Coming to the weekly part a couple of days late–well, five, if you consider that All the Year Round hit the bookstands the Wednesday before its Saturday publication date–I read it all at one breakfast-time sitting. First reactions? Pardon me, the ATOTC episode felt thin. I’ve looked several times at the first sentence–
MORE months, to the number of twelve, had come and gone, and Mr. Charles Darnay was established in England as a higher teacher of the French language who was conversant with French literature.
–and tried to consider by what measure of judgement I could consider it a good one. As an opener for the issue, it feels depressingly like a Murray first serve. Or like a barely fleshed out synopsis: ‘Music plays “The Passage of Time” (1 year) / Darnay now a tutor; successful (explain). Dialogue…’
[This reminds me that, along with the manuscript at the V&A, are preserved the number plans for ATOTC, which Dickens approached as though he was planning a monthly rather than a weekly serial, and then chopped up. Note to self: dig copy of these out of badly-organised office archive, and post anything of interest.]
My sense of the thinness of the episode is based partly on the fact that Dickensian description, that luxuriant article, is so tightly reined in. The account of how Darnay has been spending his time has few unnecessary details, no sprouting, curious analogies, no arch backhanders. Straight from the middle of the racket. The dialogue itself, when we get there, is, again, like a rather uninteresting rally–
“Dear Doctor Manette, I love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her You have loved yourself; let your old love speak for me!”
“Not that, sir! Let that be! I adjure you, do not recal that!”
Meanwhile, on court number one, Stryver vs. Carton. This, though a contest between (apparently) two lesser players, is far more engaging. Dickens seems so much more at home with these two–if only his dialogists could always be mixing punch!
Gradually, almost grudgingly, however, as the episode comes to a close I come to admire all the things I know already Dickens is trying to do. He’s designing a story, for structure, rather than telling one for the love of talking. The episode proposes ‘two promises’, one from each pair of speakers, with a condition thrown in for good measure, and duly delivers. The situation is engrossing, and the contrasts between Lucie’s three suitors could not be more clearly drawn (manly thoughtfulness; complacent coarseness; hopeless secrecy), even if the reader continues to feel a degree of outrage at the golden haired doll’s being disposed of so summarily by everyone around her. Even Manette’s at it (‘If she should ever tell me that you are essential to her perfect happiness, I will give her to you’). Still, at 9¼ columns the episode fulfils its own promise as economically as could be desired, and–widening the aperture to consider the issue as a whole, from an editorial perspective–I think one can also admire how Dickens is prepared to leave the supply of grotesque comic socio-political detail to other writers, who grapple with the material realities, the heft and stubborness of life, in more open and formless articles. John Hollingshead’s ‘Castles in the Sea’, Walter Thornbury’s ‘Viva L’Italia!’ and the final part of Charley Collins’s ‘New Sentimental Journey’ are all wonderfully ‘Dickensian’ in this respect, yet also push–with their emphasis on repressed plots and presentiments of things to come–back towards one of the central design themes of the main magazine serial.
There are a few interesting circumstantial trifles too, that this week’s episode throws up. On 30th June 1859, Dickens sent his sub-editor W.H. Wills instructions to post ‘fair revises’ of the proofs of these two chapters, and of the two that follow next week, ‘to Miss Ellen Ternan, 2 Ampthill Place, Ampthill Square, N.W.’ She would read them a week or more before the rest of the world did. Dickens’s thoughts about what she would make of their content, her reactions to being asked to consider Lucie’s situation as the object of all this tortured parental-conjugal passion are beyond recuperation–but are surely interesting to speculate about. There is perhaps an added frisson in all this supplied by the knowledge that by the Autumn of this year, Dickens would be dealing with Charley Collins as the accepted suitor of his high-spirited daughter Katey; they married in July 1860. One wonders how Charley approached the task of addressing his future father-in-law on the subject: if he borrowed or fled from the Darnay model?
Finally, the author of ‘Totty’s Consolations'(p. 252 of this issue) research reveals to be Robert Barnabas Brough (1828-60); more info. on the DJO website shortly!