Lady Susan's Calendar

Lady Susan's Calendar

Go directly to Lady Susan's Calendar Lady SusanThere is no scholarship on the calendar Austen used to arrange the letters of Lady Susan. No letter is dated fully; however, there is a grid; during the book's crisis point (when Sir James arrives and Frederica writes her morning letter to Reginald and the scenes and letters that ensue, and when Reginald learns the truth and confronts Lady Susan) the characters refer to specific days which cohere with the larger movements of the story. The pace of external events and inner psychological movement resembles the texture of the six omniscient novels. Lady Susan has all the usual rhythmic patterns, the same careful use of ironic juxtaposition that we find in the extant Sense and Sensibility. Austen simply removed the scaffolding from sight. What we know is this:
  1. Chapman studied the manuscript (literally -- the paper that the text is written upon). The latest year it could have been copied out or written is 1805.
  2. B. C. Southam, Jane Austen's Literary Manuscripts. Southam examined the book in the context of his speculations and studies on the extant manuscripts. He argues for 1793-94 as the start date; however, he does not say why he thinks Austen didn't revise it in 1804-5.
  3. The publication of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1782. In 1782 there were four French editions. The ESTC records an English translation in 1784:
    Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse 1761 Englished Eloisa; or a series of original letters collected and published by J. J. Rousseau, translated by William Kenrick 1761Laclos, Choderlos de, Liaisons dangereuses 1782. Englished: Dangerous connections : or, letters collected in a society, and published for the instruction of other societies. By M. C**** de L***. ... London : printed for T. Hookham, 1784. 4 v.; 12 mo. De Staël, Germaine de. Delphine. 1802 Englished and published in London 1803 and 1805. Edgeworth, Maria. Leonora, 1806 epistolary tale; Manoeuvring one of the Tales of Fashionable Life, 1809.
  4. Several worthwhile studies of Austen's texts: Q. D. Leavis's "A Critical Theory of Jane Austen's Writings," Scrutiny 10 (1941), 61-90, 114-42, 272-94; 12 (1944), 104-19 wherein she argues that Mansfield Parkemerged from a reimagining of the types we find in Lady Susan; Patricia Meyer Spacks's "Female Resources: Epistles, Plots, and Power, Writing the Female Voice: Essay on Epistolary Literature, edd. Elizbeth Goldsmith (Bosonton: Northeastern University Press, 1989), 63-76. Marvin Mudrick's attempt in his Irony and Defense to argue that in Lady Susan we find Austen in her truest most honest vein and that the other books represent various stages of repression (of which Mansfield Park is the worst) is well known. His comments on Lady Susan are stimulating because of his candour.
  5. Marilyn Butler wrote review of two recent biographies of Jane Austen (one by David Nokes and the other by Claire Tomalin) in which she argued Lady Susan was written in response to another epistolary novel by Maria Edgeworth, Leonora. Butler says Austen used a book of paper printed in 1805 but she wrote the draft into it around the time of her writing of the extant Sense and Sensibility, namely, when Austen was 35.
I have opted for the year 1804-5 as the most probable date of the almanac used by Austen. There could of course have been an earlier version; all Austen's were (as her brother said) "gradual performances". The piece does reveal an extraordinary emphasis on distrust and suspicion as part of the character's approach to one another. Could this be a mark of immaturity? something she imbibed from the way she heard her family talk about other people? Is the book a dream of absolute power due to "intellect and manners" from a young girl partly disturbed by her own inner deviance from the people she was surrounded by? On the other hand, the book contains an adult understanding of sexuality and the politics of submission and dominance it is hard to believe Austen merely picked up from LaClos. I was able to draw a calendar from the novel because Austen kept time in it sufficiently exactly and frequently to allow me to follow her precisely. The question was, Which almanac to choose? The manuscript decided it: 1805. It is wholly improbable she conjectured forward one year; as in the cases of Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey whose first full-drawn calendars still underlie the present novels, she moved back into the immediately previous year into the one she was writing in.


