Out of the dark (and then back in again)

It’s interesting after all the comments last week about the dark, mysterious tone of the first installment that a few paragraphs into this week’s episode we see Jarvis enter the Concord room, still “heavily wrapped up from head to foot” and emerge as a new man, “a gentleman of sixty, formally dressed in a brown suit of clothes, pretty well worn, but very well kept, with large square cuffs and large flaps to the pockets”; no longer an object of intrigue who inspires mistrust in his fellow passengers, but a respectable businessman for the waiter to make polite chitchat with.

After the opening introductions last week, Dickens has now established Lorry as a continuing character for us to identify with, only to then plunge us back into darkness (metaphorically and literally) with the appearance of Miss Manette, who is found waiting in an explicitly dark place:

“It was a large, dark room, furnished in a funereal manner with black horsehair, and loaded with heavy dark tables. These had been oiled and oiled, until the two tall candles on the table in the middle of the room were gloomily reflected on every leaf; as if they were buried, in deep graves of black mahogany, and no light to speak of could be expected from them until they were dug out.”

Jarvis, as the known character, now illuminates Miss Mannette and the reader with exposition, so we feel much better informed of the situation than we did this time last week (and the unfortunate prisoner is named at last: not only released from his prison but released from the obscurity we had previously held him in).

And then of course Dickens throws in a curveball by introducing that whirlwind of a servant who rushes in to terrify Jarvis and disrupt the pace of the piece.  There’s Jarvis and Miss Manette trying to out-genteel each other, and in comes this juggernaut of fury and self-righteousness. I especially like her negative response to coming to France: one would assume from her late entry that this is to be a significant character in the next section, but Dickens squashes that idea by ruling her out from the trip to France. An odd conclusion to the installment.


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About Pete Orford

I'm an English lecturer at the University of Buckingham, with a research background in both Dickens and Shakespeare; I am also a father of three, with a research background in dinosaurs and moshi monsters. I'm Chief Investigator for The Drood Inquiry (www.droodinquiry.com).

2 thoughts on “Out of the dark (and then back in again)

  1. The “wild-looking woman” who comes in the room to save the catatonic Mannette really made this last chapter for me. She really is a “juggernaut” as you say, (great word by the way) but I felt after reading this last installment that the red haired maid may have more importance than meets the eye. Up until her arrival, ATOTC had been dreadfully foreboding, with every scene having obscurity, (be it the literal fog or the secrets that these new characters hold) and while I love reading it, all that obscurity is heavy. But with this servant who flies in to save the day, throwing Jarvis up against the wall…can’t we almost see his little wig fly up?…we see something else emerge in this novel, and that is the genre of Horror-Comedy. It really didn’t strike me that ATOTC might be in this vein of writing, but after watching some old Abbott and Costello movies last night, it occurred to me that Dickens may be one of the earliest writers of this genera. All the great Horror-Comedy stories do have seriously frightening things going on: meeting Frankenstein and the Wolfman in one night, fighting zombies, or being held captive in a pre-Revolutionary French prison, any choice would be terrifying. But writers of this genre have developed the expert task of pairing humor with horror in order that the observer may have some space in which to digest the atrocities of the plot that have just occurred. The “wild-looking woman” of tremendous strength is such a plot device. She is a deus ex machina as Mr. Booley pointed out, but she’s a hilarious one. What I’ve always loved about Dickens is the way in which he skillfully weaves humor into his serious works, and so the “wild-looking” woman was the best kind of deus ex machina I could ask for. I am really looking forward to next week’s installment now: the voyeur in me can’t wait for more of the Hitchcock-esque creep factor coupled with some slapstick.

  2. Ha! The Abbot and Costello school of thought on Dickens – marvellous. For me Dickens certainly mastered the art of comic relief, and what makes him stand out from so many authors of the time is the way in which he offers a breadth of characters who all bring different aspects to the tone of the story; after all, isn’t that more representative of real life?

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