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Article: The Mansfield Park Calendar

Jane Austen

The Mansfield Park Calendar

Click Here to go directly to the calendar. I preface this calendar with a summary of recent work on the novel, for this summary suggests how important it is to study the text of the book carefully before we go about to interpret events and characters as alluding to any specific people or political events in Austen's period. In the most recent interpretation of Mansfield Park, Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England Roger Sales says there has been no controversy about the years it is set in; he simply assumes it is set in the year it was written, and writes as follows:
"The details concerning the composition and publication of MP are relatively uncontroversial. It was probably begun in February 1811, completed sometime during the summer of 1813, and then published in 1814."
The footnote makes no reference to three articles which have disputed these dates. All three are known and cited in the 1986 Macmillan Jane Austen Companion (edd. J. David Grey et alia) as worthy looking into because the cast doubt on the dates of composition and the years the novel takes place in (see Jo Modert,"Chronology within the Novels," 53-9.) It is true that the book we know as MP was put together and rewritten some ("ordination" theme brought in) as Cassandra jotted ("begun somewhere about Feby 1811--Finished soon after June 1813"). But it is also true that the composition of MP resembles the composition of all Austen's novels: it was in an original first draft and then revised and revised again over a long period of time. A. Walton Litz thinks "the actual calendar in MP is the years of 1796-7." He says it was during this year Austen's memories of Eliza de Feuillide's flirtation with Henry and James Austen and the theatricals at Steventon would still have been vivid in Austen's mind, and he cites an article by the grandson of Francis Austen to suggest Austen had in mind theatricals at Steventon in 1797 (Notes and Queries, 208 [1961], 221-2. In The Collected Reports of the Jane Austen Society1949-65 (London 1967), 197-203, Bernard Ledwidge studies the periodicals to figure out what "the strange business in America" was, and comes to the conclusion that the calendar for MP is 1809-10 and those were the years in which Austen began the novel. He also mentions that the one year in which Easter fell late (which so upsets Fanny because it is said to keep her at Portsmouth) was 1810. Warren Roberts has opted for the year 1805-7 without studying the novel itself: he argues it must be set during this time because this was the year when the French blockade had disastrous implications for British sugar trade. Sutherland's rejoinder in his "Where does Sir Thomas's wealth come from?" demonstrates there is not even enough textual evidence to prove Sir Thomas was in sugar or owned many slaves, much less that his trip to Antigua was caused by a specific event (see Roberts's Jane Austen and the French Revolution and John Sutherland, Can Jane Eyre be Happy? [New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 2-9). I studied the text very carefully and decided that MacKinnon and Chapman's calendars in the Oxford edition of Mansfield Park are preferable. The central events of Mansfield Park as now represented in Austen's text dovetail most consistently into the years 1808-9, though there is equally an argument for 1796-7 if we see the indeterminate time in the theatricals & later elopement. However, 1808-9 reveals the important revision that took place while Austen lived in Southampton: Portsmouth reflects her later time in Bath; Fanny Price's character shows Austen's sympathetic reponse to how Caroline didn't manage to cope at Godmersham in 1808. 1808-9 fits the cited the pivotal days of Tuesday (Fanny and William arrive in Portsmouth and Henry Crawford meets Mrs Rushworth on a Tuesday evening). Henry For long stretches of time, the calendar for MP shows an astonishing, not to say staggering accuracy, minuteness and internal consistency. The smallest references (hours, half-hours, decades cited across a couple of hundred pages) dovetail. A repeated careful working out of the calendar for this novel, sometimes using different grids (e.g, 1796-1797) demonstrates that the dramatic narratives and meditations of MPare as closely fitted together through the use of a continually referred to time scheme as S&S, and that time in MP is far more frequently and consistently determinate than time in P&P and NA. If we still cannot say for sure that the text we have was begun as early as 1796-97, this reality does suggest that in its original conception the novel may have been constructed in the way Austen constructed the above three books, and may even have been originally heavily epistolary, as Q. D. Leavis once famously argued. Where it becomes inconsistent or vague occurs at precisely those points where it has been suggested that we have old material interwoven in (the theatricals, the lateness of Easter, and the elopement of Maria and Henry whose liaison is rooted in the psychological events of the theatricals). Brief summary: The question of which year to choose for drawing a calendar for Mansfield Parkmust remain undecided. Despite its internal consistencies over much of the book, as A. Walton Litz has shown only 1796-7 fits all the dated events in the novel. On the other hand, alluded to events outside the novel returns the calendar to 1809-1810 as does the day of the ball (see also Warren Roberts and Bernard Ledgewick); then again its mood and moral sternness argues for Sales's regency perspective. The solution to this is to understand our extant text as a much revised book, begun in 1797, reworked during Austen's years in Bath, and then picked up, put into a final shape, adding the "ordination theme" (in contrast to P&P, rearranging, reattaching and here and there simply lifted off its grid. Go to the Mansfield Park 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 Park, A 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 Enjoyed this article? Visit our giftshop and escape into the world of Jane Austen.

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