Since there is no scholarship on the internal calendar and what there is of exegesis of the novel is highly tendentious or not demonstrable, I thought I would conclude this presentation of the calendar with a couple of postings I sent to Austen-l about the pivotal use of Tuesday, the autobiographical sources of the novel, and what can be learnt by comparing it to Les Liasons Dangereuses:

The Important Tuesday in Lady Susan

The reader who has made it through the calendar may like to see the evidence for the pivotal Tuesday brought altogether: Tuesday is the day of Lady Susan's major crisis in the novel: "Who should come on Tuesday but SIr James Martin" (Penguin ed, Letter 22, p. 74). The day that Sir James arrives reveals to the Vernons and Sir Reginald de Courcy for the first time why Frederica fled school. They can see she means to marry her daughter to an amoral dolt. It is just at this point that suddenly several days are named and accounted for. Now we are told by Mrs Vernon that Sir James "arrived yesterday" (Letter 20, p. 70). So now we now that the very early morning on the next day when Frederica wrote her note was a "Wednesday:" "I got up before it was light -- I was two hours about it" (Letter 24, p. 79). Later that morning Reginald confronts Lady Susan and drives her into making Sir James leave Here is an exactly parallel scene to that of Marianne in S&S behind Frederica's letter to Reginald: Marianne and Frederica write letters to the men they love on Wednesday mornings at dawn while half-hysterical. The truncated ending is, I suggest, the result of Austen's family calling a halt to this amoral unpleasant fiction. She had not intended to end it because there is in play another Tuesday, one which occurs between the day Sir James arrived at the Vernon home and the day Reginald came to London (see directly below). This Tuesday was the day Mr Johnson intended to leave London for Bath for this health (Letter 26, p. 87). As in Persuasion, Austen dropped this hook so as to work it out later: there would've been ugly times in Bath. In the event, Mr Johnson stayed. The final crashing break between Reginald and Lady Susan occurs on a Tuesday. We are told that Reginald hastened to town on a "Monday" (Letter 42, p. 100) after Lady Susan upon being told by her to stay away for "some months" (Letter 30, p. 92). We are told several times in different ways that on the very same day Reginald arrived and while Mrs Johnson was out, Mrs Manwaring forced her way into Mr Johnson's drawing-room and was closeted alone with him and Reginald. On the next day, Tuesday, Reginald writes his note to Lady Susan telling her he now knows the truth (Letter 34, p. 95, beginning "I write only to bid you farewell"), to which she replies on the same day (Letter 35, p. 95, beginning "I will not attempt to describe my astonishment on reding the note, this moment received from you ..." ). If you work out the calendar, you discover the Tuesday that Mr Johnson had intended to go to Bath is this very day: so it's a bad Tuesday twice-over. This second Tuesday confirmed over and over. We are told by Mrs Vernon that Reginald came to Parklands on "Wednesday;" Lady Susan actually arrived on the same days, and stayed for "two hours" but was only able to take Frederica away with her (Letter 41, p. 99). What follows is a series of postings I wrote to Austen-l long ago. At the time I was convinced the novel was influenced by Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse. I still think so; the different today is that I think Austen's novels belong to a tradition of French and English novels and have all been influenced heavily by French novels either in translation or in the original language.

