Okay, first things first – the worst kept secret of ATOTC has finally been revealed, and we can now stop calling Miss Manette MM and go with Lucie – and what an anticlimax. The name is dropped into the conversation as though Dickens himself is unaware that he’s been holding back. I would have liked it preceded by a fanfare, or an em-dash at the very least. And in a two-for-one, the significance of the book’s title is revealed with Lucie likened to the “golden thread that united [her father] to a Past beyond his misery, and to a Present beyond his misery”.
But the big story this week is Carton. The jackal. Or the lion – it’s very confusing. The popular, ignorant view depicts Carton as the scavenger, living off the meat provided by the lion Stryver, whereas the reader can see the opposite to be true; indeed, I felt quite indignant at how quickly the others forgot his role in saving Darnay. Despite his show-stealing moment of revealing himself as the defendant’s double, “Nobody had made any acknowledgment of Mr. Carton’s part in the day’s proceedings; nobody had known of it.” We are led to disagree with popular opinion, and yet Dickens continues to refer to Carton as the jackal without correcting this, as though he wants to continue to press forward the significance of appearance rather than character. All this in an instalment obsessed with appearances. Carton meets his double and is reminded of what he could be. He then looks upon himself in a mirror and soliloquises (more theatricality in the novel).
It’s a very Shakespearean moment, and brings to mind a Shakespearean precedent for all of this. In Henry IV Part One the wastrel Prince Hal reveals his true inner-lion only when the stage has been emptied, and spends the rest of the time in company drinking and carousing. That play also sets up an interesting double between the disappointing Hal and the child of honour Harry Percy (Hotspur), their shared first name being the link rather than shared appearances, but the same contrast of character being regarded by themselves and others – Hal’s father says of Hotspur “I, by looking on the praise of him, See riot and dishonour stain the brow Of my young Harry.” Compare this to Carton’s own observation: “A good reason for taking to a man, that he shows you what you have fallen away from and what you might have been!”
That soliloquy has another Shakespearean parallel in Iago’s soliloquy early in Othello where, after all his wrangling in front of other characters, he at last reveals his true self and intentions with the line “I hate the moor”, much as Carton hates Darnay. So, the question is, will Carton be a Hal or Iago? Are we to realise his true worth, like Eugene Wrayburn, or see his interest in Lucie become a murderous obsession like Bradley Headstone? Is he to confirm himself as a jackal, or throw it all off and become a lion? It’s not just a tale of two cities, but of two identities, two interpretations.