Week 2

Waiting a week to continue the story got me thinking about the time and spaces in-between instalments, the transitions between weekly parts, and the intermingled feelings that accompany this forced hiatus – anticipation, excitement and longing, but also irritation, frustration and boredom. The novel’s plot is thrillingly propulsive, a forward momentum that, when halted, generates an exasperated thirst to traverse the ‘empty’ space in-between as quickly as possible. With the ease of access provided by Dickens Journals Online, it is difficult to resist starting the next instalment, to disregard and rebel against the curtailment of our reading pleasure. Dickens expertly instigates this forward thrust in the opening instalment, hurtling us back in time and then dashing us forward with his breathless, faux-Manichean opening, and onwards, upwards, on to the stagecoach lumbering up Shooter’s Hill.

At the opening of the second instalment, we have traversed the geographical space between London and the coast and find ourselves in Dover. Like Shooter’s Hill, Dover, too, is almost primeval in its proximity to mindlessly encroaching, destructive organic forces. Also, the English Channel is a literal obstacle between Mr Lorry and France, much as the week’s interruption between instalments is a gulf crossed by the reader. This pause also allows Dickens to slow the pace, present the insufferably virtuous Lucie and insert an awful lot of exposition. How does it feel to move from the breakneck opening to a hiatus to a fairly sedentary second instalment? The novel’s journeys over obstacles (Shooter’s Hill, the English Channel), between places (London and Paris) and even between different states (life and death, organic and inorganic) feels bound with the rhythmical experience of serialised reading itself. This movement between clearly separated and differentiated places and states perhaps says something about an internal, binarised ordering of the world, whereby physical, geographical distances are applied to ideas, moments, feelings and states (‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’). Indeed, the novel establishes a pendulum motion, swinging the reader between contrary points: the past/present; England/France; London/Paris; freedom/imprisonment; and life/death.

The piece following the second instalment, the as-yet unattributed ‘The Good Old and Whereas’, nicely dovetails with the novel: the article continues and amplifies the novel’s gentle, satirical treatment of national stereotypes. Gail interestingly and rightly noted the jarring transition between the opening instalment and the following piece, ‘Sure to be Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise’, by Wilkie Collins. Let’s imagine, though, that some readers worked their way sequentially through the first number of All the Year Round: thus, they would have ended with Walter Thornbury’s ‘Haunted London’ article, which seems far more apt given Dickens’s emphasis in the opening instalment on death, haunting and resurrection. Here is a piece, much like A Tale of Two Cities, in which the haunting, Gothicised traces of London’s dead are found everywhere intermeshed with the fabric of the modern city. As in the novel, the spaces in-between are traversable and we can see how ostensibly contrasting places and states are actually marked by the delineable fragments and traces of the other.

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About Ben Winyard

Ben Winyard is a Senior Content Editor at Birkbeck, University of London. He completed his PhD at Birkbeck, where he also worked as an intern on '19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century' (www.19.bbk.ac.uk). He also worked as a postdoctoral researcher and senior editor on the Dickens Journals Online project (www.djo.org.uk) and he has been a co-organiser of the annual Dickens Day conference since 2005.

22 thoughts on “Week 2

  1. That’s cheating Ben. We don’t yet know that Lucie is her name much less that she is virtuously unsufferable. It is a problem when re-reading a story one knows in a different format.
    Slowing down the pace is allows time to consider the character of Mr. Lorry and solve the mystery of being ‘recalled’. The positioning of ‘The Good Old –and Whereas’ does go some way to explain the Quasi-judicial problem Lorry faces when explaining to M’selle that her her father is still alive. Like lawyers going back repeatedly over titles and deeds he is forced to face up to his own part in the deception of a child and he finds it very difficult as he hides behind a bankers confidentiality.

  2. Many thanks for this, mrbooley. I must confess that I hadn’t noticed that I’d cheated! As you say, it’s very difficult to empty your mind and ‘rediscover’ the characters and plot as you work through the weekly parts. I love your point about Mr. Lorry going back over past deeds and engaging in a repetitious form of work, which reminds me of a certain shoemaker – but that’s getting ahead of myself, again! It feels irresistible to read these repetitions as the working out of trauma.

  3. Oh no, spoilers! As a first time reader of ATOTC, I hadn’t picked up on the insufferableness either, although I did recognise her type as one of Dicken’s angelic women, a dramatic contrast to the masculine red-haired retainer who comes bursting in, interrupting the pathos with a comic turn (I loved Mr Lorry’s reaction!).
    I was surprised at how different this second instalment is, taking place inside dark rooms, slower in pace and more thoughtful. There is humour amid the drama and I felt like I was back on familiar territory after the poetic but rather confusing first part. I’m more comfortable now and the characters are establishing themselves in my head. I’m looking foward to part 3 next week now that the bones of the plot have been revealed.

