Two Twisted Hairs

Back to the Dickens I enjoy, caricatures and gloomy buildings.

We are five years later, in the time of Barnaby Rudge and the Gordon Riots and half way through the American war. It is here the story begins after the long leading article/ foreword/preface entitled ‘Recalled to Life.’

The idea of a Golden thread intrigues me. Is it a thread spun from the two golden hairs Dr Manette carries around his neck or is it simply a thread of metallic strands along which the story will move. Could it be that the story is all about M’mselle or is it a thread to be knitted into a rope.

Jerry Cruncher might well be likened to a monkey in his looks but it seems to me that he is a lucky man and knows it. Being born in Houndsditch  (in the 1750’s?) does not bode well for a happy life but he has found one. He lives in two rooms of a tenement in an unsavoury neighbourhood but is well fed and looked after by an “Aggerawayter” who cares for him, prays for him, keeps the place clean and tries to make him a little more civilised than he might otherwise have been.

Though he may throw his boot at her it may be the only way he can show affection without losing face and appearing weak. He is fond of the bottle and suffering a hangover: he can’t inderstand why she stays with him and pours all of his woes on her probably to assure himself that she will not leave him.

His employment as a porter for Tellsons Bank puts him in the lowest of the low  within the establishment but he must have proved himself trustwothy when attending to their business else he could easily be replaced.

Tellsons is a solid, secretive bank with a chilling aspect on Temple Bar, with a strong room like a Barcimede feast, promising much but giving little (do banks do anything else?) and now we know why Mr Lorry sees himself as a mechanical man who has;

A face, habitually suppressed and quieted, was still lighted up under the quaint wig by a pair of moist bright eyes that it must have cost their owner, in years gone by, some pains to drill to the composed and reserved expression of Tellson’s Bank.”

As a young man he had been kept

“… in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him”

Dickens seems to be keen on things cheesey. The dragon’s hat in Chapter Four is described as;

“..a most wonderful bonnet like a grenadier wooden measure….or a great stilton cheese.”

The cheese I can see, but ‘Grenadier wooden measure?’

Jerry works outside the bank, no doubt to keep the riff raff out, and sits on a stool with his feet resting in straw which grabs from a passing vehicle and then chews on a piece of it. Knowing something of the state of hygiene at the time it isn’t difficult to guess where it comes from when young Jerry wonders;

“Where does my father get all that iron rust from? He don’t get no iron rust here.”

Jerry’s arrival at the Old Bailey reveals that the bank has some interest in the trial for treason of Charles Darnay. Not only that. but Dr and M’mselle are there as witnesses against him. If convicted, as seems certain, why is he described so minutely, if he was a throwaway character whose head would soon join the ranks of those overlooking Tellsons Bank such description would not be necessary. Another tease from Dickens about where the tale is going.

Along with some mockery of the law and legal proceedings we are introduced to a further character, undescribed , who sits in the courtroom looking bored and staring at the ceiling. Is he one of those who “Knows” the outcome of the trial and just wants to get it over or are we being tantalized by the possiblity of some coming momentous event.


5 thoughts on “Two Twisted Hairs

  1. Ah, Mr Booley, I was beginning to think the concrete had got the better of you. interesting points as awlays, especially the significance of the golden thread. It has a fairy tale ring to it, in particular Rapunzel where the heroine has to spin straw into gold. Dickens did like his fairy tale allegories, so I wonder what parallel might be drawn with ATOTC.

    Dickens is certainly asking us to invest in the fate of the accused. In his descriptions of the various injustices in France, he talks about the populous and as such there is no particular stand out character for us to sympathise with among the anonymous mass – here, he singles out an individual, asking us to care not about the state of England, but of this one Englishman.

    • Concrete,one shed, a new fence and Mrs Booley would like a waterfall; all this and Dickens too.
      Rapunzels long hair was also a rope, and there are lots of ropes and threads in the Tale. Reading by instalments makes one realize that there are questions and notions one has never considered before and concentrating on one piece at a time can draw much more out of story.

  2. Thanks for mentioning Barnaby Rudge, mrbooley. I must confess that, for some reason, it had completely escaped my notice that BR and TOTC overlap in terms of their period setting! It is fascinating to compare and contrast the two novels: both are spectacularly gloomy and Gothic; both are concerned with haunting, resurrection and rebirth; both articulate Dickens’s radical anger at the appalling treatment of the impoverished masses; and both attribute political violence to misgovernment and upper-class callousness. In Dolly Varden, also, we perhaps find a precursor to our very own MM, although the equally idealised Dolly seems much more ‘fleshy’/less ethereal than MM.

  3. Belated welcome back Mr Booley (it’s more marking than garden overhaul that is keeping me away more than I’d like). I very much liked your idea of Mr Lorry as a mechanical man here, which makes me think of Dickens’s career long delight with human/machine hybrids, and the mash up of the organic and the inorganic. In this regard I was fascinated by the image this week of Jerry Cruncher taking “quite a lunch of rust of his fingers”. Another really interesting, disturbing image of ingestion, to follow from the cask, wine and mud munching. Dickens’s cyborgian dreams?

    • Shameless plug time! I believe our very own Pete has written a wonderful article on robotics in Great Expectations (written just after TOTC):

      I wonder if there is an interesting division between the organic and mechanic here that is, like some of the novel’s other oppositions, constantly collapsing and failing to maintain its integrity. On the one hand, the starving Parisians and the riotous Londoners take on an almost animalistic quality, yet Mr Lorry is mechanistic. With Jerry’s rusting fingers, we find an image simultaneously organic and mechanistic, rather like the cyborg.

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