Week Eighteen–A Hard Rain

” ‘Tis the sunset of life give me mystical lore/ And coming events cast their shadow before”. This favourite couplet from Thos. Campbell’s ‘Lochiel’s Warning’ was one Dickens loved to play with, and somehow, all the foreshadowing and echoing that’s been going on makes me feel surprised this week that the Bastille hasn’t been stormed already. Which of course it has, and in a sense we’ve been working our way forwards and backwards to it like good weavers should. The description of Lucie in her shadowy corner is making me think of Tennyson, and I wonder whether Dickens thinks there’s anything to be made of her as a Lady of Shalott type or a Mariana at the moated grange. The speaker of Adelaide Anne Procter’s ”Over the Mountain’—simultaneously tranquil and nervously waiting for something to come over the hill in this week’s poetry offering–makes a good foil. Given the short space he’s got to move in to bring the narrative forward the requisite amount of time, the stylised concision of verse, or at least some of its rhetorical techniques, is/are helpful for Dickens to adopt. And what about this for a passage of fine iambic pentatmeters?–

Suffer them and forbid them not. They see
My Father’s face. O Father, blessed words! […]
The rustling of an Angel’s wings got blended
With the other echoes, and they were
Not wholly of earth, but had in them
That breath of Heaven. Sighs of the winds that blew
Over a little garden-tomb were mingled
With them also; […] both were audible
To Lucie, in a hushed murmur—like the
Breathing of a summer sea asleep
Upon a sandy shore….

Actually, this bit is more Wordsworth than Tennyson, with a wee hint of ‘Tintern Abbey’ (‘with a hushed inland murmur’ etc) mixed up with the ‘Immortality Ode’–which poems also have to articulate powerfully the ideas of the passage of time and growth/loss/rebirth, in short compass, in order to work their magic.

Lucie listening, Paul Dombey listening to ‘what the waves were always saying’–surely an echo there too, though quite why Dickens feels the need to go one step further and introduce, in addition to little Lucie, a second boy child who gets born and dies nobly, all within a paragraph, is rather beyond me. His age is undefined, presumably negligible, so his ability to talk about SC like a chum from the upper sixth (“Poor Carton. Kiss him for me!”), is disconcerting.

Stryver, as usual, provides some opportunity for grotesque comedy rather than romantic strains. Dickens seems genuinely affronted by his own creation’s effrontery, and anticipates, in a curious aside, the desire for methods of summary execution he will soon cry down in the Parisian mob (p. 410, …’surely such an incorrigible aggravation of an originally bad offence, as to justify any such offender’s being carried off to some suitably retired spot, and there hanged out of the way.’).

The transition to the Paris movement, through the introduction of a nervous Jarvis, attuned to the panicking European financial markets, is wonderfully done I think, as Dickens works himself up to storm the Bastille as, some 16 years before, he had got himself into a suitable lather to break into Newgate with the London mob of Barnaby Rudge, in the midst of the ‘Gordon riots’. I don’t have a chronology to hand, but I think that was also being composed and distributed in the month of August, with Dickens and perhaps a goodly number of his middle class readers, within hearing of the sea breakers. There is a terrific specificity in the Newgate scenes in Rudge, and we have the added interest of looking out, with a whole variety of sensations, for old friends amongst the rioters–Barnaby with his flag, Hugh, Dennis, Simon Tappertit et al.–whereas here I don’t think we have quite the same human interest with the Defarges…. Instead though, Dickens goes for a more apocalyptic register, with the transformation of Saint Antoine into some kind of republican Leviathan helllbent on Hulkish destruction. The seven astonished prisoners, the seven severed heads, the beast and the ocean–it’s all building tremendously to remind us what a hard rain’s gonna fall.

The transition to a non-fiction article called ‘Rice’ at the end of the installment can hardly fail to seem bathetic–though here too we have a starving mob by torchlight, perishing and fighting. The fine report of the ‘Sack of Perugia’ towards the end of this week’s number offers another taut synchronicity between accounts of continental revolution and terror in All the Year Round.


3 thoughts on “Week Eighteen–A Hard Rain

  1. I confess my first thoughts upon reading this chapter were “another story set in quiet England – when is the revolution going to start?”, so it was a tremendous relief after the numerous foreshadowings to actually get it over with. The use once again of the footsteps motif made me reflect on how Dickens frequently uses and reuses particular metaphors throughout his works and how these add a beat to the plot; here, as in the last time the footsteps were dwelt upon, the feel of the narrative is reflective, with a summarising of events and a look ahead, drawing the threads together.

    The second child of Lucie was rather troubling (blink and you miss him), especially given the way Dickens has laid on the pathos with child deaths in the past. In fact, it’s quite shocking, callous and un-Dickensy, to read that the child’s death is not met with “harsh or cruel” sounds, and that “they were not tears of agony that touched his mother’s cheek”, or indeed that in the aftermath the daughter then appears “comically studious”.

    However, as the instalment runs on this partly justifies itself, or at least shows Dickens’s intentions, when the peaceful, natural passing of Lucie’s child is compared with the ungodly and horrific deaths at the Bastille, with the officer’s head cut off by Madame Defarge’s knife – both a precursor of the guillotine and an indictment of that woman’s savagery.

    I agree with John that the transition to France is nicely done. The pacing of this instalment works well, a drawn out crescendo from the peaceful corner of the Manette’s to the hullaballoo of revolutionary France, from the tight focus on an individual’s life to the grand panoramic of a country during one of it’s most significant historical events. But while the overall effect works well, it is patchy and some parts (such as the second child) did jar with me – nones less so than Dickens’s questionable idea, said with bizarre authority, that “No man ever really loved a woman, lost her,and knew her with a blameless though an unchanged mind, when she was a wife and mother, but her children had a strange sympathy with him—an instinctive delicacy of pity for him.” Where on earth did this idea come from? Is anyone aware of any parallels in literature or elsewhere?

    • Well, Dickens wasn’t really a stranger to rejection, or to being infatuated with unobtainable women, So, perhaps he can say this with some authority. I figure given little Lucie’s later age that perhaps the darnay boy was five or six at his death.

  2. Good point about the young Darnay son. When I read that quick paragraph (which both begins and ends his exsistence) where he pities Carton with a kiss, it reminded me so much of the Dickensian children who know too much. (Oliver and Little Em’ly come to mind from their respective novels.) These Dickensian children who make observations that are quite beyond them never fail to put a smile on my face, even if it is a ridiculous one.

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