by Hilary Clare

Published in "The Review of the Charlotte Mary Yonge Fellowship"
Edition Number 18 – Spring 2004


Dating The Daisy Chain

When does The Daisy Chain begin? One might imagine, from the various clues given in the early chapters of the book, that it would be possible to pinpoint the exact day, certainly the year, but - as with nearly all Charlotte Yonge dating - the apparently specific information turns out to be unreliable. Still, there are clues, and it seems worth considering them.

As a basic premise, it is not unreasonable to assume that, as Part One of the book was serialised in The Monthly Packet between July 1853 and December 1855, The Daisy Chain cannot open later than its first appearance. And since, whatever the exact year and day, there is no doubt that it opens in October (see p 25 "the cold of a frosty October evening"), it cannot open later than October 1852, a few months, perhaps weeks, earlier than Charlotte Yonge was writing.

I had always vaguely supposed, from the fact that in the first chapter Ethel and Norman are reading Henry V and specifically the "Crispin's Day" speech, that they were doing so because it was either St. Crispin's Day (October 25th) or its eve. Can one therefore pinpoint the year by seeing when October 24th or 25th fell on the Saturday preceding the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, the Sunday which (in the Book of Common Prayer) owns the Gospel reading about "taking the lowest place" which is also read in that first chapter as being - one assumes - the Gospel for the following day? But on investigation I find that October 24th and 25th can never in fact fall on that particular Sunday, as the latest date on which Trinity XVII can occur is October 17th. (The Sundays after of course vary because they depend on the date of Easter, which can fall on any day between March 22nd and April 25th.) The Crispin's Day clue turns out to be a red herring.

There can be no doubt, from its importance to the theme of the book, that we must take Trinity XVII as a fixed point. As there is never any indication that The Daisy Chain is other than contemporary, we must look for years in the decade or so before 1853 when Trinity XVII falls in October. It can only do so when Easter falls between 9th and 25th April, and we may discount the first date as that would make the previous day fall in September. The relevant years, with Easter and Trinity XVII dates are:

1840............. April 19.......... October 11
1841 .............April 11.......... October 3
1843............. April 16.......... October 8
1846............. April 12.......... October 4
1848.............April 23.......... October 15
1851 .............April 20.......... October 12
1852.............April............... October 3

Does Charlotte Yonge give us any more clues to the dating? Most obviously, we know that the Sunday is Christening Sunday, the only one in the month. Gertrude, nearly six weeks old, missed the previous one, which suggests that it was a full month earlier - not quite two weeks old is apparently too young, just as waiting for the next one, again presumably a month later, when she would be about ten weeks old, is considered too late. She has, you will remember, to be baptised on a weekday, with only the nursery party present.

Now, Gertrude was born two days before Alan Ernescliffe was brought into the May household by the impetuous doctor. (Dear man! Quite apart from any impropriety, he had no notions of domestic inconvenience!) Alan was taken ill when bringing Hector to school "at the end of the previous summer holidays" (p 8). This must be late August or early September -even the middle of September would beimpossibly late - and although we do not know how long Alan lay ill at the Swan Inn it was at least a week (p 9) and probably rather longer. This gives a birth date for Gertrude no later, I think, than some time in the first week in September, nor earlier than the last in August. (Keen Charlotte Yonge students will recall that in Abbey-church, when the church dedication takes place on 28th August, young Horace Woodbourne has already gone back to school.)

A further pointer is the connection of the vital weekend with Richard's return to Oxford from the tutor with whom he has been reading for the whole of the long vacation. This suggests that it is the beginning of the Oxford Michaelmas term, which is always about the middle of the month. However, it is quite possible that Richard is going up a week early, perhaps to retake that failed exam, so nothing conclusive is to be gained this way, except to confirm that we cannot really be as late in the month as that "frosty October evening" might suggest.

