Suttree Timeline Problem

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  • 06 May 2015 at 5:08 pm #7070

    efscerbo
    Member

    Hey all,

    I noticed something off in the timeline of the early chapters of Suttree. I’m wondering if anyone’s noticed this before or if anyone can say whether it’s a typo or if I’m just missing something:

    I interpret “Chapter 3” of the novel (pp. 36-62), with Suttree, Harrogate, and Callahan in the workhouse, to be a flashback taking place the year before “Chapter 1” (pp. 7-29). There are several reasons for this:

    – When Suttree’s Uncle John comes to see him on his houseboat in “Chapter 1”, Suttree tells him “I got out in January.” (15)
    – When Harrogate first meets Suttree in prison, he asks him “How long you been here?”, to which Suttree replies “About five months.” (44) On the very next page we’re told it’s October.
    – When Suttree gets released from prison, it’s a few days after Christmas. We’re told he had been in “the slam” for a total of “seven months” (62). This is consistent with the previous two points.

    Thus, it seems like Suttree was put in prison in or around May and was released around New Year’s. When he’s talking to his uncle in “Chapter 1”, it’s a few months after his release. And in “Chapter 4” (pp. 63-86), which certainly seems like it immediately follows “Chapter 1”, we’re told it is the “year nineteen fifty-one.” (66) Putting this all together, it seems like Suttree’s time in prison was approximately May 1950 – January 1951.

    However: Suttree’s mother comes to see him a few days before his release. We are told she visits the day after Christmas and that she visits on a Sunday (60-61). But Christmas was not on a Saturday in 1950. In fact, the only year in the vicinity of the events of the book in which Christmas fell on a Saturday was 1948.

    Is it possible that the workhouse chapter goes back that far? Or is this a mistake on McCarthy’s part?


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    06 May 2015 at 7:45 pm #7071

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    I had the feeling that several years had elapsed between his release and the beginning of Chapter Four. Part of the point, I think, is that Suttree’s life has been pretty quiet and sedentary as he has lived on the river in his houseboat. When Suttree leaves prison, Harrogate has just been brought back from his escape attempt. It’s reasonable to assume he’s going to spend a few extra years in the slammer because of that – they don’t tap your wrists for escaping. So, the elapsed time from Buddy’s months in the workhouse, from January 1949 to Harrogate showing up again a couple of years later after serving his extra stint for attempted escape, does make sense.


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    06 May 2015 at 8:39 pm #7072

    wesmorgan
    Participant

    efscerbo:

    As I read it the flashback begins on p. 30 “under the late summer sun.” I make this out to be in 1950. The flashback continues until Sut is released from the workhouse (p. 62) after seven months which I make out to be the first week in January 1951.

    I believe that there is indeed a problem with Christmas as you also noted. Christmas Day in 1950 fell on a Monday. The following day would have been Tuesday, not Sunday, as stated on page 61. Christmas fell on a Saturday in 1948 and 1954 and neither years would seem compatible with the text. I am pretty sure that sentences to the county workhouse maxed out at 11-months 29-days. Longer sentences were served in the penitentiary.

    There are many other “problems” with time in the novel as well. I presented some of these, including the above, at the “Suttree Come Home” conference in Knoxville in October 2004. The paper was titled, “Things Misplaced in Time: A Sampling of Anachronistic People, Places and Events in Suttree.”


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    06 May 2015 at 10:49 pm #7073

    Ken
    Member

    Wes: Somehow I figured you’d know and chime in! Thank you for the analysis: “Christmas Day in 1950 fell on a Monday. The following day would have been Tuesday, not Sunday, as stated on page 61. Christmas fell on a Saturday in 1948 and 1954 and neither years would seem compatible with the text.” And thank you for showing me I’m not the only obsessive-compulsive (is that the correct term? is it offensive to use?) in that way: I used the calendar and moon phases and weather to “guestimate” that Sylder met Rattner on September 14, 1934, and Rattner was killed hours later, early next morning: 1934; after August; Friday; waxing or waning crescent moon (3 or 4 days before or after a new moon); still hot weather southward from Knoxville past Atlanta.

    And the date has excellent resonances: September 14 is the Feast of the Cross in the liturgical calendar, and there are allusions throughout the novel, particularly of Sylder, to Jesus and crossing: Jim’s Hot Spot where Sylder met Rattner that day has initials JHS (=Jesus); both June and wife greeted Sylder as Jesus, wife’s arms crossed. And, 9+1+4+3+4=21 makes the date numerologically resonant: 21 chapters; major characters ages divisible by 7 in narrative timeframes of 1933-34, 1940-41, 1948; 3×7=21 particularly significant age: Mildred gave birth to son; Sylder returned to Knoxville, killed Rattner; John Wesley returned to childhood home, visited mother’s grave, paralleled father’s actions at beginning of novel.


