Week 10: ‘The Gorgon’s Head’: At the Stone Face

Another instalment another death and another doppelganger; we discover that Monsieur the Marquis

is the twin of Darnay’s (as he is known inEngland), father. Darnay wonders if it is possible to distinguish them: “Can I separate my father’s twin brother, joint inheritor and next successor, from himself? Blurred identities, aliases, hooting owls, and a fortress-like chateau at the dead of night all continue the gothic strain we’ve been noting. What particularly interested me this week was the emphasis on the properties of the Marquis’s stony property.

The instalment opens with a sketch of the chateau, in which ‘stone’ is used 8 times. This family property is very differently described to the ancestral properties of English aristocrats I’ve seen. I’m thinking particularly of Audley Court, the country house of Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). Here the house is crumbling, with shaky doors and windows, suggesting the decline of the aristocracy and their vulnerability/openness to outsiders, like the less-than-a-lady heroine. By contrast, the Marquis’s house is seemingly impervious, its unyielding stones – like its owner – resisting a more gradual, organic process of class reform. Its future is more absolute:

If a picture of the château as it was
to be a very few years hence, and of fifty like it as
they too were to be a very few years hence, could
have been shown to him that night, he might
have been at a loss to claim his own from the
ghastly, fire-charred, plunder-wrecked ruins. As
for the roof he vaunted, he might have found
that shutting out the sky in a new way—to wit,
for ever, from the eyes of the bodies into which
its lead was fired, out of the barrels of a hundred
thousand muskets.

I loved the Dickensian virtuosity of transforming aristo property into bullets, so that these luxurious homes are literally the death of those who own them.

Reading this in AYR gives an incredible juxtaposition as the closing note from Jacques is immediately followed by an article, ‘Revolution at Florence, Exactly Described’ (Ben’s post last week gives some background to the Italian war of independence). This overlaying of current events with the unfolding narrative of French Revolution must have had a huge effect on how this instalment was first read.

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About Holly Furneaux

Holly is a Reader in Victorian Literature at the University of Leicester. She has written variously on Dickens, including a book, Queer Dickens: Erotics, Families, Masculinities. For more details of her work, and her current research on the Military Man of Feeling, see her staff page:http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/people/hollyfurneaux

4 thoughts on “Week 10: ‘The Gorgon’s Head’: At the Stone Face

  1. I was also taken by the neighbouring article on the Florence revolution, and grateful to Ben for his earlier brief on this.

    I was struck on reading this week’s episode how reminiscent it all is of Barnaby Rudge. I know it’s been mentioned a few times already, but previously I had never really connected these two stories beyond the obvious connection of them both being historical tales. And yet here the death of the aristocrat in his bed mirrors the death of Reuben Haredale in chapter one of Rudge. How strange that Dickens should echo the earlier story on so many occassions – the murder, the riots – and to what extent was this conscious or unconsciously done?

    I also love the shock tactic of introducing a character last week only to kill him off this week. Ruthless but effective. And the murderer is Jacques, but which one? We already know from those first scenes in Paris that Jacques had been used as a pseudonym and password for various men. Is this Jacques the father of the dead child from last week, or could it even be Defarge himself who has done this? Suddenly the pace and tone of the novel has changed from a fixation on past crimes – the incarceration of Manette, the alleged treason of Darnay which we only hear of as report – to current and possible future crimes. Having let off this firecracker, where is Dickens going to take us next?

  2. It’s fascinating how TOTC gestures towards contemporary events in France and Italy, while simultaneously harking back to Barnaby Rudge, which is itself often read in the context of domestic politics and the Chartist demonstrations of the early 1840s. In TOTC we see the re-playing of the same themes, albeit in a more international context: aristocratic misgovernment, poverty and the struggles of ‘the people’, hereditary, inherited privilege and the weight of poisonous genealogies, and rebellion against a failed domestic and national paternalism. As Pete asks, was this a conscious re-examination on Dickens’s part? Interestingly, BR was a comparative failure when published (and is still hardly read), but these themes were evidently important enough to Dickens to explore again.

  3. Holly’s post has made me think about how much emphasis Dickens has been laying on architecture and buildings in the chapters we have read so far, and particularly the way in which they shut things in or out – I’m thinking of the footsteps echoing round the Manette’s domestic sanctuary, and the darkness here. It is quite interesting, I think, that while the stone clearly reflects the nature of its owner, the darkness that threatens the chaetau comes from outside, not the “tiger” lurking within.

  4. I was also reminded strongly of Barnaby Rudge this instalment in the similarities between the Marquis and Sir John Chester, the cooly polished villain of that piece. Both offer a very different manly model to those we looked at in comparing Carton/Darnay and Darnay/Striver. Now we get a comparison of Darnay/ the Marquis which continues Dickens’s earlier critique of politeness without ethics. In Chester Dickens is famously referencing Lord Chesterfield’s letters of advice to his son, which were widely abhored in the Victorian period – I think he’s indirectly responding to these again here.
    Thanks for the other parallels to Dickens’s earlier historical novel. Certainly reading TofTC in this incremental way has made me want to go back to the under-rated Barnaby,

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