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The Thirteenth Tale – Discussion Question #4

November 7, 2006

When do you think The Thirteenth Tale takes place? The narrator gives some hints, but never tells the exact date. Which aspects of the book gave you a sense of time, and which seemed timeless? Did the question of time affect your experience with the novel?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2006 9:45 am

    Obviously, there was no mention of cell phones or computers or, if I remember correctly, even a regular phone (although correct me if I’m wrong on that one)! The language lends itself to a much older time period, but it is kind of hard to pin it down. What do you guys think?

  2. November 7, 2006 11:43 am

    That’s one thing I kept wondering about throughout the novel. I got the sense that it took place either between the wars or in the 60s. There weren’t any references to the wars, which I think would have come up if it had been in either of those timeframes. There’s no talk of rationing which I believe the English were still doing well into the 50s, and at one point Margaret mentions wearing trousers, which seems to indicate it would have to be later than the 20s. So yeah, I don’t know! I can understand the author wanting to convey a sense of timelessness, but for me, it was a preoccupation that deterred from the novel. Instead of wondering about it throughout the book, I’d rather have just known.

  3. November 7, 2006 2:23 pm

    I agree with Lesley! I would rather have just known the time period. I wondered if the author was trying to make the novel seem more timeless but not really telling us. I also go an impression of the 1960s

  4. November 7, 2006 4:14 pm

    You know, now that I think of it, I’m not exactly sure when it takes place. Which I am sure was the authors intent. It could as easily be Victorian times as modern day.

    I think that’s pretty cool actually!

  5. November 7, 2006 8:20 pm

    Honestly…I didn’t give it one thought. I guess I just assumed it was present day.

  6. November 8, 2006 9:26 am

    I found myself wondering about the time period during the beginning of the novel. It doesn’t seem like “today.” I had an old-fashioned type of feel, but I never really figured it out.

  7. November 9, 2006 4:47 pm

    My best guess would be the 20’s, between the wars, but it’s very difficult to pinpoint.

  8. November 29, 2006 3:01 pm

    I always assumed it took place in a modern time period, although there was certainly nothing that would indicate that to be true. Perhaps it’s just my egocentristic point of view shining through~

  9. Denise permalink
    April 3, 2007 6:27 pm

    I”m about to meet with my book group to discuss the book, and this very question is the primary one in my mind at the moment. Here’s what I’m thinking…Setterfield mentions that the books Adeline tears up to use to set the fire include Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Woman in White. The first two novels were first published in 1847 while the last was first published in 1860. Adding in that we know the twins were 16 at the time of the fire, the year of their birth can be no earlier than 1844 or 1843. This assumes that The Woman in White was brand new, which we don’t know is true so in fact it could have been much later. Further, the book tells us Miss Winter is 73 at the time she is interviewed by Margaret, so the earliest date for her death is 1917. Considering this was the height of World War I, this date is doubtful. Perhaps not much of an answer, but some tantalizing details anyhow.

  10. Jason permalink
    May 4, 2007 9:31 am

    The mention of the letter on the door fading away completely with the sun (except for the ghost of a signature) would indicate to me that it was copied rather than printed. There’s also the yellow hard hat and semi-modern demolition equipment, and at least one mention of telephones. When Isabell comes home from her “marriage” with the twins, she’s riding in a coach. The narrator mentions many versions of Jane Eyre on the shelf, and looks for an edition that dates to the turn of the century, also stating that there were many modern day worthless editions.

    The fact that Margaret doesn’t use a computer in her research and communicates mainly by letter indicates that it can’t be set in modern times. I can see a writer preferring to write longhand, but why wouldn’t she do research via computer/internet? Also, the medical terminology is fairly vague, which could be for purposes of pacing, but also could speak of a time when medicine wasn’t too advanced technologically. All in all, my guess is either early 60’s or mid 70’s, although it could be as early as the 50’s.

  11. Gretchen permalink
    June 19, 2007 1:18 pm

    The part of Vida telling her story takes place 50 years before the “current” action in the novel. As others have mentioned I had the feeling that Vida’s story was taking place between the wars so that could put Margaret’s part of the story in the 60’s.

  12. Molly permalink
    August 3, 2011 12:20 pm

    When Isabelle went to the first picnic, she was wearing a light summer dress and had exchanged her usual “tennis shoes with the frayed laces” for her mother’s shoes which were too big for her. Tennis shoes weren’t really on the market until around the 1920s-1930s. If Vida is in her 70s during the current action in the book, then it has to take place at the earliest sometime in the 1990s.

    • May 20, 2016 1:19 pm

      Molly, I think you nailed it. When Margaret gets to Vida Winter’s house, there is a mini fridge in her room – very modern item. I also wondered about the tennis shoes.

  13. July 20, 2012 12:50 pm

    Well, when she goes to visit the ruins of angel field and falls the man gives her a Thermos. The thermos brand was invented in 1904. So it has to be after that – and after people had electricity.

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