Week 16: Just Over Half-Way!

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.

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About Ben Winyard

Ben Winyard is the Digital Publications Officer at Birkbeck, University of London. He completed his PhD at Birkbeck, where he also worked as an intern on '19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century' (www.19.bbk.ac.uk). More recently, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher and senior editor on the Dickens Journals Online project (www.djo.org.uk).

5 thoughts on “Week 16: Just Over Half-Way!

  1. Fascinating post Ben, I was especially intrigued by the Gothic connections and ghostly presences that might connect the Marquis and Dr Manette in their bed.

    We’ve been constantly bombarded with references to the future in the Paris scenes; in contrast the Manette scenes are always concerned with the past – the shadow of Manette’s imprisonment is inescapable – in his fantasies his daughter “could never deliver me”, and the way the prison follows him in his free life is reminsicent of William Dorrit and his increasing reliance on his daughtrer. His life in prison defines his character, and the process of solitary confinement has made him rather self-centred, hence his fantasies about his child posit him as a guiding figure – “my poor history pervaded it all” as Ben quotes above.

    However, Manette’s past is also defining his daughter’s life too. I find it troubling that the most convincing romance in the novel thus far is between father and daughter; the relationship is rather sinister in its oppressiveness with Lucie becoming as much a captive as her father – the way in which she apologises for getting married is – to my mind – an unrealistic portrayal of a father’s fantasy. In North and South, there is a companion scene where John Thornton’s mother has a strong desire to have an evening alone with her son when she suspects he may be married and lost to her soon, but in that scene Gaskell recognises that this fear is only on the parent’s side, with Thornton himself thinking only of romance with never a thought for his poor mother. Here, however, the jealous possession of Lucie by her father is not only understood and appreciated but also reciprocated. In a word – weird.

    One thought arises from all of this – there has already been talk of Lucie being modelled on Ellent Ternan, but as yet we have not discussed which male character, if any, is modelled on Dickens – is it the bland but successful Darnay,Carton who loves passionately but can never let anyone but Lucie know, or is it this much older father figure whose love is pure and not to be questioned or challenged by any young pretender?

  2. I like the idea of thinking of Dr Manette as Dickens. Was marriage to Catherine his prison? Can we see some analogies between his shoe-making and writing?

    As Ben says the Lucie/Dr Manette relationship might also provide insight into Dickens’s relationship with this children, after all it was only shortly after this, in July 1860, that Katie married Charles Collins, a marriage that Dickens was decidedly unhappy about for a number of reasons, one of which was that he thought she was doing it primarily to escape his domination at home.

    • I think Hazel’s spot-on about the similarities between Dickens’s famously obsessive and relentless work ethic and the unconscious repetition of Dr. Manette. It may be ‘vulgar Freudianism’, but it seems clear that Dickens often used his exhausting work ethic as a form of sublimation. And, as Holly point out, Manette’s shoe-making reminds us of boot-blacking which, in turn, reminds us of Dickens’s childhood trauma in the blacking factory, which seemed to tap into the far deeper childhood anxiety of being abandoned and unloved. Undoubtedly he regarded his marriage as a prison, but could we also speculate that this image of imprisonment carries ideas of isolation, confinement and individual suffering under a punishing burden that may have characterised Dickens’s inner life?

      It’s fascinating to consider Kate’s impending marriage as influencing the writing of these scenes. Perhaps Lucie is more Kate than Ellen Ternan? Again pure speculation, but perhaps Kate’s impending marriage evoked in Dickens memories of his parents’ ‘abandonment’, which fed into Manette’s fears about again being abandoned by his married daughter.

  3. This makes me think about all the scenes previously which have echoed with footsteps. I think we have discussed before the idea that these footsteps are symbolic of what is to come in terms of the Revolution, but can we interpret them as being related to Dickens’s obsessive work ethic or as a form of post-traumatic stress in relation to the blacking factory or Manette’s prison experience? As Ben says, this is both vulgar Freudianism and speculative, but in the words of Carrie Bradshaw, I can’t help but wonder…

  4. These are all very interesting and enlightening comments – I liked particularly the observations about Dr Manette’s obsessive activity being paralleled by Dickens’s … and the pertinence of the father-daughter relationship. Which makes me wonder: what do we know about Lucie’s mother (and Dr Manette’s wife)? Nothing much has been said about her, if I remember rightly. In fact there’s a notable absence of mothers in this novel.
    On another topic, while we have noted earlier that Dickens as usual views people from the outside, avoiding any interior monologue, do I detect that we are allowed entry into Mr Lorry’s mind in the early paragraphs of the “Nine Days” chapter? Didn’t someone work out that he appears in more chapters than anyone else? And yet he still appears to be a peripheral figure …

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