Week Twelve The Fellow of Delicacy

Finally, an instalment that seems to build directly on the previous one! This isn’t the first time this has happened so far, but it feels like a far rarer occurrence than I expected when we first started out. My greatest surprise in reading the novel in this manner is how ill or perhaps I should say oddly it fits into the pattern of weekly instalments.

Is it wrong that Stryver has now become my favourite character? (Although Miss Pross is a close second). JRSD mentioned last week that old (and rather annoying) chestnut “If Dickens had been alive in the twentieth/twenty-first century he’d be writing for East Enders/Coronation Street/The Bill”. Well, this week, in regards to the first chapter at least, I think we might say “If Dickens had been alive in the twentieth/twenty-first century he’d be writing sitcoms”. To me the exchange between Stryver and Lorry reminded me of the kind of humorous play on language that you might get in a Morecambe and Wise sketch or an old-fashioned British sitcom like Open All Hours or Dad’s Army.  It made me realize how much of Dickens’s usual humour had been lacking in the novel so far. Comedic scenes have been few and far between. Perhaps this is why I like Stryver so much. Plus I find something quite refreshing about his complete lack of delicacy.

Like last week, the twelfth instalment is a game of two halves, the conversation between Lucie and Carton, although running on a similar subject to that of Stryver and Lorrie, providing a striking contrast, and perhaps, dare I say it, actually bordering on being soapish, by which I suppose we mean focused on the domestic and dealing in the emotional, as well as being divided up into neat little parcels with a suitably dramatic ending to make one eager to unwrap the next instalment. Emotion, whether it be tears or laughter, is notoriously difficult to talk about, and I am finding that myself with this instalment. I find the structuring of the instalment interesting, however – the way Dickens moves from one to the other, juxtaposing and contrasting the two.

What did strike me in relation to this instalment was Lorry’s similarity to Wemmick in Great Expectations. He has his business character as the representative of Tellsons’ and he has private character, in contrast to Stryver who is all business and is unable to countenance in considerations other than business considerations in relation to a marriage proposal. What is interesting about this is that in ‘Inexhaustible Hats’ a few pages later, we get an account of the various tricks inherent in sales of the household goods of people declared bankrupt. John Hollingshead seems to suggest in this article that the world of business and banking is not so far apart from the domestic and the personal, positing a fluid relationship between the two built on ideas of circulation. Does this article act in concert, opposition or dialogue with the TOTC instalment? I’m not sure. The poem ‘Memory’ also seems to speak to the TOTC instalment, although in a rather moment straightforward sentimental depiction of romantic love and loss.



10 thoughts on “Week Twelve The Fellow of Delicacy

  1. We had some discussion a few weeks back about threats to the home, and the (Gothicised) representation of the domestic space as actually rather oppressive, frightening and vulnerable, and I wonder if this instalment and the Hollingshead piece continue this theme. As we’ve seen before in this novel, different, apparently diametrically opposed places, often bleed into one another and no place is pure, separate and imperviable. Thus, the privatised world of the home is contaminated by the public worlds of work, politics, finance and, ultimately, revolution. I think your use of the word ‘circulation’ is spot on and gets me thinking about the Victorian interest in networks – of capital, goods and people – and the frequent use of watery and corporeal metaphors to express this almost ceaseless flow. This also seems related to the never-ending flux of time and human life, which is an obvious concern for Dickens in this novel.

      • Just back from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and full of excitement about it as, in part, a Dickens aftertext. I’m very mindful of spoilers on two levels here, but I found it extremely moving when a character reads directly from TofTC – perhaps my response was more intense for having the serial as a thread running through everything for the past 12 weeks. I was pleased to see that the Penguin edition – perhaps Nolan’s own as he has talked about re-reading sections on set – makes it to Gotham. Interesting choice to show the book I thought. Any other reactions? – if we can share them without giving too much away . . .

  2. Aww. No love for drama queen Sydney both in the book and out of it. An interesting facet of his character is that he seems to like to think aloud. First with the fantasy about the lightning and now with this speech to Lucie. I read a paper that pointed out that he says he actually considers it a weakness to admit his love for Lucie to her in person but that he can’t help himself, which makes me maybe think of this in relationship to the lightning scene where his response to Lucie’s daydream of echoing footsteps is almost an outburst. It’s out of line with how the other characters act. Around Stryver, he hides in defensive retorts but when confronted with someone he loves, he can’t seem to behave in a way that’s not awkward. He’s very vulnerable, and when you get beyond this melodramatic language, I think that’s part of what makes him an appealing and complex character.

