Inhumanette

I agree with Ben and Holly that the opening scene in the street is wonderfully, disturbingly graphic of humanity at its lowest point, but for me the most striking line of this installment was this piece of dialogue between Miss Manette (what, still not on first name terms? Dickens is putting her on quite a pedestal there…) and Jarvis:

“I am afraid of it,” she answered, shuddering.

“Of it? What?”

“I mean of him. Of my father.”

It? IT?!? Amazing. After the humanising exposition of last week, this creature of whom Jarvis had nightmares in part one  regains his/its inhumanity and intimidation. I was really rather taken aback by this moment and the immediate anticipation and nervousness that it built up for the ensuing meeting of father and daughter. What would a person think upon meeting their father after so long? And why should Miss Manette (honestly now Charles, just tell us her first name so I can save time typing) experience fear above all other emotions?

I was also deeply, deeply annoyed to see the instalment end so soon. Like loutreleaven, I’ve made the conscious decision to read from the scanned copy rather than the transcript, so when I came to scroll down to the bottom of the page I was genuinely shocked to see the instalment end and the next article begin, as the pace of the piece had been leading me hurtling towards the introduction of Dr Manette. Thus far the frustration of each weekly pause has been more of a mild annoyance, but this week I’m having a real good angel/bad angel debate about whether to just take a sneak peek at next week. Don’t worry, don’t worry, I’ll be good…

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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).

29 thoughts on “Inhumanette

  1. I think Dickens is returning to the ghost theme. You would refer to a ghost as ‘it’. That MM is afraid of her father brings a shock to the reader, but she is afraid not of him but of seeing him. What will she find – something skeletal, a piece of human refuse, like the stinking heaps on the stairs, rather than a father? Is it even possible to recall someone to life? Continuing Mr Booley’s biblical references, I’m reminded of Lazarus. Then, after an agonisingly long setting of the scene in the garret, another surprise. We see an old, whitehaired man, very busy, making shoes. Not terror then, but pity.

    • I think you’re right in that Miss Manette’s fear is as much of the moment as of the man. This is after all the father she thought dead, so recalling him to life is an even more appropriate term from her perspective.

      I also wondered to what extent form was influencing style here. Were this a novel then the daughter might rush up the stairs with giddy excitement (or at the very least a sense of well-being and joy), but here the creation of tension and anxiety is a) a great way of stretching out the moment to fill the pages and b) far better in leaving the reader eagerly awaiting the meeting next week. If we thought everything was going to be fine, where would be the sense of anticipation?

  2. I can’t help but think that the comment of the younger Manette was designed to make us despise her. It’s such an awful thing to say about a person, let alone your father. It’s beautifully crafted on Dickens’ part don’t you think?

    • Woah! Despising Miss Manette seems extreme (although typing her full name yet again is rather getting on my nerves. I may well adopt Jill’s MM until such time as Dickens graces us with the first name). Following on from the comments last week about MM’s role and persona, this is, I think, a case where modern perception might be different from the contemporary reception. I agree that the effeminate, fainting heroine carries little favour in the modern age beyond the realms of parody, and yes, in that context her frailty again at this moment could grate upon the twenty-first century reader. However, for Dickens and his age this would be a much more sympathetic figure, her weakness was her strength, and moments such as this might provoke admiration for her femininity rather than exasperation at her self-absorption. There’s a brilliant article by Paul Schlicke about pathos in the Old Curiosity Shop, comparing it with Macready’s Lear, that does a much better job at discussing the difference between modern and contemporary responses to Dickens’s heroines.

      • That said, you’re absolutely right, it is beautifully crafted. Just such a fantastically unexpected moment thrown in there.

    • I read her comment as being afraid of the situation, rather than being afraid of her father. Isn’t she just echoing what we are all feeling at this point, after the huge build up of the preceding chapters and then this journey up the stairs with the awful exchanges between Lorry and Defarge? I certainly don’t despise her but on the contrary completely identify with her feelings. Also we don’t know for certain what her relationship with her father was like (unless I missed something earlier?).

      • I think both you and Jill are right in saying she fears the situation, but I would still argue that there is also a fear of the man expressed here also.

        It also looks like a Freudian slip: “It, I mean him.” If nothing else it recognises that her father is still just a memory, or an abstract idea at the time, and that at present there is no relationship between them to speak of. Are the bonds of nature strong enouge to forge themselves instantly upon their meeting, or will there be an awkward period of reconciling expectations with realisation?

