Blimey, we’re straight into it this week aren’t we? No drawn out introduction, no scenic descriptions, just right on with the scene as if the week’s interval hadn’t happened. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the TV tradition of a recap before each new episode – from this point forward Dickens is assuming anyone reading knows the story and there’s no need to lead them in gently. So straight in it is, and what we get is a court report featuring some typical Dickensian descriptive names: the defence, Stryver, certainly is striving to acquit his client, while the devious Barsad is missing a vital “T” from his name. The chapter’s title, “a disappointment” is wonderfully ironic given that the disappointment in question is that a man is NOT killed, much to the annoyance of the blue flies hanging around looking for carrion – remind me again, is this scene set in England or France?
For those of us left wondering what week what any of this had to do with the story we’d been reading up to then, Dickens puts in some links back to the events of book one. The accused, Darnay, was on the mailcoach the same time that Lorry received the message from Jerry, and on the return boat from France along with Lorry and the Manettes. Dickens expressed frustration with the constraints of writing ATOTC in such small parts, and you can see why here. This week and last week’s instalments work much better together than apart – the abrupt ending last week, matched with the equally abrupt beginning this week; the linking of the scene to the story thus far being delayed until this week; and the use of Jerry as framing device for the two parts together, opening last week and closing this week – all these point to Dickens’s powers being thwarted by the format.
Incidentally, did you note the repetition of a previous episode, when the apparently devil-may-care Carton shows sudden compassion for MM – “Don’t you see she will fall!” – just as the impartial Madame Defarge, who sees nothing, was the one to rush for Dr Manette’s possessions when he cried out for them in part four? Both these characters, hiding their compassion behind a cool exterior, make a welcome change from MM who gushes forth like a torrent much to the detriment of the poor accused. For someone who first calls the prisoner a gentleman, and tries to explain how “kind and good” he was, she nonetheless drops him in it through her naïve telling of the whole truth – why oh why does she mention the joke about George Washington? After her moment of strength on meeting her father, Dickens is plunging the character back into the role of damsel in distress, with little to no sense of worldly knowledge. That, to me, justifies the chapter’s title of “a disappointment”.
Countering that disappointment, is the very intriguing strand in this week’s instalment of the doubles of Carton and Darnay, “so like each other in feature, so unlike each other in manner”. The double in literature is an area of personal interest; while Dickens’s hero Shakespeare had used the device of the lookalike several times for comic effect, in more recent years across the continent it had become a horror device; the idea had already featured in E.T.A Hoffman’s The Devil‘s Elixirs (1815), which hinges upon the idea of the double as does his later story The Doppleganger (1821), in turn inspired by Jean Paul’s Siebenkas (1796-7). The double also featured in James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), and later in Dostoevsky’s The Double (1846). In each of these stories the double is a crime against nature, looking like the hero but thwarting his every move: the evil twin. Compared to these extreme examples, Carton and Darnay seem rather tame, but, like these other literary doubles, the fascination lies in the contrast of similarity in appearance with opposition in spirit and morality. I eagerly anticipate the development of this theme.
Of the rest of this week’s ATYR, while Proctor’s continuation of trade songs reminds us in its reference to busy bees of the blue flies, it is the second article “The confessor’s handbook” which I think reflects best on ATOTC, with some some nice links to the courtscene in the writer’s considerations of the “penitent’s moral guilt” and the observation of the justice system:
“Just as well might an attorney be supposed to be duly educated for the business of his profession by an abstract reverence for the principles of justice, and the possession of personal integrity!”