The Lion's Skin

Publication date: 1911

Text online:

We learn in the second sentence of the novel that its opening is in April, and we are told explicitly that later events, beginning with Justin's arrival in England, are in May.  We need to determine, first, the year, and next, the precise days.

Superficially, determining the year is easy.  According to his own account in Chapter I, Sir Richard spent five years in transportation for his participation in "The Fifteen" (the major Jacobite uprising of 1715).  Hence his meeting with Justin is no earlier than 1720.  Furthermore, Lord and Lady Ostermore have been married "nigh on thirty years" [Chapter XIX] and they were married in 1690 [Chapter XXII], so the novel takes place no later than 1720.  Therefore the novel takes place in 1720.

But this cannot be true; it is easy to show that the earliest possible date is 1721.  First of all, Lord Carteret is the Secretary of State, a post he did not occupy until March 4 1721.  Secondly, there are several references to fortunes lost in the South Sea Bubble, which was not "pricked" until late in 1720.  Lord Ostermore refers to "Craggs, the secretary of state", who "shot himself" [Chapter XIII].  In fact, Ostermore is confused:  The James Cragg who preceded Carteret as Secretary of State is not the same as his father, James Cragg the Elder, who may have committed suicide.  But in any case both Craggs died early in 1721, again making 1720 inadmissible.

So we must reject the "nigh on thirty years" comment and look afresh for the year.  Certainly 1721 itself has the best claim, when the events of the South Sea Bubble were prominent in everyone's mind.  We confirm this year by again making use of Ostermore's remarks in Chapter XIII.  Speaking in June, he says of Wharton that "Stanhope's death is on his conscience…; that was six months ago."  The reference is to the first Earl Stanhope, who died in early February 1721.  Again Ostermore is confused by a month or two, but clearly the year at the time must be 1721.

We find the exact starting date from two other pieces of information:  On the May evening that Caryll arrives in England the moon appears full [Chapter V], and that day is a Wednesday [Chapter IX].  (On this latter point, it may be argued that Wharton's comment "Your Dulcinea flies with you o' Wednesday…" is not meant literally, but just emphasizes the briefness of the affair.  We choose not so to argue.)  The moon was full late on Sunday, April 30, hence Caryll rescued the future Mrs. Caryll on Wednesday May 3 and the novel begins on "that day in Paris some three weeks ago" [Chapter II], April 12, though this last is not necessarily exact.  The moon was once again full on May 30, but Wednesday May 31 cannot be the date of Caryll's arrival because it was then more than three weeks since April.

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Copyright © 2007 Larry Denenberg