Weeks 7 and 8: Hate the Mirror, Love the Sun

I love how Part 7 opens with the image of boiling human stew.  I think Dickens really conveys how a crowded room would feel and smell through this metaphor.

Mr Lorry’s flattery of Mr Stryver’s legal skills is very realistic in modern life as well as in the relevant period.  The relationship between solicitors and barristers is one of flattery by necessity.  One wants them to represent their clients and the other wants to be chosen to represent clients.

Mr Carton’s projecting his self-hatred onto Mr Darnay is interesting particularly as he is going out of his way to spend time with him and give the appearance of being nice to him.  The point is emphasised by his talking to himself in the mirror in which, like Mr Carton and Mr Darnay themselves, everything is almost the same but opposite.

Carton feels that he has had no control over his life and everything has fallen into place through some external method determined by luck.  This would explain his hatred of Mr Darnay as he looks like him and is therefore illustrative of another life that Carton could have had.

The description of Dr Manette’s home and its surrounding area is a far cry from Dickens’ usual description of the filth and squalor of London.  It is pointed out that the nature is unusual for the area.  It is interesting that the shoemaker’s bench and tools are kept within the house.  You wouldn’t normally expect someone to keep a souvenir of a negative experience.

Dr Manette’s reaction to Darnay’s story of the buried ashes in the Tower of London implies that he remembers more about his incarceration than he admits.  This may later link to his keeping the bench and tools.

Miss Manette’s romantic idea of echoing footsteps being symbolic of people entering her and her father’s life may not be as far-fetched as the gentlemen apparently perceive.  After all, every man in the room with her at the time has come into her life since the start of the book.

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10 thoughts on “Weeks 7 and 8: Hate the Mirror, Love the Sun

  1. Thanks for these lovely observations, Donna. I’m really struck by your reading of Carton as a man who despairs because he feels he has no control over his life. In place of self-determination, we might instead trust to luck or, more generally, to fate. It strikes me that fate is an important theme in the novel, particularly as we (and, let’s assume, contemporary readers) know the French Revolution is coming. There’s something about the inexorability of this event that feels fateful, although Dickens is clear that it has been fomented by governmental and upper-class neglect and mismanagement. I suppose Dickens and his fellow Victorians grew up and lived in the shadow of 1789 and its consequences, so perhaps it felt so enormous and impactful as to be ‘fate’. The novel’s journeys and its images of oceans and other natural forces also suggest a relentless motion akin to the inexorability of coming change.

  2. You know, it just occurred to me that the reputable male characters in the book treat Lucie rather like a child. This is really evident in this chapter when Charles’ response to Lucie’s fantasy regarding the footsteps comes off as quite condescending.
    “Are all these footsteps destined to come to all of us, Miss Manette, or are we to divide them among us?”
    Dickens probably thought nothing of this as and perhaps considered the response rather witty or fitting of courtly romance. It strikes me though if one were to view Lucie as a real person, she has seen some pretty traumatic things, and if she acts in a childlike fashion with her fainting and melodrama it is perhaps because that is what is expected of her. As a character she seems rather trapped in domesticity–like one of her own caged birds.
    I also don’t know quite what to make of Sydney Carton’s part in the scene with the rain. He seems to get carried away in his own fantasy–he certainly seems to understand Lucie’s.

    • Thanks for these wonderful insights and readings! I am really struck by your reading of the scene between Darnay and Lucie as one of courtly romance. Lucie’s behaviour has annoyed lots of us on this blog, but perhaps a certain waif-like fragility and naivete was demanded of young middle-class women. This insight and the late eighteenth-century setting makes me think of the contemporaneous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who was famously scathing of the learned behaviours adopted by women. I’m not sure if Dickens’s is a sly feminist critique, though!