  4. To be honest, it was only a matter of time before one of us let something slip. The first name of Miss Manette isn’t so bad. Much worse if we’d talked about *************************.

    In terms of pace, I actually found this week’s installment went much quicker than last week’s. Perhaps the nature of an opening part is we spend longer reading it as we acclimatise to the setting of the novel, or maybe it was simply the pace of the narrative and the story within that gave speed to this week’s part.

    Yes, I also enjoyed the continuation of the servant’s refusal to leave England’s shore with the next article’s opening defence of “Good, wholesome, sterling, British prejudices”.

  5. I think for me Lucie (or Miss Manette, if we are going to be sticklers) shows signs of being virtuously insufferable from the get go, maybe in part as loutreleaven points out, because we immediately recognize her as conforming to a particular Dickensian type of woman. I think for me this instalment is interesting because of the awareness Dickens shows in casting Lucie this way, in part by contrasting her with the wonderful red-haired Miss —-, who shall remain nameless for the moment, and in part because of the earlier passage when Mr Lorry’s recollections of Lucie as a child merge into contemplation of the frame of pierglass behind her and its ‘hospital procession of negro cupids, several headless and all cripples, were offering black baskets of Dead-Sea fruit to black divinities of the feminine gender’. A jarring transition if ever there was one.

  6. The pierglass is a really odd and interesting image – thanks for bringing it up, Hazel. Following on from Pete’s excellent post, I’d say that this instalment shows Dickens as a master of literary chiaroscuro. Obviously, light/darkness are allegories for wisdom/ignorance, virtue/sin and purity/impurity, but I wonder if there is also a racialised and gendered element here. Tellingly, Miss Manette is described as having ‘golden hair’ and ‘a pair of blue eyes’, in stark contrast with the ‘negro’ figures of the pierglass. The ‘black divinities’ also got me thinking about the ways in which the French Revolution was racialised and gendered, with Liberty depicted as a goddess (I was thinking, in particular, of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, 1830) and, of course, the guillotine was gendered as feminine and, also, as ‘devouring’. Again, though, I don’t want to get ahead of myself (but it’s difficult!).

  7. The overt blackness of her surroundings also places Miss Manette in a position similar to her father of being buried alive; the candles are specifically described as buried in deep graves of black. It’s a really cool (non-academic term, I know) opening for the character, and yet another example of Dickens writing anticipating the visual nature of cinema.

    I was curious about the pierglass. My trusted friend Wikipedia tells me it’s a tall mirror placed on a wall space between two windows and often imitating the style of the window frames, intended both to increase light and create the illusion of extra windows in the room – this makes Dickens’s choice of this, as opposed to any old mirror, as a further exploration of the oppressive darkness of the room in the hotel owner’s attempt to lighten it. However, I was uncertain about the description of the negro cupids on the frame. To me, the description of them as headless and cripples suggested several broken figures on the frame, rather than an intentional portrayal of cripples; in which case are they actually depicting negroes or is it simply that the frame itself is black? After all, it is not just the men, but the deities and even the baskets that are black. Obviously this doens’t affect the contrast between Miss Manette and the figures, but I’m just curious whether the description of negroes is literal.

  8. I love the idea that Miss Manette, too, is ‘buried alive’ and that this scene anticipates cinema – very cool observations, Pete! The image here of an almost-ghostly figure of a woman in a darkened, decaying room perhaps anticipates Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, which was written not long after TOTC. I don’t think the ‘negroes’ are literal; rather, the figures have been blackened by age and decay. The social and moral corruption of the people is, of course, a major theme once the action shifts to France, but it’s interesting that the image here relates that corruption to race.

  9. It seems to me that in this second week we are in a more typically Dickensian normality: the style certainly has calmed down. Lorry becomes “a gentleman of sixty, formally dressed … ” as if we are now meeting him for the first time, and after breakfast – daylight at last! – he goes for a stroll on Dover beach (NB: had Matthew Arnold written “Dover Beach” by now?). Dickens makes a characteristic hint about the smuggling activities of Dover residents – will this be picked up in subsequent episodes? If the two cities are, as CD must surely intend us by now to have realised, London and Paris, what sort of traffic will there be between them?
    Like Hazel, I was struck by the suddenly ornate description of the pier-glass – oddly placed between parenthetic commas, and preceding the somewhat bathetic “and he made his formal bow”.
    Most of this week’s episode is concerned with establishing the bones of the plot, I suppose, with just one new character introduced. And what is the significance of her name – do the first three letters hint at some underlying mannishness?
    Have any of you seen the web page “Which novel is the most Dickensian?” (http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/90134570) where various novels are rated according to how many typical Dickensian “types” are included. Using that (not entirely serious) template, will Lorry turn out to be nearer “bachelor philanthropist” than “devious lawyer”? And will Miss Manettte take the “orphan” or “beatific virgin” role?
    It seems odd to me that after last week’s 3 chapters we have only one this week. I thought that in general Dickens’s serialisations contained more than one chapter per week. Or will one chapter per week be the norm here?
    This week I’ve read through most of the rest of the magazine. I might have some further thoughts about that later, comparing it to my consumption of TV serials and also weekly magazines such as the New Yorker, but for now I’d just like to point out the resonant phrase early in “Life in Round Numbers”, the article about longevity: “What is our life, in fact, but the sequel of the life of our grandfather and our great-grandfather?” A typical theme of Victorian fiction ..
    Also, wearing my editorial hat, could I point out that the final article in this issue, “The Crusoe of the Snowy Desert”, isn’t included in your contents listing?