  3. One of the effects of reading this in instalments is it stops us from judging the book as a whole and encourages us to rate it on a weekly basis, and I have to say while some week’s have been a disappointment, this week’s episode is a corker, with Dickens playing to his strengths. Stryver becomes a far more interesting character as we get more of an insight into him with the narrative being told (sort of) through his perspective, with a wonderful use of legal terms applied to his pursuit of Lucie. I also loved the idea that he “always seemed too big for any place, or space”, and Lorry’s ill-fated, subtle remonstrance when he responds “in a sample tone of the voice he would recommend under the circumstances” (my eldest son prefers to say everything at shouting level, so I can sympathise). The first chapter is a delight with both characters coming out strong.

    And then along comes the second part, equally strong but in a very different style. The mysterious Carton finally shows his true self to someone, and I love how the whole thing is done with the assumption that Lucie will never be interested in him. Since we’re mentioning similarities to modern culture, it reminded me of Dawson’s Creek where you knew Joey was going to end up with Dawson but rooted for Pacey nonetheless. I therefore worry that Dickens has done Darnay a disservice in all this – by showing only us and Lucie what Carton is really like, we have a very different perspective than the other characters, who all see Darnay as the right choice for Lucie, even though, page for page, Carton is coming across as a far mor interesting character. Let’s hope Darnay get’s opportunity to show his mettle later on – so far his most flattering scene has been his interview with his uncle.

  4. Here’s an odd happenstance: this ATYR is actually one of the issues that I proofread for the DJO project back last autumn. So I have already read this episode – at the time, last year, without really understanding what was going on. As an ignorant reader then, I was impressed by the typical Dickensian dialogue in the first half (yes, Hazel, it had elements of sitcom) but rather unimpressed by the over-the-top self-dramatisation of Carton. Now I have a clearer idea of what’s going on, of course, but I don’t think I’ve changed my opinion much – except that Stryver has if anything become more of a puzzle. When we first met him, in court, he seemed to be a man of some standing – described as “glib” and “unscrupulous” soon after (in the “Jackal” chapter). Here he seems like an unworldly youngster. Did Dickens find himself modifying his view of the character as he went on – and to what end? What does he have in store for Stryver in later episodes?
    Of the other elements of this issue, undoubtedly the most accomplished – and nearest to Dickens’s own style – was the Hollingshead “Inexhaustible Hats”. The Handel piece was somewhat laboured, and “Her Majesty’s Irish Mail”, though interesting as a (presumably) authentic eye-witness account, displayed a somewhat typical mid-Victorian attitude towards the Irish. (Would the average reader at this point be reminded of Trollope and his work with the Irish post office?) Oddest, to my mind when I first read it, was the “Piedmont” article, by anon. It begins like a geological disquisition on the formation of Italy before finally getting round to Garibaldi and his campaigns. How up-to-date was this? Would the latest developments in Italy have been common knowledge among ATYR’s readers? If this had been a modern journalistic report we would surely have started with the latest news before pulling back, as it were, and explaining the relevance of Piedmont’s geology and terrain to the recent battles. Also this is the third appearance of Italy this month in the magazine!

    • I would argue that Carton is anything but a self-dramatizer. On the contrary, I feel like this is him revealing his real self to another person for the first time since the story began, which to me is the opposite of a self-dramatizer.

    • Part of the puzzle, JRSD, is that the ‘Piedmont’ article is condensed out of an already written publication called (London: Chapman & Hall, 1858) by the Italian exile Antonio Gallenga, who had given both Dickens and his wife Italian lessons in 1843-1844 (Slater, pp. 220, 225). Earlier on, in issue number 6, reader had had ‘The Island of Sardinia’ (p. 141), similarly condensed from Édouard Delessert’s (Paris: Librarie Nouvelle, 1855). So, as far as the material on Italy goes, readers get a curious mixture of stuff written before and after war had broken out, making the journal seems alternately aware and unaware of the march of events (rather like a character in ATOTC??)

      • WordPress neatly suppressed my book titles, which I’d put in pointy brackets for want of any other way of indicating titleness! I’d have been better to use ”, thus: …Gallenga’s publication called ‘Country Life in Piedmont’ / Delessert’s ‘Six Semaines dans l’Îsle de Sardaigne’ / Slater ‘Charles Dickens’ (Yale 2009)

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