      • Oh, I’m sure it’s not a feminist critique. I don’t think Dickens is a feminist. I don’t think it’s his fault or anything unusual for the time, though. Bear with me here because this is something that I think is still relevant. I worked in the video game industry and read game related blogs, and this shows up in geek counterculture a lot: Female characters almost always have a limited set of motivations to heroism, which usually revolve around them being forcibly ripped from the cultural norms which the authors mistake for the natural state. Recently, a high-profile game producer explained that he felt that the player, which he assumed was male, needed to feel like they were “protecting” the female lead character (and this was what made his game so “special”). The implication was that if the presumably male player couldn’t feel connected to the character through wanting to have sex with her, then he needed to feel like he was protecting her to be able to relate to her at all.
        There seems to be this perception that women think differently than men and that this way of thinking is completely alien and unknowable. It just doesn’t seem to occur to Dickens, or the Anonymous Game Designer that their female character could have the same thoughts and emotions and motivations as themselves, and I think this is one of the reasons that the modern reader finds Lucie so unbelievable. Lucie’s motivations ARE the cultural norms–because Dickens has never really tried, or given up on trying to relate to her. He’s used cultural norms to fill in a large hole he’s convinced he has no chance of understanding.
        Lest I be too hard on Dickens, it’s a testament to his genius that we are even having this conversation, and that we can reinterpret Lucie as someone who seems trapped in the domestic sphere. Good writing stands the test of time like that and is enhanced by the perceptions of new generations of readers that take it far beyond the original author’s scope.

      • Lucie is indeed domestic, but I personally find it a stretch to think that she’s trapped in domesticity. Many women were, back then, but not all — just like some people in the business world are trapped there, but some are genuinely good at it and chose it as their preferred way of life. Lucie strikes me as a person who is, at heart, domestic; the nature Dickens gave her happens to fit her lot in life. (Which is not ALWAYS true of Dickens’s women, contrary to stereotype.)

        I do agree, though, that Darnay’s tone with her can be grating.

        I have more thoughts on Lucie, but they might get a little spoilerish, so I’ll hold off for now.

      • Thank you, Rokujo Lady, for this really fascinating comparison of TOTC with some of the gendered cultural norms currently in circulation in our own society. I love your comparison between Dickens and the Anonymous Games Designer! It’s really interesting to think about gendered norms and why they come into being, and continue to persist, in particular forms. Much of this blog has been dominated by discussions about Lucie, so it’s obvious that we have much invested in these kinds of debates!

  3. There’s almost something scientific in Carton’s dining with Darnay last week, as though Carton is testing himself and his reactions in the presence of his double, spending time with a man he hates simply as an opportunity to explore his own character as a result. Carton’s interaction with other humans is awkward, his jokes often cause offence or seem condescending, and other seem to feel instinctively aggressive towards him. that he is an outsider is without doubt, but whether that is by his own choice, or failings, or an unfair reaction from those around him, I remain uncertain.

  4. I was really interested by Donna’s reference to the shoemaking tools as a souvenir – here of negative experience. I’ve been reading Susan Stewart’s brilliant book ‘On Longing’, which discusses the souvenir as an emblem of an experience that is firmly past. She argues that we don’t need souvenirs of repeatable experience. I’m interested in the moment at how souvenirs of battle work for the soldiers who carry them/send them to their families, and I think there may be something reparative about re-integrating otherwise harmful stuff into domestic space/ family life. So taking the shoemaking bench in the Soho house may be a way of working through past traumatic experience – or, I’m sure there are other ways to read it. Any other thoughts?
    I’ll now be looking out for the other things people carry in this novel!

    • Thanks for this fascinating post, Holly. This seems similar, or, rather, usefully comparable, to Donald Winnicott’s idea of the ‘transitional object’, which mediates the space between the inner and outer world and between people. These objects are simultaneously internal and external, symbolic and literal, part and whole. For Winnicott, one of the defining features of the transitional object is its ability to withstand the destructive impulse of the infant; its very survivability affirms the possibility of love. Perhaps Mr Manette is in some sense continually acting out his destructive impulses via his shoemaking, but the very endurance of the objects he produces, and their reintegration into the safer space of the family home, as you rightly observe, says something about the endurance of reparative love. The secret removal of his shoemaking equipment by Mr Lorry and Miss Pross perhaps tells us something interesting about Dickens’s ideas on how trauma should best be managed. Of course, his secret trauma – his adolescent working life in the blacking factory – was something he continually revisited, reworked and reimagined; and it was something less easily ‘removable’ than Mr Manette’s shoe-making equipment.

      • Oh yes – shoes and boot blacking!, and the past that must be integrated into the present and worked through. Given Dickens’s creative returns to blacking factory trauma, and remaking it into a source of inspiration (and not just of shame) it seems rather harsh that Manette’s output of shoes is taken from him. I’ll have to read some Winnicott. Thanks Ben.

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