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Quarter Days: A Midsummer Beginning

June 28, 2017 by in category historical, Quarter Days, Writing tagged as , , with 0 and 2
Home > romance novel > historical > Quarter Days: A Midsummer Beginning

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wikipedia

Though I’ve blogged before about chapter events on an as-needed basis, I’m excited to join the talented writers of  A Slice of Orange on a more regular schedule! I’ll be posting on June 28th, September 28th, December 28th, and March 28th. Which roughly corresponds with

Quarter Days

I write Regency romance, and I had a book already out before the term “Quarter Days” came across my radar. Of course, I knew about Midsummer, from Shakespeare.

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

And I vaguely knew that Michaelmas had something to do with St. Michael, and Lady Day probably related to the Virgin Mary. And everyone knows Christmas. But I didn’t realize these four holidays formally divide up the quarters of the year.

Marking Time

In Persuasion, Jane Austen marks the passage of time with a mention of Michaelmas. Years ago when I read Persuasion, that reference didn’t click with me at all. But look more closely, and there’s a lot a novelist can do to build character–a lot Jane did–with that allusion.

Here’s a list of the English Quarter Days:

  • March 25th, Lady Day (Feast of the Annunciation)
  • June 24th, Midsummer Day (St. John’s Day)
  • September 29th, Michaelmas (Feast of St. Michael)
  • December 25th, Christmas (The Nativity of Jesus)

Notice that these dates also roughly correspond to the summer and winter solstices and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Those astronomical events were important to the old religions and their spiritual beings like the fairies, as Shakespeare shows us in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I’ll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.

Clearing the Premises without Consulting your Landlord, Rowlandson www.famsf.org.

Marking Contracts

But there’s more! Quarter Days typically marked the beginning and end of contractual periods.

I love this print by the irreverent Thomas Rowlandson, “Clearing the Premises without Consulting your Landlord”. Rents were paid on Quarter Days, and it appears that are still some leases set up that way in England.

The historical housewife might hire a new servant on a Quarter Day. She’d also pay her servants on the Quarter Day–imagine, waiting three months for your salary?

Midsummer Day

Midsummer Night has passed, but I hope it was magical for you, and I wish you a wonderful summer. I’ll be back for Michaelmas!

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