the narrator tells us she marries him precisely “two years” after this declaration (3:14:378, 50:321).
And, finally, the penultimate paragraph of the present novel, presents one more dovetailing. The vestigial character left over from one of the earlier revisions (probably used as a correspondent), Margaret is fitted back into the book. Her age is made consistent with all that has gone before. She was 13 in February 1797 when her father, Mr. Henry Dashwood, died (1:1:7, 1:6), and has now reached, as our narrator says, “an age highly suitable for dancing, and not very ineligible for being supposed to have a lover,” going on sixteen, just Lydia Bennet’s age (3:14:380; 50:322).
And so to conclude:
Late August into early September 1798. “The ceremony took place in Barton church early in the autumn . . . The first month of their marriage was spent with their friend at the Mansion-house . . . ” (3:14:374; 50:318)Saturday 29 September 1798. Mrs. Jennings “was able to visit Edward and his wife in their Parsonage by Michaelmas.” (3:14:374; 50:318)
1799 September. “Two years” after Marianne had declared Colonel Brandon to be too old to marry, she marries him. She is 19, Brandon 37. (3:14:378, 380; 50:321-22)
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. The whole of the calendar for Sense and Sensibility may be found as part of an essay demonstrating that the novel was originally epistolary- “A Calendar For Sense and Sensibility”, Philological Quarterly, 79 (Fall 2000), pp. 233-266. To see more of her work on Austen visit her website to find
For information on how Ellen created her calendars, click here
Enjoyed this article? Browse our book shop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk