I’ve lost the [golden] thread…

Is it just me or have we started over this week? Before we begin reading we are told by the chapter heading that we are now “five years later”. You would expect, as Hazel says, that we would see a continuation of the characters we saw last week, but instead we go right back to the first week’s installment with talk of Lorry and Jerry. Are we supposed to remember Jerry? It’s been four weeks, after all, and there’s no helpful prompt from Dickens to make the connection (you know, here’s that Jerry again, last seen scaring mail coach passengers on the way to Dover). So what was a minor character is now a major character, and what were major characters are now minor – Lorry and (we presume ) the Mannettes are seen but not heard, and reported to us only through the perspective of Jerry.

Coming back to structure, the sense of a new beginning (or revised beginning) makes perfect sense given that this is both the first two chapters of book two AND what will eventually be the first chapters of the next monthly part, but again we come back to Dickens shooting himself in the foot with a very short Book 1 – is it too soon to be taking the approach of a new beginning when we’re still settling into the story and getting to know the characters?

All that aside, there’s a lot to like in this week’s installment. The Cruncher domestic scenes threaten to be melodrama with the virtuous wife and the monstrous husband (who was it who criticised Dickens for giving all his characters verbal ticks? I wonder whether Jerry’s constant naming of his wife as “Aggerawayter” in every sentence is going to grate); however the young Cruncher adds an interesting aspect to this, with he and his father as two spiky-haired monkeys rendering a marvellous mental image. The courtscene itself shows a man in dire straits again (now that Manette is no longer buried alive), and the connection made between Charles Darnay and the Manettes are a neat way of involving the audience in his fate and informing us of where our sympathies should lie in this scene, only to then be contradicted by the news that they are witnesses against the accused. Intriguing enough to keep us guessing until next week…

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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 “I’ve lost the [golden] thread…

  1. I agree with most of what’s been written already – it’s a new beginning that at the same time reads very familiarly, very Dickensianly. To other bloggers’ evocations of Little Dorritt or Bleak House I’d add the office scenes of Dombey and Son. The opening paragraphs about Tellson’s bank feel like a variation on all the dusty interiors we’ve met in earlier novels (and earlier journalism by CD?)
    Other thoughts:
    Yes, it’s odd not to remind us that we’d met Jerry before. I’d only remembered him because of the curious almost-rhyme of the names (Jerry/Lorry) in episode 1. But as I’ve already noted, there are few named characters so far, although there are plenty of what in a drama would be “non-speaking parts”.
    Meanwhile, as Pete has observed, to the crowd scene of the previous episode (the wine in the Paris street) we can now add a “tainted crowd, dispersed up and down this hideous scene of action” in London.
    The apparent abruptness of the ending is (unintentionally?) emphasised in its original published form by the fact that the reader has to turn the page (from 101 to 102) after the first line of the last paragraph. “The judge, whose eyes …” begins the paragraph, and the reader may expect to get some pronouncement from the judge overleaf: but all he does is lean back and look … And then we are plunged into the next item, about gout!
    This gout article, by Wilkie Collins, is actually quite striking, treating the malady with a rather surrealistic plethora of metaphor. Here’s another instance of one ATYR article echoing another: Collins imagines that gout “will construct a novel sort of electric telegraph” in the sufferer’s leg, while the later article about the Indian Mutiny attributes much of the success in quelling the mutiny to “the steam-engine [and] the electric telegraph”. So while Dickens was looking to the past, elsewhere in the magazine modernity was being celebrated.

    • You’re absolutely right about the abruptness of the ending – there have been a few instances I’ve experienced as an online reader where I’ve scrolled down expecting more only to find a few meagre sentences left in the instalment, but this is a very prominent example of that happening in the original format as well. It’s both anticlimactic and a prompt to read next week’s continuation.

      Rereading the instalment, I’d revise my earlier comment – it’s not just that Dickens doesn’t remind us we’ve met Jerry before, but he wilfully introduces him as if he were a new character: “His surname was Cruncher, and on the youthful occasion of his renouncing by proxy the works of darkness, in the easterly parish church of Houndsditch, he had received the added appellation of Jerry.” This, alongside the new approach to Lorry and the Manettes (which sounds like an amazing band from the 60s), really makes the whole thing feel like a new story. In the modern age, producers of tv shows regularly take the same attitute to the second series of a television programme, where they reintroduce characters and key themes to encourage new viewers who have heard the hype about series 1 but might be put off by trying to catch up with the plot – is Dickens attempting something similar?

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