This week’s instalment has a sense of urgency, and foreboding. We move from the black comedy of Jerry Cruncher and his resurrectionist activities in London to the Paris of Defarge’s wine shop, last seen five years earlier. The mood is sombre, the tension mounts. As in last week’s episode the reader is invited to connect up a number of threads. We meet the three men who guarded Dr Manette’s garret, now introduced as Jacques One to Three. The country road mender, with his blue cap, who witnessed a tall man riding under the Marquis’s carriage and saw him escape over the hills, has been telling the story to anyone who would listen for nearly a year. Now he comes to Paris, as Jacques Five, to report that the tall man has been captured, is imprisoned, and is likely meet a grisly end. We recall the last line of week ten’s episode: ‘Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from Jacques’. So could the assassin be Gaspard, the Joker, who dabbed ‘Blood’ on the wall outside the wine shop, and then saw his son run over by the Marquis’s carriage?
The lethargy of the inhabitants of the wine shop in the earlier episode has changed. They are watchful, intent. Defarge and the other three Jacques exchange dark, repressed and ‘revengeful’ looks. They have ‘the air of a rough tribunal’. And then the revelation of the purpose of Madame Defarge’s compulsive knitting. She is knitting in the names of those who will eventually be executed. The Marquis and ‘all the race’ are added to her ‘register’. And for the first time historical personages appear, the ‘large-faced’ King and the ‘fair-faced’ Queen, on public display at Versailles. The simple road mender is indulged in his wish to see them. It will make him a more effective revolutionary.
I am finding my reader’s memory being constantly tested in this fast paced narrative. And I confess I am finding that the twenty-first century reader’s resource of explanatory notes enriches my reading. The catalogue of unspeakable tortures likely to be suffered by the tall assassin are not a sample of Dickens’s imagination run riot, I learn, but drawn from Mercier’s Tableau de Paris (1782-8), a source recommended to him by Carlyle. The same work provided the details of Monseigneur’s cocoa drinking and other aspects of court ritual in week 9.
Dickens (and we) are less than half way through the novel. How will he, and we, keep up the pace for a further seventeen weeks!