Threading the needle. Week 17

Having been in limbo these last ten weeks and playing catch-up with the Tale over the last few days I am finding it difficult to restrict my comments  to the last instalment especially as last week’s and this appear to be a whole. They make a ‘Narrative Plateau’ in which Dickens does some domestic housekeeping and tidying up during which a few snags are sorted out.

Lucie is guaranteed a ‘roses round the door’ marriage and will no longer spend three hours a night out of her bed soothing her father. Manette is not only recalled to existence but can look forward to having his own life, rather than Lucie’s, after accepting Darnay’s revelations about his ancestry before the wedding. Miss Pross and Lorry are reconciled, and possibly something more might be in the wind for them now that they are partners in crime.

I like Hazel’s idea of the bench being murdered, so did John McLenan in his illustration of the scene from the American first edition.

Murdering a bench

They do appear to be criminal and grisly in a situation similar that in which Richard Wadour chops up a bed in Wilkie Collins ‘The Frozen Deep’ Chater 9/10.

The door opened as he put the question. Bateson–appointed to chop Frank’s bed-place into firing–appeared punctually with his ax. Wardour, without a word of warning, snatched the ax out of the man’s hand.

“What was this wanted for?” he asked.

“To cut up Mr. Aldersley’s berth there into firing, sir.”

“I’ll do it for you! I’ll have it down in no time!” He turned to Crayford. “You needn’t be afraid about me, old friend. I am going to do the right thing. I am going to tire my body and rest my mind.”

The evil spirit in him was plainly subdued–for the time, at least. Crayford took his hand in silence; and then (followed by Bateson) left him to his work.

Ax in hand, Wardour approached Frank’s bed-place.

“If I could only cut the thoughts out of me,” he said to himself, “as I am going to cut the billets out of this wood!” He attacked the bed-place with the ax, like a man who well knew the use of his instrument. “Oh me!” he thought, sadly, “if I had only been born a carpenter instead of a gentleman! A good ax, Master Bateson–I wonder where you got it? Something like a grip, my man, on this handle. Poor Crayford! his words stick in my throat. A fine fellow! a noble fellow! No use thinking, no use regretting; what is said, is said. Work! work! work!”

Plank after plank fell out on the floor. He laughed over the easy task of destruction. “Aha! young Aldersley! It doesn’t take much to demolish your bed-place. I’ll have it down! I would have the whole hut down, if they would only give me the chance of chopping at it!”

There is something maniacal about the way in which Wardour sets about the task of reducing a bed to firewood which Dickens; who was playing the role of Wardour when he met the Ternan’s, carries over to the destruction of the workbench.

Lorry and Pross are cutting Manette’s thoughts of prison out of his life, surely an act of kindness on the part of two delightful characters, so why has Dickens made it appear to be criminal and  grisly?

Maybe he intended it to be a caution against violent revolution during which the most innocent of people lose their sense of perspective when caught up in a mob. With the bench as metaphor for the Ancien Regime, cutting it up with a chopper is reminiscent of the blade rising and falling in the Place de Concorde to the cheers of the crowd.

After burning the remains our innocent criminals bury the tools, shoes and leather. Why not burn them too? That way they couldn’t be used again or are they also to be recalled to life in a later chapter.

Finally we have ‘The Plea’ in which Carton persuades Darnay, with Lucie’s urging, to let him keep his foot in the door and so sets the group around which the Golden Thread is being drawn.

And what of the thread itself, one end in Mme.’s knitting, the other threaded aound Darnay’s neck. If it is pulled tight whatever will happen to Lucie, will Manette go back to his tools? Another nail-biting week and more before we find out.

Two small questions before I go,

Does anyone else get the feeling that the last scene between Darnay and Lucie could have come from a Mills and Boon ‘Red Rose’ story?

Reverting to Gail’s comment some time ago about readers memory, when did someone, somewhere come up with the idea of ‘the story so far’?


8 thoughts on “Threading the needle. Week 17

  1. I have to agree, the last scene with Lucie seems rather over the top. There are some things about it that are interesting–it seems that this is again one of those occasions where Lucie shows she is more of a person than a “golden haired doll”…she gently chastises her husband, and I think this is the only time she has done this. Again, the tone Charles takes to her is rather condescending to this modern reader; like he is humouring a beloved child. As we concluded earlier, this is probably just a modern imposition. Lucie seems fine with it.
    Carton comes off as, again, very awkward and seems to have only limited success in hiding his self consciousness behind recklessness. His “carelessness and recklessness” is a dwfese mechanism. This nuance is of course lost on Charles.
    By the way, here is a picture of the shoe bench massacre by F M Blakie from an adaptation of TOTC for boys and girls.

    • I like the illustration.the red dress of Miss Pross is better than I had imagined and it is good to see Mr Lorry’s elegant leg. Lucie is much stronger than Dickens gives her credit for. He gives her too much sugar coating and loses the person underneath. She quietly takes charge when things go wrong but he insists on emphasising her ‘sweet compassion’.

      Mr Booley

  2. Welcome back Mr Booley!

    I think the key to understanding the murder of the bench is the idea that it is somehow necessary to Manette. The comparison that leaps to my mind is William Dorrit again, and the way in which Dickens exposes thew folly of his attempts to leave his past behind, however diostasteful. Again, the other obvious example of this is Redlaw in “The Haunted Man”. In each case, Dickens suggests that we need the sorrows of the past to make us who we are. to erase that, or in this case to destroy the physicalisation of it, is to attack ourselves personally and leave us less than we were.

  3. Thank you Peter. Glad to be around and kicking, though rugby is now out if the question.

    I see the death of the bench as being necessary for Manette’s complete recall otherwise he will be dragging it around forever, a fact he recognizes himself. WIth the object disposed of he can concentrate on who he really is and become his own man by absorbing the experience and making it part of himself.
    The sorrows of the past are part of us all. There are events in every life which change us whether we will or no. Setting them in a physical object however keeps them constantly before us instead of becoming part of the whole. The railway carriage from Compiegne was a representation of German sorrow but became a potent symbol of Nazi pride with disastrous results rather than more peaceful resurgence which followed WW2. Contrasted with this are the Sorrows of Ireland where regrets passed into folklore and became part of the national psyche and produced an upsurge of learning.
    I am not sure that these are good examples of how I view it but they carry the sense if not the reality.
    Your mention of Dorrit forces me into a confession. I was certain that I had read all of Dickens major works but recent events have given leisure to think . After a life time of radio, film and TV I do know the basic stories and assumed that I had read them. There are I discover five I have at one time or another partially read , seen or heard. Dorrit is one of them. Hence five new volumes on the shelf above my head and winter coming on.

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