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.
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’?