We have previously discussed Dickens’s use of chiaroscuro and the ways in which he intermixes apparently opposing states, such as light and darkness, to produce startling effects. In this instalment, Dickens deploys a series of artistic contrasts between light and dark both in terms of the instalment’s structure and its contents. We start with a dark chapter, in which the doctor discusses his imprisonment (suffused with images of the sun and moon, brightness and shadow), before some light comic relief from Mr Lorry and Miss Pross, and then back again to darkness as the doctor’s trauma bursts through as unconscious repetition. However, Dickens moves rapidly between, and comingles, the two states, so that dark gives way to light and back again in rapid succession. This feels related to his defence, in Oliver Twist, of melodrama as reflecting the rapid transitions between emotional states that characterise human life.
To me, Manette’s pivotal speech feels peculiar with its confusing jumble of images and I sense that Dickens was struggling here. However, such moments of confusion and disjunction are fascinatingly revealing, I think. The doctor fantasises, firstly, about a possible son who will avenge him; then he fantasises about a possible daughter who is entirely ignorant of him; and, thirdly, he has actual visions of another daughter who shows him her ‘active, cheerful, useful’ life of marriage and reproduction. While the first, unaware daughter is a limited, enervated and inadequately succouring fantasy for the imprisoned doctor, the second daughter is a far more expansive fantasy as her entire life is haunted and overshadowed by her father – ‘my poor history pervaded it all’. At this point, Lucie identifies herself with this vision, thus rendering her imminent marriage a means of bringing her father’s fantasy to life.
We discussed post-traumatic stress in earlier posts, and here Dickens praises Manette in typically Victorian fashion for using the strength of his will to repress and overcome his trauma. Thus, Lucie observes the ‘quiet, resolute and guarded struggle’ of the sleeping doctor ‘with an unseen assailant’. This reminded me of the shadowy murder of the Marquis by a similarly unseen attacker who is compared to a ghost, thus suggesting a Gothic connection between inner demons, murderous peasants and malevolent spirits. In TOTC, the inner landscape of the troubled psyche is not contained within the mind but is reflected by, and extends across, the ‘real’ world. However, the violence of his separation from Lucie, despite repeated reassurances from her that she will return and fully incorporate him into her married life, precipitates a mental breakdown.
It seems to me that there is something interesting going on here about (parental) fantasies of unlived lives, or alternative life fantasies, such as the doctor’s in his prison cell. Carl Jung famously observed that, ‘The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents’. In Lucie’s case, as in the lives of so many other Dickens characters, the mother is notably absent, but in this instalment we see how Lucie’s future life will be entirely shaped by the experience of her father – ‘and so it was for this, my sweet Lucie, that I brought you across the Channel’, remarks Mr Lorry, somewhat ominously. Manette’s fear that his miserable experience will somehow contaminate the life of his daughter – ‘the dark part of my life would have cast its shadow beyond myself’ – could actually be seen as a powerful and damaging desire, particularly as Lucie willingly becomes the fantasy daughter who sustained Manette during his imprisonment. Jung also observed that we may, alternatively, rebel against our parents, but, either way, compliance (Lucie) or antagonism (Carton, perhaps?) binds us to their influence. This powerful desire of parents to mould, direct and, in some cases, dominate the future lives of their children perhaps offers some insight into Dickens’s own well-documented disappointment with, and unkind treatment of, his children. Either way, TOTC certainly demonstrates the power of fantasy to shape human life.
After concluding with the doctor’s manual labour, we move on to Charlie Collins’s ‘Our Eye-Witness’ – one of a series of 22 articles across the first 3 volumes (1859–60) – which is concerned with the manual labour of weapons manufacturers at the Arsenal, Woolwich. Appropriately for a period in which Anglo-French relations were strained, this article is concerned with ‘the great war establishment’ and is broadly approving of English industry, invention and innovation in the pursuit of military security and victory. Interestingly, Collins briefly ponders the irony of benevolent middle-class inventors and industrialists spending their leisure time pursuing various charitable causes and their working life conceiving of death-dealing weapons. Overall, though, the tone is approving and, at times, triumphalist. The reading-room and subscription borrowing library attached to the works come in for predictably Dickensian praise, with Collins highlighting ‘the natural and wholesome enjoyment of Fiction among these hard-worked men’. Frustratingly, Collins mentions ‘cheap newspapers’ enjoyed by the men, but not whether they read periodicals or All the Year Round.