Happy Leap Day! Leap Year in Literature
Just for fun, since it only comes once every four years, I decided to look around for Leap Year-related literature. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found!
The Pirates of Penzance
Having a birthday on February 29th makes you a “leapling”, and sometimes one birthday every four years can get you in trouble!
This is a comic opera that premiered in New York City on 31 December 1879, and is still being performed 140 years later! Here are some lines from The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty, by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan.
For some ridiculous reason, to which, however, I’ve’no desire to be disloyal,
Some person in authority, I don’t know who, very likely the Astronomer Royal,
Has decided that, although for such a beastly month as February, twenty-eight
days as a rule are plenty,
One year in every four his days shall be reckoned as nine-and-twenty.
Through some singular coincidence — I shouldn’t be surprised if were owing
to the agency of an ill-natured fairy —
You are the victim of this clumsy arrangement, having been born in leap-year,
on the twenty-ninth of February.
And so, by a simple arithmetical process, you’ll easily discover,
That though you’ve lived twenty-one years, yet, if we go by birthdays, you’re
only five and a little bit over !
You can read the entire work here. I was fortunate enough to see a performance of this in 1981 in San Diego, but at the time I didn’t know enough about it to appreciate its fame and longevity!
Humorous short stories and plays
Tradition said that men should do the asking when it comes to becoming engaged to marry, but during a leap year, a woman was “allowed” to propose marraige. This topic inspired plenty of writers around the turn of the 19th century!
A 1907 short story by John Kendrick Bangs called “The Genial Idiot Discusses Leap Year” appears in The Wit and Humor of America, Volume X of X. You can read this volume here. It is full of surprises, laughter and we can see from the standpoint of 2020 that we’ve come a long way, baby!
The Misses Pringle’s Leap Year: a Comedy in Two Acts, by Amaryllis V. Lord, is a 1912 play which also centers around this theme of women having the “privilege” of proposing marriage–in this case, it is the bachelor parson! You can find it at Amazon and at Forgotten Books. Here is a blurb about it advertised in another book:
THE MISSES PRINGLES’ LEAP YEAR
A Comedy in Two Acts by Amaryllis V. Lord
Ten females and the apparition of a man. Costumes, modern ; scenery,
unimportant. Plays half an hour. The Misses Barbara, Priscilla and
Betsy Pringle, while scorning matrimony in public, have a secret inclina-
tion toward it, and taking advantage of leap year, each, without the
knowledge of the others, proposes by letter to Deacon Smith with sur-
prising results. Very easy and amusing, requiring no scenery and but
little rehearsing. Price, 7cents
And here is one more, an 1885 play I found on Hathi Trust, called Leap-Year: a Comedy in Four Acts for Nine Characters, by Susa S. Vance. The entire play can be downloaded here. Who knew that Leap Years would inspire so many humorous stories?
I even ran across a lovely 1913 Leap Year song that has the sweetest lyrics!
From this century….
Here’s a cute Tigger and Pooh book called Leap Day, read aloud on You Tube.