What I find impressive about the 7th instalment of ATOTC (11 June 1859) is the extraordinary energy and inventiveness with which Dickens pushes the narrative forward. Scarcely drawing breath after the triumph of the last tense instalment, ending with Darnay’s acquittal, Dickens then turns his attention to Sydney Carton, pairing him first with Darnay, and then positioning him against Stryvver, the Shrewsbury schoolboy who has ‘shouldered’ his way to success, while his schoolfellow seems ‘the man of good abilities and good emotions’ yet ‘incapable of his own help and his own happiness’ . Just as we saw loneliness and isolation in earlier chapters, here we have waste, desert, and a wilderness stretching before Carton. And there are other threads to be taken up later — why does Dr Manette look at Darnay wih dislike, distrust ‘not unmixed with fear’?
Am I, I wonder, the only reader of this serial version who has been tempted to look at the explanatory notes of a modern edition? From these I learned that Dickens had originally named Carton ‘Dick’, and changed it half way through the chapter — his first choice giving him Darnay’s reversed initials; that Dickens had visited the famous Shrewsbury School twice, the last visit in 1858; and that he had made notes on the interaction of lions and jackals. Not essential to an understanding of the instalment , and of course not available to the contemporary reader, but certainly helpful in appreciating the way in which Dickens’s imagination transformed his raw material.