Here I was promising a companion piece or two to my review of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and yet I’ve gone and entitled this post “Dido Twite’s World” when Dido doesn’t even appear in the first title of the sequence! What’s going on?!
Well, there’s no real agreement what to call this series of loosely-related books. They’re often called The Wolves Chronicles, but wolves don’t always appear — in fact I can at this moment only recall two or three of the books making reference to them. Occasionally, inspired by the introduction to Wolves, reference is made to ‘the James III sequence’, perhaps in the same way that we often refer to our own 19th-century as ‘Victorian’ even though that monarch ruled only for a little over sixty years of it, and despite it sometimes being applied to countries outside the British Empire.
Now I shall be calling this sequence the Dido Twite series as much as I talk about the Wolves Chronicles, simply because Dido appears in at least eight out of the twelve novels officially in the canon — thirteen if you include Midnight is a Place, but that’s another discussion! There’s another reason for me to think of it in this way: because, you see, I have a theory that Dido became a sort of alter ego for the author. Joan Aiken was born in 1924 and, I surmise from a bit of teasing out of details, Dido Twite was born a hundred years before, in 1824. But I anticipate myself, and having whetted your appetites I propose leaving my corroborating arguments until I discuss Black Hearts in Battersea, the next in the series. In any case, as Joan’s daughter Lizza told us in a comment on Ann Giles’ Bookwitch blog back in 2009, Joan’s head “was so full of a number of things that chronological consistency was not always one of them!”
So, chronology. Lizza’s wise caveat aside, here’s how I see things standing by the end of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase:
Summer: James III is crowned as King of England
December (late in the month? Snow is already on the ground): Sylvia Green takes the 6.00pm train from London north; the next evening Bonnie Green, her cousin, eagerly anticipates Sylvia’s arrival at Willoughby Chase, only slightly discomforted by the appearance of her distant ‘cousin’, Letitia Slighcarp
Bonnie’s parents leave at noon the next day for their sea voyage, leaving Miss Slighcarp in charge; Slighcarp starts her nonsense, the main action of this novel; Bonnie and Sylvia discover the secret passage; “during the next few weeks the children became accustomed to their strange new life”
? Late January: four days are described, during which Sylvia and Bonnie are taken to Mrs Gertrude Brisket’s school and set to work; more days pass; Sylvia sickens
Mid-February: an eventful week beginning on a Monday (February 20th?) during which Simon finds the cousins and arranges their escape (Sunday February 26th?); they head for London with Simon’s geese
27th-29nd February: Bonnie and Sylvia rest for three days in Herondale below Whinside; “another two-three weeks” would’ve seen primroses blooming in the dale
[Thursday 21st March: Spring equinox]
[7th April: Easter Sunday 1833]
“Late April”: “nearly two months” after leaving Mrs Brisket’s, mostly at goose-pace, they camp on Hampstead Heath the night before entering London (perhaps the week beginning Monday April 23rd, St George’s Day); on their third day in London they take the train back to Willoughby Chase, arriving at dawn on the fourth day when all is eventually resolved
This then is my current view of the timeline of events in Wolves, which I hope will form the baseline for the subsequent chronology in the remaining chronicles; no doubt counter-arguments and tweakings will continue to shape this. But I’m aware that Dido’s World is also concerned with an England unlike ours so I will be building a map of how that may look; and of course novels are primarily about people so I shall aim to dedicate a post or two to the dramatis personae who populate these pages. I’m not done with Aiken’s delightful alternate world!