Week 7 : Darnay and Carton

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.

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About Joanne Shattock

I am Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of Leicester. My research interests are nineteenth century women's writing, literary journalism, and the nineteenth-century periodical press. I am currently interested in the networks of professional writers in the middle decades of the nineteenth century and the ways in which these networks impacted on journals such as Household Words and All the Year Round.

11 thoughts on “Week 7 : Darnay and Carton

  1. I wonder why he changed it. Too personal? But then he went and named the character after one of his sons . . . hmm. Anyway, I’m glad he did — I like the name Sydney! 🙂

    • Much has been said of David Copperfield being the reverse initials of Dickens, an odd link – given Dickens’s deep shame about his blacking factory days and his desire for it not to be public knowledge you would think he wouldn’t want any clues to link the character of David to the author. But he went ahead with it then, to stop shy of it here – what does that say about Dickens’s relationship with himself at the time of writing this?

  2. I also found the dual symbiosis of Darnay and Carton and then Stryver and Carton really intriguing in this installment. Now we’ve seen that in the British courtroom both Darnay and Stryver depend on Carton for their survival, yet Carton is “incapable of his own help and his own happiness”. In the Jackal/Lion relationship Dickens seems to be critiquing both figures as independently insufficient and promoting the kind of Self-Help values most famously expressed by Samuel Smiles (his famous book was also published in 1859). But I’m wondering whether he might (despite Dickens’s own well documented emphasis on energy and self-sufficiency in raising his own sons) be exploring a different set of values through Carton? I must not say more on this riskily anticipatory topic now, but I will be looking out for other responses to ideas of Self-Help as we go. . .
    Following the discussion of Jerry Cruncher’s rustiness, I was interested to see the description of Carton as having a life of “rust and repose”. It seems, though, that this “blight” is lunching on him:
    “Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; and it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and happiness, sensible of the blight on hum, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.”
    What an ending to an installment – my contender for best final paragraph so far.

    • Just a brief comment: the impressive final paragraphs that Holly praises are once again examples of the poetry in Dickens: more almost-regular iambic pentameters (the best being “waters of hope that sparkled in his sight”) and alliteration (“was wet with wasted tears”)

      • Ah yes – I’d not noticed this, but I’m sure that’s a large part of why these lines feel so satisfying. I’m really liking the way that this different pace of reading is allowing the rhythms to stand out. This made me go back to Donna’s post right back in week 1 about poetry within prose – another golden thread to follow through!

  3. There is a ferocious melancholia surrounding Carton and the instalment ending is, as Holly rightly points out, powerfully poetic and saddening. Carton is fascinating for lots of reasons, but what’s particularly interesting for me is that Dickens is usually profoundly unforgiving pf self-doubters and those who struggle to realise their talents and get ahead in life. Think, for example, of Steerforth, whose Byronic introspection is a sure sign to the Dickensian reader that he is a wrong-‘un. Here, however, Dickens is, I think, exploring a theme we also find in Barnaby Rudge, which is the failure of relationality, by which I mean the failure or collapse of relationships on a social level (revolt/revolution), but also on a personal level. Whereas Steerforth’s self-doubt and depression are depicted as affected and selfish, Dickens is, arguably, profoundly sympathetic towards the self-lacerating Carton and seems more willing here to consider how individuals may not be able to forge, embody or participate in the social bonds that are so central to his political and artistic vision. As Holly says, Dickens is perhaps tentatively exploring an alternative set of values here and allowing a more sophisticated understanding of human psychic life to complicate his radical political vision.

  4. Dickens is also interestingly sniffy about Stryver, his very name suggesting an unpleasant hunger for self-advancement. He is described as ‘glib’, ‘unscrupulous’ and ‘bold’ and as ‘shouldering his way to a large and lucrative practice’, which hints at the selfishness, physical aggressiveness and Darwinian amorality underpinning some aspects of the self-help approach. Perhaps Stryver’s hunger for success and wealth is, in its own way, as disturbingly animalistic as the physical hunger of the Parisian masses.

    • I agree with Ben Winyard about Stryver, a deliberately ambivalent name for a character, minted in the year in which Smiles’s Self-Help was published. Dickens also plays with the word shoulder/shouldering, first in chapter IV where we’re told that Stryver ‘had a pushing way of shouldering himself (morally and physically) into companies and conversations, that argued well for his shouldering his way up in life’. He ‘squeezes’ Mr Lorry out of the post trial conversation, then ‘shouldered’ him back into the group, ‘just as he had previously shouldered him out of it’. Later he leaves the Manettes in the passage ‘to shoulder his way back to the robing-room’. In the next chapter his florid countenance can be seen ‘shouldering itself towards the visage of the Lord Chief Justice’, and so on.

      I thought it was interesting that Stryver and Carton were both Shrewsbury schoolboys, the one ‘stout, loud, red, bluff, and free from any drawback of delicacy’, conscious that he has to make his own wayin the world (‘I had to get into the front rank; I was not born there, was I’) ; the other, the jackal to his lion, from a more privileged background, seemingly bent on self destruction.

    • I found Stryver’s character to be quite a shock this week. My impression of him last week as of someone rather eager, if incompetent, whereas this week we get a much darker portrayal of him. His pride and self-serving attitude, at the expense of his friend, are not even hinted at last week, so it’s like Dickens is rewriting the character before our eyes. Was this his intention when he wrote last week’s instalment, or is this Dickens adapting as he goes along?

  5. In his careful differentiation of these male doubles, striving and skiving, sincere and cynical, it seems that this installment is participating in that major Victorian question of ‘What makes a gentleman?’ Dickens is better known for his part in this debate with his next novel, Great Expectations, with all its questions of whether birth, class, profession or wealth maketh the (gentle)man, and whether a blacksmith’s boy can ever qualify. Now that I’m seeing a Tae of Two Cities in this way as well, these careful comparisons and contrasts of similar but different men is beginning to make new sense.
    I’m wondering what the associations of Shrewsbury school were? Does anyone know about this? I came across the following discussion of Eton versus Rugby by Lord Ashby in the 1850s – he was deciding where to send his son:
    “I fear Eton . . . It makes admirable gentlemen and finished scholars – fits a man, beyond all competition, for the dining-room, the Club, St James’s St and all the mysteries of social elegance; but it does not make the man required for the coming generation. We must have nobler, deeper, and sterner stuff; less of refinement and more of truth; more of the inward, not so much of the outward gentleman.”
    Was Shrewsbury thought to be formative of a particular type of manliness I wonder?

  6. Sorry, ‘or character’! should be in my list of potential gentlemanly qualifications – that’s really the crux of it: is it a question of lineage/material things, or of internal qualities.

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