The Illegitimation of Richard Savage

Gavin Edwards


No narrative is perfectly chronological, but some are more chronological than others. Histories and biographies tend to be more chronological than novels and autobiographies. Chronology seems to claim an association with objective fact, significant deviation from chronology with artifice or subjectivity. Some twentieth-century narratives deliberately make it impossible for us to reconstruct the supposed actual order of events from the order in which the text presents them to us; and while we can reconstruct the actual order of events in The Prelude or Wuthering Heights, we can do so only with great difficulty. By contrast Samuel Johnson's Account of the Life of Mr Richard Savage, Son of the Earl Rivers (usually known as the Life of Savage) is methodically chronological, using analepsis (flashback) and prolepsis very sparingly. Apart from a brief introduction and a brief conclusion, the Life of Savage, like Savage's life, begins at his birth and ends with his death. In order to help us notice and analyse this aspect of narrative, some theorists have made a distinction between a narrative's story and its plot. The plot of Wuthering Heights begins on page one, with Lockwood's departure for Liverpool. Readers who are trained as literary critics can find plenty to say about narratives of this kind, where story and plot significantly diverge. Narratives where story and plot coincide, chronological narratives, have often proved less discussable. In this essay I shall try to remedy this situation so far as the Life of Savage is concerned. I shall argue that the acknowledged power of this text does in fact have a lot to do with its chronological ordering.

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