Oh wow! The pace has really accelerated. I was really surprised at the amount of movement and action here in comparison to the single scene of instalment of week two. This part opens with what is the most memorable image of the novel for me, the wine-stained streets and mouths, the feverish, famished licking, and even chewing, of the wooden wine casks. While there is so much to say about this weekly part, the thing that really stand out for me is the way that Dickens conveys a sensory experience of the district, so that we can almost taste and smell its pungency:
“There was no drainage to carry off the wine, and not only did it all get taken up, but so much mud got taken up along with it, that there might have been a scavenger in the street, if anybody acquainted with it could have believed in such a miraculous presence.”
It’s cheating a bit as the full horror/bodily revulsion of this section was drawn out by a discussion with an MA group who talked about the composition of the ‘mud’ on a street with no drainage. Here is a populace who will scoop up and eat excrement, so desperate are they for the rare sustenance of the wine. I think ‘mud’ here is anticipating the ‘dust’ of Our Mutual Friend, where all kinds of waste is made valuable and variously re-consumed.
It seems to me that this part also is overlaying the concerns of Revolutionary France onto very present 1859 concerns with sanitation. Dickens’s regular readers would have surely thought about the description of the contaminated air of Tom All Alone’s, the London slum of Bleak House, when reading these descriptions of the streets and buildings:
“Such a staircase, with its accessories, in the older and more crowded part of Paris, would be bad enough now; but, at that time, it was vile indeed to unaccustomed and unhardened senses. Every little habitation within the great foul nest of one high building—that is to say, the room or rooms within every door that opened on the general staircase—left its own heap of refuse on its own landing, besides flinging other refuse from its own windows. The uncontrollable and hopeless mass of decomposition so engendered, would have polluted the air, even if poverty and deprivation had not loaded it with their intangible impurities; the two bad sources combined made it almost insupportable. Through such an atmosphere, by a steep dark shaft of dirt and poison, the way lay.”
I’ll be interested to see if we get some material on public health, sanitation and the cholera epidemics in other sections of HW during the serialisation.
What do you make of the appeal to all the senses in the novel?
And does anyone have other thoughts about the way that Dickens explores the current concerns of 1859 via the history of the 1790s?
I’ve not even mentioned the marvellous introduction of Monsieur and Madame Defarge . . .