The Novel Set in a Leapyear & Clary's Voice

Very early in the group discussion, John Dussinger wrote to C18-L:

"As a member of the Clary list, I discovered with the help of UNIX that Richardson indeed used an actual calendar for the dates in CLARISSA. Either 1732 or 1704 would work perfectly. An earlier year, 1676, seems too far back. We do know that Richardson himself suggested that the action of the novel took place some years before the 1740s, deliberately vague. As Ellen Moody pointed out in our discussion, there are some "clocks" that might help us to determine the time zone of this novel. The hideous Solmes wears "a full yellow-buckled peruke and broad-brimmed beaver." Clarissa has a "wide hoop," and the Harlowes, as we might expect from upstarts, are grossly proud of their new glass mirrors.

Since we're still just reading the early part of the novel, we have only a few "clocks" to offer so far. But is there enough here to help us to determine between 1704 and 1738 as the probable period that Richardson had envisioned for CLARISSA? I personally like the idea that both would work--the one in the Walpole era and the earlier one exactly for the year of Marlborough's victory at Blenheim. Richardson, we should now rest assured, was a Whig from at least the mid-1730s."

Then on February 28th in response to something I said, Prof Dussinger further wrote:

Ellen Moody's question about matching up the days of the weeks with a real calendar is intriquing, and I don't recall any scholarship on Richardson that answers it. My hunch, however, is that Richardson did use an actual calendar. We know that Jane Austen did, and R.W. Chapman worked it out pretty precisely for each of the completed novels in the Oxford edition.

For one thing, having an actual calendar probably makes the whole sense of the story more like the "history" the "editor" was pretending to give us. We know that Richardson had imagined the story of CLARISSA to have happened somewhat earlier in the century, when rakes were more libertine and mean like Col. Francis Charteris, who was famous for luring young girls to their destruction.

A quick check with the calendar on UNIX shows that the year 1732 fits perfectly for the days mentioned so far in CLARISSA. February turns out to be a leap year, with 29 Feb. a Tuesday, and 1 Mar. a Wednesday. Jumping ahead (forgive me!) to the most momentous event of this story, when someone remarks "The affair is over," dated Tuesday morning, 13 June, I see that 1732 continues to fit exactly.

I won't take the time right now to see how a calendar even earlier in the 18th century might work. But we need to remember that until 1752, England, unlike the European continent, was still using the Julian Calendar. I don't have the information about how the UNIX system takes this change in dating into account. Even for the 3rd and 4th editions of CLARISSA, Richardson would still be using the Old Style. Do we have any calendar experts on the list?

Again later that day, he added:

"After further calculations with UNIX, I find that besides the year 1732, there are two other leap years that might be considered: 1704 and 1676. We would have to push the time back before the Restoration to find another leap year, and surely that would be too early for our story. As we read CLARISSA, we might look out for any "clocks" in the narrative, things like references to clothing fashions, say, or to architecture, etc. that could help us choose the leap year Richardson had in mind. My guess is that 1676 would be too early for the story. But maybe 1704, the year of Marlborough's victory at Blenheim, might work."

To all this I replied, using the letter of Feb 24th as my document:

I suggest February 24th is a Friday, and it's a leapyear. Clarissa was not allowed to go to church "last Sunday," and she is told "it will be acceptable if I do not think of going to church next Sunday." I wonder has anyone ever printed a calendar of days for _Clarissa_? February 28th & 29th are omitted, so we cannot tell if it's a leapyear (if it is a leapyear, February 24th is a Thursday). Peeking ahead, March 1st is a Wednesday (as it is this year), in which case if it is not a leapyear, then February 24th would have been a Friday. I don't know that it matters enormously, but Richardson may have a specific year in mind since he starts to put in days on March 1st. In either case, Feb 24th-25th is coming up to the weekend, closer to next than last Sunday, whence the comment on church. I opt for a leapyear & Friday, for then Feb 26th is the Sunday, and Aunt Hervey makes her visit to Clarissa while the family is gone to church.

As to the technique of this letter, on two-thirds dated February 25th (then the Saturday), do others agree how like a play this piece is? Many years ago I read _An Essay on Acting_ by Aaron Hill, Richardson's friend, and in this essay Hill gives all sorts of outward directions on how to display emotion (the sort of things playwrights sometimes include in italics and Shakespeare often in the speeches themselves). For example, on the 25th, of her sister, "with a twirl of her finger;" of herself "hand and eyes lifted up" (Clarissa is herself exaggerating and mocking Bella); of her mother, "as if her eyelids had weights upon them," "My father sat half aside in his elbow chair, that his head might be turned from me; his hands clasped, and waving, as it were, up and down; his fingers, poor dear gentleman! in motion, as if angry to the very ends of them. My sister swelling" (like a toad? recalls to my mind Milton's Satan); Aunt Hervey conveys a significant glance at the brother and sister to Clarissa to let her know she must act this way in their presence (Aunt Hervey is an adept at the good cop-bad cop game); the business of the tea, footman out (a menace there), pouring it; it goes on like this throughout the scene with her father; everyone is exactly placed as in a dramatic picture on a stage.

On the content, it is often hard to defend Clarissa's character to people who haven't read the novel as if it were a poem. But in this letter we have the voice I am deeply attracted to, the Clary voice or poetry I call it, in her lines on the family's outrageous avarice and drive for acquisition; it is a voice even Lovelace hears once in a while:

And yet in my opinion the world is but one great family. Originally it was so. What then is this narrow selfishness that reigns in us, but relationship remembered against relationship forgot?

The parallelism and contrast of past participles suggests to my mind someone who has read Pope & his school.

Ellen Moody

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