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    07 May 2015 at 2:06 pm #7075

    wesmorgan
    Participant

    Ah Ken, I should have anticipated your response. Interesting as always. Although there are participants on this FORUM who deserve the honor of being called obsessive-compulsive, I am just an aspirant to the title and honored to be considered in their number.

    Also I probably should have mentioned above that I am puzzled about McCarthy’s “mistake.” In The Orchard Keeper (p. 220) the character Arthur Ownby turns the tables on his interviewer and begins to question the young Knox County Welfare Bureau social worker who had been sent to interview him. He asks the social worker what date he was born and the worker replies that he was born on June 13, 1913. Ownby quickly and accurately determines that it was on a Friday suggesting to me that McCarthy had previous access to a perpetual calendar or at least was concerned about such details so as to get them right. Why the usually obsessively detailed McCarthy did not elect to do the same in Suttree remains a mystery to me.

    (Now, maybe Ken will tell us why Ownby was interested in whether or not the social worker’s father was over twenty-eight when he was born.)


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    07 May 2015 at 8:54 pm #7079

    Ken
    Member

    I should credit/accuse efscerbo of obsessive-compulsive too: “But Christmas was not on a Saturday in 1950. In fact, the only year in the vicinity of the events of the book in which Christmas fell on a Saturday was 1948.

    The social worker is the only minor character whose birthday we know, and sharing a birthyear with Sylder means that it is also divisible by 7 in the narrative years. How did Ownby figure out the day of the week so fast, unless it had some kind of significance to him, perhaps because of the superstition of the unlucky Friday the 13th?

    Age 28(=4×7): The social worker turned 28 in 1941, birthday around the time he spoke with Ownby. But why a question about his birthday in relation to his father’s turning 28? There is another recursive age pattern in the novel: In chapter 21(=3×7), John Wesley, who would turn 21 in 1948, visited his the grave of his mother, who gave birth to him when she was 21.

    But I speculate the real answer to “age 28” lies in McCarthy’s biography. McCarthy was 28 in 1961-1962, and 28 was a significant age in his personal and professional life. In 1961 (or 1960), he married Lee Holleman, who became pregnant in 1961 (or 1962), and Cullen was born in 1962, when McCarthy was 28 (or 29), and the couple was divorced in 1962 when McCarthy was 28 (or 29).

    Also, in May 1962, when McCarthy was 28, he submitted to Knopf the manuscript that would become The Orchard Keeper, getting the attention of Erskine for the first time. Erskine liked it, decided to publish it, and compared McCarthy to Faulkner, whom Erskine edited for years. (Faulkner died on July 6, 1962, when McCarthy was 28.) Did this sudden professional success at 28 change his priorities regarding marriage and family? Would he have wanted marriage and child if the success had come a year earlier, or if he had met Holleman a year later? Perhaps this explains the curious question Ownby posed to the social worker. But this also depends on when this scene was written or inserted into the work-in-progress novel.

    In 1960 McCarthy was still “Charles Jr.”, but in 1965 he would be “Cormac”. When was the transformation? Wonder if it is 1961-1962, which might not be too difficult to check (marriage/divorce records; correspondences).

    I just read The Orchard Keeper part of Daniel Robert King’s Univ. of Nottingham PhD thesis “Your side of the street”: Cormac McCarthy’s collaborative authorship” (2013), which is highly informative. Nevertheless, he does not unravel the mystery of the source of the novel’s title, which went through a list of working titles until “The Orchard Keeper” was agreed upon as late as early 1965! Hence, I am still safe with my longheld belief (though I would love to see it confirmed) that “the orchard keeper” is taken from Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey, first published in 1961, the year McCarthy turned 28.

    Sorry, efscerbo, for hijacking this thread. Please, back to Suttree‘s timeline problem!


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    10 May 2015 at 9:59 am #7087

    Ken
    Member

    Not only Timeline of events, but also…
    Knoxville & surrounding geography,
    Allusions to local lore & historical events,
    Real-life identities/composites of characters,
    Allusions to/Inspiration from McCarthy’s own biography.

    Someone should publish an annotated Suttree along the lines of what has been done with Joyce’s Ulysses

    Wes?


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    11 May 2015 at 2:58 pm #7089

    wesmorgan
    Participant

    Ken: Uhhh. Well yes. Like the Trantham boy’s oxen, one Knoxville “someone” seems to be waiting for a fire to be built under his Gluteus maximus. Is that obscure enough?

    But do let’s get back to the “Suttree Timeline Problem” which is far more interesting.


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    13 May 2015 at 9:16 am #7091

    If in fact McC spent 20 years writing Suttree with all his starts and stops and distractions and personal crises during that time, a mistake here and there in the novel seems inevitable. I ain’t worryin bout it.


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    16 May 2015 at 12:14 pm #7107

    leedriver
    Member

    Me neither.


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