December 7, 1996 Lady Susan: In the Background

I'd like to agree with Dorothy Willis that it is probable the "sources" for Austen's portrait of a vicious woman were drawn from life as well as books. This is after true of most artists and most characters in novels; characters are an amalgam of the author's imagination and memory, of invention and imitation working upon experience. What seems most interesting to me is that on first blush the story of Lady Susan is not very like that of Mrs Craven; yet the spirit of Mrs Craven as remembered is very like; contrariwise, the story of Madame de Merteuil on first blush is very like that of Lady Susan while the spirit of the two characters seems animated on different principles.I hope I am not repeating Dorothy's posting (which by mistake I deleted) but seem to remember she omitted who first told the story that Mrs Craven was "the inspiration for Jane Austen's Lady Susan Vernon." My source for this is George Holbert Tucker's Jane Austen The Woman. He says the primary source for this idea was Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh, a great niece of Austen's (daughter to James-Edward, he of the 1870 Memoir). Further, Tucker is also careful to tell us that Mary Augusta "got" her account of Mrs Craven from her aunt, Caroline Austen's Reminiscences and Caroline Austen made no mention of the supposed connection between the fictional Lady Susan and Mrs Craven as remembered by Caroline and Mary Augusta. I'd like to add that reading the account myself Mrs Craven seems a bit too much of a real life witch, not that there aren't people who are sadistic and mean (Tucker's words). So as with trying to investigate and solidify an argument that Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a "source" for Lady Susan we run up against problems when we investigate and try to nail down as iron-clad an argument that Austen had the Lloyds' grandmother in mind when she wrote Lady Susan. Dorothy told us how Mrs Craven made her daughters act as servants for her; how they were "sometimes not allowed proper food, but were required to eat what was loathsome to them, and were often relieved from hunger by the maids privately bringing them bread and cheese after they were in bed." The daughters fled to marriage with men beneath them in class and with little money. This is not the plot ofLady Susan, is it? It's only when we think about it afterwards that we say, ah, here is a woman who is vicious to her daughters, and here is Lady Susan who is vicious to Frederica. I already went over the problems in trying to show that Austen readLes Liaisons Dangereuses. The plots though have some striking similarities. I would suggest that it's not just a question of a coquet in one novel resembling a coquet in another. Both Austen and LaClos are determined to show us corrupt older women who carry on love affairs with younger men (of course LaClos is far more daring and his Madame actually had an affair with Valmont before the novel opened; Austen only suggests an affair is in the offing, or a marriage, if Lady Susan can pull it off); both show women determined to sell young girls to men; both find that the younger lovers they meant to make use of fall in love with a young girl they had meant to sell (again LaClos's story is much more daring, for corruption here includes deflowering one girl related to Madame and living with her, and seducing another married woman upon whom Madame wants to take revenge). The triangles are alike. It is really not a forced comparison at all. On the other hand the spirit behind the two books is utterly different. It is fair to call LaClos's book nihilistic; LaClos believes in the utter amorality of all people; we can be divided into predators and preyed-upon. Some of us (MMe. La Presidente, the married one Valmont corrupts and who falls in love with Valmont and he with her) may believe in morality, but that's because we are fools, blinded, and therefore all the more vulnerable. I would say it's not so much the sex--after all we could say Austen is as daring as she dared to be given her sex, who she was dependent upon, her class, and so on. It's the moral that's different. It may seem in these opening 10 letters that Lady Susan is not heavily condemned nor punished, but she will be. I have always taken the small-pox visited upon Madame de Merteuil at the end of Les Liaisons Dangereuses as a kind of joke, a final sardonic fillip on the part of the author to his sadistic character (he gets his kick too), and a sop to the audience. I'd like to remind those who are still reading of the article by Roger Shattuck in The New York Review of Books in which he argued for a French erotic tradition in which the female character learned to renounce sexual enthrallment. I think that Austen's Sense and Sensibility was written "in" that tradition. Well I have come to believe with Chapman and others that S&S was originally written as an early work called Elinor and Marianne, probably epistolary, and then rewritten as S&S in 1797 in probably epistolary form still; it was during the interval between these two writings that she wrote Lady Susanat least so says Southam and Chapman agrees perhaps. So I submit that Lady Susan belongs to the same tradition. It began in English with Clarissa which then influenced the French (Rousseau's La Nouvelle HeloiseLes Liaisons Dangereuses among others) which then influenced the English. Austen turned her E&M and S&S into the finished omniscient narrative we know today; she backed away from the harder tale, Lady Susan which is part of the same tradition. It also takes into its "maw" Austen's own life experiences and perhaps accounts she heard from Martha and Mary Lloyd of the shameful bully (Tucker's words again), Mrs Craven.