Charlotte Yonge does not tell us which Sunday of the month was normally Christening Sunday, nor indeed whether it always fell on the same Sunday of the month -though the implication is that it did, and any experience of church arrangements will strongly suggest that it was very likely to be a regular feature. A few chapters later, when it is a question of the Taylor twins' baptism, there is some discussion about the date of the next Christening Sunday (p 68). It is clear there that Christening Sunday is the first in the month, for the conversation takes place on a Saturday (incidentally, Norman's sixteenth birthday) and Ethel, in reply to Richard's question, says "... The first of December is Monday - yes, tomorrow week is the next." That places Norman's birthday as November 29th and Christening Sunday as the first in the month.

Does it also completely solve our problem? Can we find a year in which December 1st is indeed a Monday and Trinity XVII the first Sunday in October? Unfortunately, no. The only year of our selection on which December 1st was a Monday is 1851, when Trinity XVII fell on October 12th, the second Sunday in the month. In 1852, when it was the first Sunday, December 1st was a Wednesday. There is, in fact, no year between 1800 and 1873 when Trinity XVII falls on the first Sunday in October and December 1st on a Monday: Charlotte Yonge has just plain got this wrong.

Or has she? Perhaps we are driven to infer from Richard's questioning that Christening Sunday does vary - after all, Mr. Ramsden is known to be an unsatisfactory incumbent, and this may be an instance of his incompetence. If Christening Sunday was regularly the first in the month, would Richard have needed to ask? There is a slight pointer in this direction. Much later in the book, on p 286, we gather that December 21st, year unknown, was Norman's Christening Day. Whatever the year, that can never have been a first Sunday, and in the appropriate period was a Sunday only in 1834 and 1828, bringing the events of the opening of The Daisy Chain notionally to 1850 or 1844 - neither of which is possible according to the Trinity XVII-in-October criterion. Perhaps Norman was a delicate baby and had to be done on a weekday - perhaps Charlotte Yonge got this one wrong.

But to say that Charlotte Yonge simply got things wrong destroys all possibility of deduction, and for the purposes of argument I shall maintain that, at least in the early chapters of the book, she was consistent: Trinity XVII falls in October and Christening Sunday is the first in the month. Norman's Christening Day is mentioned much later in the book and she may just have chosen a date at random. (Or been the victim of a misprint: perhaps he was baptised on December 12th?). This leaves us with the following possibilities:

1841 April 11 October3
December 1 - Wednesday
1846 April 12 October 4 December 1 - Tuesday
1852 April 11 Octobers
December 1 - Wednesday

1841, twelve years before the date of writing, does seem rather too eajrly. 1852 would fit well with the publication date, but it would put the later events of the book later than the time they were written and I think we may assume that Charlotte Yonge from the beginning envisaged her story spanning several years. 1846 - which is only one day out for the "December 1st is Monday" criterion - really does seem to be the best option.

Interestingly, it is also the year of all the possibilities which best matches the chronology of The Trial, which is securely dated by external events and is held to open in 1859. It begins soon after Easter, just after the wedding of Hector and Blanche, Gertrude being then described as twelve and Blanche "not seventeen". Hector is "barely of age" - he was ten at the beginning of The Daisy Chain, as Blanche is five. That apparently puts The Daisy Chain in 1847. But Gertrude's birthday is in August or early September. If she is going to be thirteen at the beginning of The Trial, and if we can believe that Charlotte Yonge is wrong about her and Blanche's relative ages (and she often does muddle things like that - look at the younger Underwoods and Brownlows) then The Daisy Chain can be pushed back into 1846.

I therefore conclude, in spite of some discrepancies, that The Daisy Chain opens on Saturday, 3rd October, 1846, that Gertrude was born in the week between 25th and 31st August, and that Norman was born on 29th November, 1830. Allowing for the possibility of a printer's error, he could perhaps have been christened on Sunday, 12th December.

That brings us finally to another interesting possibility. Ethel, we know, is "just fifteen" at the beginning of The Daisy Chain: can this be taken to mean "just on fifteen"? That would make it possible to assign her birthday to October 17th, the feast of the Translation of St. Etheldreda and more nearly the stated eleven months younger than Norman than if she has a late September birthday. Were she an Underwood, with their saints' days birthdays, I would feel no doubt. As she is a May - well, I wonder.

Hilary Clare


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