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.