  10. Thanks for this wonderful post, jrsd. I love the Dover Beach connection you make; it wasn’t published until 1867, according to Wikipedia, but it’s interesting to think about these geological and evolutionary metaphors and ideas working across different literary forms. Thanks for posting a link to the ‘Which Novel is Most Dickensian?’ site – great fun! Perhaps when we’ve read on and things have become clearer, we can try to assess how ‘Dickensian’ ATOTC is!
    I’m not sure how we missed ‘The Crusoe of the Snowy Desert’ when we indexed that magazine, but it has now been indexed – thanks for pointing out that omission. I note that in this travel piece a stranded explorer in the American wilderness fears ‘death by the murderous treachery of savages’, which could perhaps be read in relation to the racialised figures on the pier-glass.

    • On the Crusoe of the Snowy Desert, I began reading it as a piece of fiction, but then realised it was all factual — Balduin Möllhausen has his place in the history of the American West: see his Wikipedia entry. Dickens seems to have liked pieces that told of individuals’ surviving against the odds; see for instance “Transported for Life” in HW, July-Aug 1852

  11. Will Miss Manette take the role of the beatific virgin or the orphan? Trying hard not to think ahead to the rest of the novel, this piedmont glass image and the oppressive darkness surrounds Miss Manette makes me wonder whether in fact we can straightforwardly look forward to her being either at this point. If as Pete says, the piedmont glass looks like a window but is in fact a mirror, are we meant to be seeing this also as a possible reflection of Miss Manette? Is it foreshadowing the revolution or something else?

    I had never thought about the significance of the name ‘Mannette’ before, but surely there must be something gong on there? Particularly given the emphasis placed on her apparent femininity.

  12. To me, the name Manette is evocative of a marionette, which is fitting given the way she is carried about, either by Jarvis when she is a child, or by the unnamed servant who rushes in to her motionless form with an “expression looking as if it were carved or branded into her forehead”. And then there is also the way in which Jarvis leads her through the conversation – overall she shows herself to be reactive rather than proactive in this installment, a puppet rather than a puppeteer.

    However, before we get too involved with applying the name to the character, it’s important to remember that Manette is also the name of her father – we must await future installments to see to what extent he will compliment the imagery either of the puppet or femininity.

  13. Concerning pier glasses I came acros this reference which might add more to your debate.

    …like a breath along the surface of the gaunt pier-glass behind her, on the frame of which, a hospital procession of negro cupids, several headless and all cripples, were offering black baskets of Dead-Sea fruit to black divinities of the feminine gender…

    A pier glass is “[a] large tall mirror; orig[inally] one fitted to fill up the pier or space between two windows, or over a chimney-piece” (OED). Sanders (in his Companion to A Tale of Two Cities) glosses the “hospital procession” of figures on the frame of this glass as reminiscent, for Dickens, of a group of charity children walking out of a hospital – a “charitable educational establishment” (42). The figures are “negro” because the material in which they are carved is black; and thus the “baskets of Dead-Sea fruit” and “divinities of the feminine gender” are also black. The biblical Dead-Sea fruit, or the “apples of Sodom,” are “described by Josephus as of fair appearance externally, but dissolving, when grasped, into smoke and ashes” (OED). This smoke-and-ashes composition probably accounts – as a further riff on the black or blackened appearance of everything on the frame – for Dickens’ description of the fruits on the pier-glass as Dead-Sea fruits.

  14. As suspected – thank you Mr Booley! So the question now is whether Dickens’s choice to call the characters as negro is simply descriptive or if some commentary or comparison of race was intended. Like Fagin, it’s one of those aspects where we as modern readers can be more sensitive than Dickens’s contemporary audience. For example, we’ve focussed on the racial element, but not really discussed the description of the figures as cripples.

    Incidentally, we’ve all said at some point how frustrating it is waiting for the next installment and having an enforced break between reading; but on the flipside I’m relishing how this slower pace has led to a focus on incidental moments that would normally be passed over in pursuit of the plot. I’ve read ATOTC twice before this, and not once have I ever stopped to think about pier glass.