  3. I’m still persisting in reading from the original page (on Dickens’ Journals Online, I mean, not the actual original…) and it is a clumsy process. The window for the original text is so narrow and short that I have to navigate around with the scroll bars every few paragraphs, and then use the scroll bars on the external window to get back up to the top to type in the next page, as there doesn’t seem to be a button to move forward. Please DJO, allow us to read from the whole page! I just can’t bring myself to read Dickens in san serif.

    Also did anyone notice the typo in the original?

    “Ay. Yes,” was the grim reply of Monsieur Defarge?”

    • If you hover your mouse over the bottom right corner of the original page, you can resize the window to see more of the page, which might make the process of reading it more enjoyable for you.

      • Thanks for the feedback, loutreleaven. It’s always helpful to hear users’ experiences of the interface. We intend to make this facility available – hopefully in the near future. In the meantime, please follow Pete’s useful advice and resize the facsimile window.

      • Thanks Pete, will try! Though perhaps struggling to read the text helps recreates the experience of reading by the light of a guttering candle…?

      • Lol! Yes, recreating the original, eye-straining reading experience was always our intention 😉

  4. Yes. Call me harsh if you must. I never liked Dora in Copperfield when I was growing up and it made me wonder if Dickens intended to mold his readers’ minds with some kind of prejudice. I think we were never meant to love Dora, and I see a kinship here between the two women. I love to hate Dora…always have. Perhaps I’ll feel the same way later about MM? I don’t know.

    • I admire your conviction! It will be interesting to see if and how your responses to MM differ from other readers as the plot continues.

    • It doesn’t seem overly harsh to me katieloubell! I really used to struggle with Dora, but she was reclaimed for me by a great reading by Sharon Marcus in her book ‘Between Women’. Marcus argues that Dickens shows Dora to have more self-knowledge than David using the death-bed scene where she talks about Agnes’s suitability for him and gives her blessing. I’ve found it really helpful to look back at Dora and David’s relationship as more of an exploration of his flaws than hers. Still not a fan of MM though!

      • Interesting to see a split opion on Dora and MM there Holly. I wonder if part of this is to do with narrative. David Copperfield is told in first-person narrative so every character is seen through the lens of David’s opinions, right or wrong as they may be, and consciously or subconsciously ordering things to suit David’s perspective on life. I’ve argued in the past that Uriah Heep might even be justified in disliking David so much for all we know. Whereas ATOC is third-person narrative so – in theory – the portraits of each character are objective (though again you could argue Dickens himself is blind to the follies of MM due to his own infatuation with Ellen Ternan).

        There is a second option, and I say it cautiously and tentatively. Prompted by Mr Booley’s comment below, in contrast to the two comments above, does gender play a role in our reaction to MM? Were she to appear in the flesh before us, would the women of the reading group be annoyed by her insufferable frailty and lack of spirit, while the men offered her a chair/ a drink/threw their cloaks over puddles for her to walk over?

  5. Previously, I have to say, I’ve always been in the “I hate MM” club. But being forced to re-examine it in this way, taking it week by week, has made rethink things a bit. I always felt before that she was that stereotypical too-good-to-be true, fainting heroine, which as Pete points out, is hardly sympathetic to modern audiences. Now I wonder whether her portrayal is somewhat more nuanced. Maybe Dickens didn’t view her as the perfect creature that I previously assumed. Her difficulty in recognizing her father’s humanity does seem cold, if understandable. Perhaps it is not just Dr M that is “inhumanette”. While I think it would be stretching it to compare MM to Thackeray’s Amelia in Vanity Fair, maybe she isn’t the straightforward heroine I always thought she was either. Here is hoping anyway – I might start to actually like her!

    • There’s also the continuing argument that MM is based to some degree on Ellen Ternan (whether consciously or not I don’t care to weigh in on at this stage), which could be used to suggest that Dickens hismelf intends us to sympathise with her (unless he had some serious issues going on), and therefore places the emphasis of her comments on creating a sense of dread at the father, rather than the daughter. That said, for a modern audience, flawed is more interesting than perfect when it comes to a heroine (what does that say about us?), so this moment of rebellion against the grand plans of the Lorry of a happy reunion betwen daughter and father is, I think, a point in which interest for MM peaks – certainly comapred to the frail portrayal of her last week.

      Don’t forget though, that Lorry and Defarge also hint at the danger and unpredictability of Dr M in the reference to him being locked up at his own request. The psychological effect of such a long imprisonment on a man is immense – who knows how he will react?

