Week 13: Recalling “Recalled to Life”

And back to Jerry. Honestly, Dickens moves us around between characters and environments so much that it’s easy to forget plot strands or intrigues from earlier. I’m still waiting to hear more on the murder of the Marquis, then I get wrapped up in Carton’s self-loathing and the courtship of Lucie, and suddenly we’re thrust back into the world of Jerry and his family, and the solution to the riddle of the rust. The Jerry scenes are reminiscent of early Dickens; Jerry’s inexplicable anger and maltreatment of his wife remind me of Quilp’s persecution of his wife, while Jerry’s awful pride in the monstrosity of his child and the man he will become is like another Squeers and son. And he’s not the only ill-mannered husband in this week’s publication; Mr Marbell in “Roughing It” is a cold husband, cold father and a brute. The funeral of his neglected child, Gussy, threatens to turn into the same anarchy seen in ATOTC: “We shall never forget little Gussy’s funeral. It is well the police were there, or Mr Marbell had not been alive now.”

Returning to Dickens, what strikes me about the early sections of this week, comparing it with the previous adventures of Jerry at the courthouse, is how, despite the alienating effect of Jerry’s domestic scenes, Dickens uses him as an everyman character, presenting public scenes to which Jerry has no direct connection and therefore is able to view objectively, or at least in keeping with the general mob. Both then and here at Cly’s funeral, we see Jerry adopt the attitude of the crowd, which in turn becomes a sentient being in its own right, though made the more terrifying by its overriding ignorance. Many people cry out against the corpse without knowing why they are doing it. It is a scene that could easily be set in Paris, and the image of the coach surrounded by the angry mob makes an interesting contrast to its earlier companion scene in Paris where the Marquis is surrounded by a crowd no less angry, but stripped of the capacity to act; here in England the crowd acts in celebration of freedom of speech without truly understanding why (which prompts the question: can you imagine how Dickens would have reported the London riots last year?).

There’s a momentary parallel in the following article “The Track of War” when the author talks of “The jealousy on the part of the French of the presence of strangers”, likening it to Jack Cade’s rebellion during the reign of Henry VI, and made famous in Shakespeare’s play, where a clerk is killed for the crime of being educated. This throw-away comparison of French mentality to English, and the image therein of the angry mob, has added significance only when read in the context of the original magazine, coming hard upon the riotous funeral of Roger Cly. Intriguingly, this is one of two French-based articles this week, the other being “In Charge” – is Dickens deliberately complementing his novel by encouraging accompanying pieces on France, or were budding authors seeing an opportunity to get published by shaping their articles to reflect on the principal story?

After presenting Jerry once more as a man of the crowd, “the honest trademan”, Dickens then singles him out, having him stay on at the graveside when the rest of the mob have dispersed, and then alienating him further from other people by exposing him as a grave robber, the related scenes bringing to mind once more those three ominous words that began the book: “recalled to life”. How ironic, in retrospect, that Jerry should have been the one to deliver that message, and to have mused on its meaning when he himself is a resurrectionist. Given that the early hints of the rust were not mentioned until week 5, I wonder, did Dickens know when he wrote the first instalment that Jerry would develop in this way – was the irony planned, or did those dark, mysterious tones of the early chapters sow the seed that would see Jerry’s character evolve into this? There is a sense this week of the story expanding in its scope – in this episode, Jerry has broken free of the other characters: though Cly’s funeral reminds us of Darnay’s trial, ultimately we see Jerry acting independently to the bank and Jarvis Lorry, and pursuing his own subplot. So now that the various plots begin to expand and disperse, where is Dickens going to take them all – yet further apart into distinct plot strands, or  will there be any future convergences? If so, what significance, if any, could Jerry prove later on either to the approaching revolution, or the daily soap of Lucie Manette and her admirers?

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About Pete Orford

I'm an English lecturer at the University of Buckingham, with a research background in both Dickens and Shakespeare; I am also a father of three, with a research background in dinosaurs and moshi monsters. I'm Chief Investigator for The Drood Inquiry (www.droodinquiry.com).

4 thoughts on “Week 13: Recalling “Recalled to Life”

  1. Is it all that much different from The Game of Thrones or any other popular novel that unfolds episodically by character? There seem to be a lot of complaints about how awkward TOTC is. It also seems that there is a definite idea of what a Dickens novel should be and when the story doesn’t live up to that we are disappointed. This seems to be why historically and generally, the novel has been extremely populat but isn’t given the time of day or dismissd as a failed experiment by most Dickens scholars.

    • Point taken! For the record, I’m enjoying the story very much. I suppose Dickens’s own expressions of his frustrations writing this novel have coloured subsequent views of it. In addition, analysing this book, or any book, on a weekly basis will automatically encourage a view of its disparate nature rather than a coherent whole. Not that this is a bad thing – the other extreme can be unquestioning praise of the classics, which devalues their worth – by recognising when Dickens doesn’t quite get it right for us allows us to enjoy all the more the moments when he does.

      • Still remembering, though, that “getting it right” can be totally subjective. For example, I might be one of the readers who finds Dickens’ famous humor rather quaint and dated. I might appreciate that this particular novel doensn’t have much of it. Sorry about the typos, btw. I fail at phone typing.

  2. Getting it right is of course subjective. I think it is not that people are criticizing the way that Dickens structured the book so much as it is somewhat surprising (and perhaps it shouldn’t be) that he seems to have structured it with the end product in mind rather to specifically suit the demands of weekly readership. As Joanne has commented above, rather a lot is expected of the weekly readers in terms of remembering relatively minor characters and plot developments. Perhaps we are simply used to the way episodes are structured in much modern television, in which a portion of each episode is usually given to each major character and plot as well as the more important subplots. This definitely isn’t what Dickens is doing here.It is structures quite differently, and I think what is great about reading it in this format is that it highlights the odd and interesting things that Dickens is doing with the organization of the novel.

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