The fourth montly part of A tale of two cities

Well the revolution may finally be underway in the weeklies, but for those increasingly select few of Dickens’s readers who had opted for the monthlies, they’d have only just reached the halfway point. Here then are the first visualisations of episodes from weeks 13-16, and at last we can see a bit of the old Phiz bubbling up (pun intended) with “The Spy’s funeral”:

The Spy's Funeral

Crowd scene – check. Lots of dynamics – check. Probably the best illustration of the lot so far, my only criticism would be that it’s actually too reminiscent of early Dickens – the comic mayhem depicted in the picture is a little at odds with the scene as described by Dickens, which I read with more hints of malice and savagery rather than jolly fun and japes – or is that just me? On to the second illustration, “The Wine Shop” :


The Wine-shop

Barsard looks suitably oily in his posturing, nicely contrasted to the visibly indifferent Defarges. However, and this is a personal taste thing – I really don’t like the depiction of Madame Defarge, who looks more like a typical Dickens heroine than the sadistic devil woman we all know and love. I wonder whether Dickens gave any input on this matter?


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About Pete Orford

I'm an English lecturer at the University of Buckingham, with a research background in both Dickens and Shakespeare; I am also a father of three, with a research background in dinosaurs and moshi monsters. I'm Chief Investigator for The Drood Inquiry (

2 thoughts on “The fourth montly part of A tale of two cities

  1. Thanks so much for posting these, Pete. I agree that the first illustration is very Pickwickian – it reminds me of ‘The Election at Eatanswill’ and the later ‘Mr Weller Attacks the Executive of Ipswich’. Here in the DJO office, we were discussing the relative lack of ‘Dickens-y’ characters and scenes in this novel, which reminded us that many critics in the 1860s were longing for the good old days of Pickwick and openly criticised Dickens for producing increasingly dour and serious work. I wonder if Phiz was trying to re-produce some of that earlier Pickwickian comic energy with this scene.

    I agree that Madame Defarge looks disappointingly tame and mild here, especially given her comparisons to tigers and her ferocious thirst for vengeance. I wonder, though, if we are meant to compare her with that paragon of domestic virtue, Lucie. I was reminded of the apparent juxtaposition, on the monthly wrappers, with Lucie on one side and Madame Defarge on the other, which has been brilliantly discussed by Cathy Waters. Interestingly, Madame Defarge looks positively domesticated here, knitting away, but, as Cathy points out, Madame Defarge’s knitting is actually a perversion of feminine domestic activity.

    • I think increasingly in his later works you can see Dickens trying to throw off the shackles of audience expectation and typecasting, and going for different genres, edwin drood being a key example of course, though Wilkie Collins considered it a bit of a failure. Perhaps this also explains his break way from Phiz and use of new illustrators, to get away from that expectation of his characters and stories.

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