      • You may well be right. It is how I have always read it before (although I wouldn’t rule out Dickens having serious issues!). I guess we will just have to wait to see what next week reveals…

      • (Goodness me there’s many a typo in my last comment. Apologies for that – I must have had too much of that wine spilt in the street.)

  6. Poor M’selle. Why is everyone so hard on her. She is seventeen years old, brought up as an orphan in eighteenth century England. As she has a dragon to look after her she has had a relatively cossetted life through no cause of her own.
    In a matter of three or four days she is dragged down to Dover wiothout knowing why, She has to absorb a bumbling explanation from a tongue- tied old buffer, then cross a wintry channel with a further day in a coach to Paris.Once there she is dragged into a street where people are acting like animals. Following this she is dragged up through stinking tenement into a gloomy room where a figure is sitting with his back to her. . What do you expect her to say?

    • You’re a gentleman Mr Booley. I think M’selle can take the criticism, and if not, she has that red-haired servant on standby to deal with any dissenters.

  7. In response to Pete’s 19 May post, I think he’s probably right in his reading of book club reactions from both genders were MM to appear; however the male reaction would be the same then and now due to the ‘unaccountable bias in favour of beauty’, whereas the probable female reaction would be different for the most part in each century.
    I’m with Mr Booley on this. It’s hardly surprising she’s frail in the circumstances. Maybe we need to watch out for the temptation to look ahead in the novel from the chapter we are considering. I can’t remember whether she is always frail and fainting throughout the novel, (though Dickens does have form on this, I know) so am not ready to despise her yet. And if I do, should I judge her from my different point in history? Or is that what we’re supposed to be doing? Are we recreating the original experience as modern readers, complete with today’s reactions, or are we thinking ourselves back to 1859?

  8. Many interesting points there Jill. I think it’s an impossible task to read the book exactly as an audience of 1859 would. The best we can do is to take the novel in its episodic format to see how we respond to that, while also taking time now and again to consider what the contemporary reaction might have been.

    Next -are we getting ahead of ourselves? Of three instalments, MM has been in two, which might suggest her as a protagonist (then again, David Copperfield’s mother plays a major part in the early chapter of that book…). So far, her attitude has been reactive rather than proactive, but you’re right, there’s always time for her to buck up her ideas.

    As for the gender divide. Were she in the flesh, and attractive, you may well be right that the men might tend towards forgiving any shortcomings – I’d like to think I was a little more modern than that, but then again to this day I still forgive Britney Spears her many, many shortcomings. But as a fictional character, without any illustrations to guide us until the monthly volume appears, does the appeal still hold? Would we admire her despite her frailty, or because of it? Is there something intrinsic in the damsel in distress that appeals to the male reader, or does she come across as whiny without the advantage of physical attributes to distract us?

    • I agree – we are getting ahead of ourselves! As a first time reader of the book I have not made any decisions about Miss Manette – or at least I hadn’t, but now I have heard so much about her I can’t help but have a pre-conceived idea of what she is going to be like. If we want to recreate or at least reimagine the experience of the original readers we need to stop thinking about the novel as a whole and focus on the parts we have read.

      • i agree to an extent, but I think there’s also an argument for postulating about what may happen next and wondering where the story is going. It’s what we would do if we were watching a TV series today, and there’s certainly a precedent for this with Dickens’s stories when you consider the number of pirate copies or theatrical adaptations that appeared before the original was finished, and therefore had to guess the ending. It’s human nature to form early opinions and wait for them to be proven wrong. The opinions so far have mainly been based on what we’ve seen so far – who knows what might happen to challenge or confirm any preconceptions we’ve formed thus far?

  9. To me “I am afraid of it” speaks so many volumes. I met my own father aged nineteen. Granted I’d never thought he was dead but the situation (his story of what had happened in the past, my mother’s opinion, his new wife, his young children) had a significant effect on my life. Miss Manette is an orphan, in a strange country, with a strange man, meeting her father who she thought was dead. She has many things to be afraid of.

    Just for the record, I don’t hate her and I didn’t hate Dora 😉

    Obviously we can’t view the novel from the culture of people in 1859 but there are modern literary heroines who I dislike more. Bella Swan, for example…

    • Thank you for sharing your personal response Donna. It’s remarkable when a moment in fiction resonates with our own lives, and interesting to see to what extent we agree with the author’s interpretation of that moment – for MM’s reaction to ring true for you is a powerful recommendation of Dickens’s craft.

      For the record, I don’t hate MM either (aside from her stubborn refusal to share her first name). I haven’t really made my mind up either way at the moment. Lorry is striking me as a more interesting character, but who knows what I’ll think in a few weeks time?

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