    • Frustration and anticipation is the whole reason for the story. Imagine, as I do Papa, buys the magazine on Thursday morming and reads through some of it in the course of the day.That evening at home he reads the story out loud to the family as the evening passes away.The family, especially the girls, chatter and discus it among themselves and using their own imagination set out to out think what is going to happen next. Spread this notion around the reading population, maybe even to the “Downstairs” where the butler might read it out to the servants as a Saturday night treat.
      The story becomes a subject of gossip and the demand grows as people vie with one another so as not to be left behind, just as say “Eastenders” becomes a topic of gossip and speculatio0n among its followers who attract others to view pretty much in the way these comments are growing, which is what Dickens wants, to sell more magazines.
      I know it is difficult but forget what you know, don a tophat and nankeen trousers and let your imagination rip.
      This is not to disparage the idea of dissecting Dickens writing, a process I find interesting and expands my own education, but one must be careful not to stifle the sheer enjoyment of delaying gratification which serialisation brings.
      The pier glass I believe is one which Dickens himself might have seen. He certainly must have travelled by the mail to Dover and stopped over in a hotel there (could it have been the Ship?) To travel by mail packet was not for the hoipoloi so the hotel wasn’t likely to be “a Premier Inn” but something a little more extravagant and a pier glass carried some status. Miss Manette’s room was ” loaded with heavy dark tables”
      One of these must have been under the peir glass with two candle stands beside it unless it was hung over the fire. In either case we can take it to have been there for years and under the influence of a smoky fire (a common complaint in Dickens’ magazines), soot from candles and the administration of polish and oil, a Grinling Gibbons style of carving would turn black and lose some parts. Could it be that in the hospital procession Dickens was making a comment, not about race but about ladies who ran charitable hospitals and the offering of Dead Sea fruit, which turn to ashes when eaten. Is he saying that welcome as such charities are they can’t do enough and their worthy efforts are doomed to failure?

      • Thanks for this wonderful post. I think the magazine was published on a Wednesday, although dated for the following Saturday, so Thursday may well have been a day of excitement for readers of A Tale of Two Cities! I had completely missed the religious significance of ashes and, of course, the Bible is full of references to ashes as a symbol of death, shame and repentance, and temporality. Thanks for reminding me of the original religious context in which Dickens’s readers may well have understood the image of the pier-glass.

      • Sounds like Mr Whelks is getting above his station! Still, imagine how much worse it would be if we were reading monthly instalments…

  15. It’s not the differences between the instalments that strike me but the continuities. We stay in the sudden daylight of the end of the previous chapter, the loud voices of subsidiary characters contrasting again with the quiet voice and long silences of Jarvis Lorry. Mr Lorry is now revealed physically, not directly but through the eyes of the servants; his mission remains mysterious, Miss Manette emerges from the gloom, like the others in the previous chapters, here surrounded by the imagery of death, speaking eventually of dreams and ghosts, like Mr Lorry’s dream. Mysteries explained (the message) simply bring forth further mysteries – the story of the Dr of Beauvais. Ghosts (how the Victorians loved a good ghost story!) and burials are again present to our imaginations.

    The ancient pier glass displays the ruins brought about by time – the blackened figures broken, and the fruit reduced to ashes, the divinities meaningless, (casting back to the religious references in the first chapter). These ideas – of hope blasted, lives wrecked, fruition denied, over long years, surely will be carried through? I agree with Mr Booley that it’s not about race – the point is that the figures are now black and broken through the processes of time ie they are not now what they originally were; a continuation of the past/present theme. It would have been natural for Dickens to describe them as negroes, adding a human dimension, as if the figures had once been people, evoking feelings of horror and sympathy.

    Anyone who has seen photographs of Ellen Ternan can be in no doubt that the description of Miss Manette bears a strong resemblance to her. The scene with Mr Lorry, he protesting too much his lack of emotional involvement while betraying it all the time, by stages revealing her history, she fainting and clinging to him, is intensely theatrical. I can’t resist thinking that Dickens, as he wrote, imagined himself acting it, with Ellen taking the other role.

    There is so much packed in to these brief chapters. Dickens is AMAZING. No cliffhangers needed.

  16. Thank you, Jill, for these wonderful insights. We know that Dickens sent Ellen proofs of chapters of TOTC and I love the idea of this scene as a piece of theatre played out between Dickens and Ellen. It’s interesting to think of the ways in which the characters ’emerge’ from concealment, like ghosts. It’s almost as if everyone and everything is in a half-hidden, half-alive state. Perhaps that is why the intrusion of the red-haired woman is so thrilling and amusing; she feels fully ‘alive’ in some way.

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