December 9, 1996 Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Lady Susan

In response to the speculation about the relationship between LaClos's famous epistolary novel and Austen'sLady Susan, I'd like to say that one, there is no documentary evidence Austen ever read La Clos. But then there wouldn't be, would there? This is a book which even today is startling in its sardonic celebration of power and amoral sexuality. The first letter of Madame de Merteuil (the second in the volume), to her ex-lover Valmont, opens thus:
"Revenez, mon cher vicomte, revenez... j'ai besoin de vous."
She has a project for him; she wants him to corrupt a young girl in her charge (deflower her to be exact) so she can use this girl as she pleases, sell her to the highest bidder. Valmont is a younger man than she as De Courcy is younger than Lady Susan.Jane Austen had the French to read this one; in her letters she quotes other French books; Madame de Sevigne was a favorite of the period. It was also in its own time recognized as a knock-off fromClarissa. (One of the more interesting things about the BBC movie ofClarissa is that the director has the actor who played Lovelace play it as if he were a ruthless Valmont; the film is as much influenced by the movie made of LaClos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses with Malkowich as it is of any critical reading of Clarissa.) Was it available in English? I don't know [obviously I hadn't come across the 1784 translation printed by Hookham when I wrote this]. I know books in French were almost as a rule translated into English very quickly; French literature was enormously popular and influential in England throughout the 18th century (and vice versa -- Prevost of course "did" Clarissa &Grandison into French; it's worth saying that Austen's first three novels were translated into French very quickly). La Nouvelle Heloisesold as The New Eloisa everywhere, and was wildly popular. However I have a list of French sentimental fiction which lists hundreds of translations by one Josephine Grieder; it is not listed there. Many many epistolary novels in French were translated. But it needn't have been translated; it was published in 1782 so it's possible Austen knew it, and as younger girl she had her rebellions and avid curiosities too; she clearly knew Gothic fictions which are very sexy (e.g., The Recess). LaClos was in London in 1789. But another factor is LaClos was connected to the revolution, an Orleanist, and later became a Napoleonic General. It wouldn't do to be seen reading his books during the Napoleonic wars. That he was infamous and well-known is suggested by his tomb in 1815 being destroyed on the return of the Bourbons. They went for it as a something they needed to root out. (He died 1803.) Maybe it was just too daring ever to mention or even read in front of others or even be caught reading by someone like Austen. We don't know that she read Mary Wollstonecraft for the same kinds of reasons. We should here remember it was Henry Austen boasted about Austen's knowledge of Sir Charles Grandison; the only way we know for sure that Austen read Clarissa is she gives a salacious dolt in Sanditon a passage in praise of Clarissa's amorality. Still while some of the above suggests one can't rule out Austen read it and that if she did we wouldn't be told about it, it also suggests it is possible or perhaps even probable that the striking analogy between the character of Lady Susan, a woman with all the makings of a dominatrix and the character of Madame de Merteuil is coincidental; but if it is, it still tells us about how unusual this conception of Austen's is for her. Henry James used it for his Madame Merle in The Portrait of a Lady. Maybe Austen's genius just hit upon the same configuration. She went for the jugular in embodying the female predator insofar as a young girl could--for she was young when she wrote this. I would see the analogies with Wilkie Collins as further individual imitations of a type that emerged out of the school of Clarissa (if I may be permitted the phrase). What I liked about the Becky Sharp analogy was Becky is gay (in the original sense of the word), light, witty, and while Lady Susan's behavior is certainly anything but funny or light when it comes to her daughter, the vein Austen has hit upon is not redolent of dark sensuality in the manner of LaClos but more a matter of a moral inversion out of an austere morality much like Thackeray's, though Thackeray is more forgiving of his Becky than I think Austen means us to be of her Lady Susan.

December 11, 1996 Les Liaisons Dangereuses

In response to Elizabeth James I'd like to say I am fascinated by the parallels she sees between MP andLes Liaisons Dangereuses. Someone on this list showed me a paper where she compared Fanny Price to Clarissa Harlowe and I have always been struck by some parallels between the ways Henry Crawford seeks to win Fanny's heart the the ways Lovelace seeks to win Clarissa's. Lovelace is also generous to his tenants and a decent estate manager.My view would be that both Les Liaisons Dangereuses and MP are "children" of Clarissa. Richardson's novel was and in a way still is phenomenally influential. Rochester is a chip off Lovelace with a good deal of Byron thrown in for good measure. Daphne Du Maurier'sRebecca belongs to the family. Anita Brookner's novels are recent progeny and A.S. Byatt's Possession is the old letter novel reborn once again. A packet of letters is at its center. Natch. But of course the direct children of Clarissa are much closer to one another than their 20th century rebirths. So I would say to Elizabeth there are all sorts of novels in the eighteenth century which have similar kinds of characters and situations to that we find in ClarissaLes Liaisons Dangereuses, and MPLady Susan is one. Another is the Marianne story in S&S. For a start in finding other titles and an enjoyable book to read I'd recommend JMS Tompkins's Popular Novel in England, 1770-1800. One curious parallel I saw in the character of Manwaring who is described as a "tender and liberal spirit... impressed with the deepest conviction of [Lady Susan's] merit, is satsified that whatever [she does] must be right; & looks with a degree of contempt on the inquisitive & doubting Fancies of that Heart which seems always debating on the reasonableness of it's Emotions." Is not this a version of both Marianne and her mother? They both accuse Elinor of being suspicious, wary, not candid; the mother ironically says to Elinor that if she saw Willoughby at an altar she might suppose Willoughby was about to be married (or words to this effect). Well its "source" is Rousseau and La Nouvelle Heloise. The sentimental hero is Saint-Preux; he is just this kind of deeply trusting person who follows his heart. So. Manwaring is not a Valmont or Lovelace; he's a son of Rousseau, brother in this to Marianne Dashwood. Go directly to Lady Susan's 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 Essays on _Mansfield ParkA copy of a published essay-review on the film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels, And More! For information on how Ellen created her calendars, click here  
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