The Snare

Publication date: 1917

Text online:

Dating the opening is straightforward if approximate.  We are told that it begins in March 1810.  Beyond that, we know only that the moon is "new-risen" very late in the evening, after dark [Chapter I], and so must be between full and last quarter.  The full moon was March 21 and the last quarter early on March 28, so March 25 can be wrong by two or three days at most.  (It could not be the previous moon, whose last quarter occurred February 26; by March 1 the moon would not have risen until close to dawn.)

Beyond this, however, everything is a nightmare.

The confusion in Chapter III over the month in which Lady O'Moy discovers her brother's troubles is discussed elsewhere.  Here we wrestle with a different problem, one that affects the critical dates of the climax:  Exactly when was the duel between O'Moy and Samoval?

The answer seems clear:  In no fewer than seven places the date is explicitly given as the night of May 28, and in a few other places this is indirectly confirmed (e.g. Samoval and Tremayne quarrel at lunch on the 27th).

But May 28, 1810, was a Monday.  And every mention of a day of the week contradicts this fact.  The duel is placed on Sunday night in a couple of places in Chapter XVII.  ("Sir Terence's luncheon-table on the Saturday", the day before the duel, and Tremayne comes in that night "so that the documents relating to it could go forward early on Monday morning".)  In Chapter XI it's set on Saturday night:  "the Telemachus will put to sea on Sunday morning", and Richard is to be ready just before this.

The phases of the moon bring about further lunacy.  There was a full moon the night of the duel [Chapter XVI].  But on 28 May 1810 the moon was in fact a couple of days before new.  This means that it didn't rise until long after midnight, contrary to what we're told.  And what we're told is nonsense anyway because a full moon just rising at midnight is impossible.

If you think we're at the end of our troubles, you've got another think coming.  After the duel, the court-martial is set for Thursday a few days later (as we know from O'Moy's suffering in Chapter XIX).  Therefore the court, and all the rest of the novel proper, occur Thursday May 31.  But the Postscriptum says explicitly that the trial was in June.  And it doesn't help to imagine a duel on the nonexistent Sunday May 28, placing the court-martial on Thursday June 1, because in Chapter XXI Hamilton rides from Almeida in 47 hours to report on troop movements that happened "the first of the month", making the trial no earlier than June 3.  (It can't be much later—Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida are only twenty miles apart—so we can't shove the trial up to Thursday June 7.)

Obviously there is no solution.  The chronology I've adopted simply ignores all mention of days of the week and phases of the moon.

For more information about the project that O'Moy was working on, look here.

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Copyright © 2007 Larry Denenberg