Week 14

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!

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About Joanne Shattock

I am Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of Leicester. My research interests are nineteenth century women's writing, literary journalism, and the nineteenth-century periodical press. I am currently interested in the networks of professional writers in the middle decades of the nineteenth century and the ways in which these networks impacted on journals such as Household Words and All the Year Round.

5 thoughts on “Week 14

  1. I agree with Joanne that there is an overwhelming sense of gloom and foreboding in this instalment. What I find particularly interesting though is the way in which this spills over into the rest of the magazine, and the issues of order and rebellion that seems to run over from TOTC into the number as a whole with discussions of the disappearance of Franklin and his team, the Italian Wars of Independence and the Indian Mutiny.

    In ‘Drift’, after recounting instances of injustice and torture from England’s past, we find the passage: ‘Should not my late Lord Chancellor have lived five hundred years back, when the press was unborn, the parliament a toy, and the voice of the public a feeble cry, save when it roared, like a despot of the nursery, for its food or its liberty? Then he might have made what appointments he would, without contradiction, outcry, condemnation, or, worse than all, reversal. From amongst the Miscellaneous Letters in the Chancery department of the public Records take this, all you good people who have railed at Lord Chelmsford’s nepotism, precious epistle without name, date, or address, from some unhappy devil of a clerk in Chancery, with an official grief in his bosom, to Sir John de Langton, most probably, the Chancellor to King Edward the First, A.D. 1292, or thereabouts, and learn a lesson. It is to be borne in mind that the Chancellor then was not half, nor a third, nor a sixth, in degree as potent as he is now’.

    This is an interesting text to read in conjunction with this week’s instalment of TOTC. As is ‘European Mutiny in India’, which begins with a statement of defiance against the Crown.

    ‘Now, what is the question? It is this. Had the Government the right, by a stroke of the pen,
    to transfer a large body of troops from the service of the East India Company to that of
    the Crown, in the same way that live stock is frequently sold with an estate? Had Parliament the right? I deny the right, and I am not ashamed to say that had I been serving in my old brigade when “the order” went forth, I should have stated quietly and calmly what I am now about to state; and if I had not been listened to, I should have joined those who refused to obey the roll call’.

    With all the emphasis on wine as blood and containing a slow-burning fire, it is also of interest to note the following stanza from ‘Te Deum’:

    What meets my eye? Fair corn-fields red,
    But not with flush of summer sun,
    Nor blaze of poppies.—Men lie dead
    By hundreds—thousands—every one
    Ghastly and gory, and the sod
    Sends up a reek of human blood
    Redder than grape-blood; moans and cries
    Of men in hopeless agonies
    Rise up through the polluted air,
    Rise up to Heaven, but who cries there
    “Thanks to the living God!”

  2. Hazel’s reading of the other articles and the poem in this number is spot on . The abuse of power, the incitement to rebellion, the loss of life and suffering that war brings, which are highlighted in the other pieces do, as she suggests, reinforce the sense of foreboding in the instalment of ATOTC . Until now I have been reluctant to place much emphasis on the context of the instalments . I will now read the whole number more carefully.

  3. Just returning to ATOTC after two weeks away with some trepidation after a longer pause than usual (spare a thought for readers of the monthly instalments), but it didn’t take long to pick up the thread again. I agree that there is a definite change in both modd and character – the Defarges in particular take on a more sinister role in this part, though my discomfort came not so much from their threats of future violence, but more prevalently in their attitude to the road-mender, who is patronised and indoctrinated into their revolt. Their treatment of him as a simpleton, and the fear he feels in response to them, certainly left me sympathising for the road-mender and consequently creating a distance between myself as reader and the Defarges, who had hitherto come across as trod-upon but ultimately noble characters. With the revolution coming ever closer, is this increasingly monstrous portrayal of characters we previously sided with a deliberate ploy by Dickens to show the dehumanising effect of riot and rebellion first-hand?

    • I was taken aback at the treatment of the road mender. It seems out of place for the “Everyman” Defarge had seemed to be (this far.) To me, this treatment of the road mender, or Jacques 5…I’ve lost count of the Jacquesi) is a reminder that we don’t know who anyone is in this novel, except for perhaps Lucie, we can be pretty sure of her character I think. Carton, Darnay and Stryver all have “feelings” for Lucie and are operating on ulterior motives for her affections probably, Jerry has turned out to become a creep for lack of a better word, and now, the Defarges may not be as amiable as I’d thought. I’m now very suspicious of our characters to say the least.

  4. Has the road mender not invited their response, with his comical mimicry of Gaspard under the Marquis’s coach and his timidity? The Defarges ‘s attitude to each other is also becoming more complicated as M Defarges’s respect for his wife’s indelible memory gradually changes into fear, as Gail suggests in this week’s post .

    s

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