Siren Song

I have never been a fan of Darnay. There is someting about  him I dislike. He is an empty character who  thinks he is an idealist walking away from a title and estates in France to set himself as an independent man with a semi-suburban life in London. The reason he gives for renouncing his title is that he is “bound to a system that is frightful to me, responsible for it, but powerless in it: seeking to execute the last request of my dear mother’s lips, and obey the last look of my dear mother’s eyes which implored me to have mercy and to redress; and tortured by seeking assistance and power in vain.”

Eight hours after this great speech, with the death of his uncle he has the power to assist his own local peasants at least. Instead of staying and using what power his estates may bring to give him the chance to ‘execute and obey’ his dear mother’s last wishes what does he do? He scarpers off, leaves the ball in the court of a man much less powerful than him and re-enacts Pontius Pilate.

Come the revolution when Tellsons becomes the MI6 of Georgian London (I enjoy the thought of Jarvis as M or Smiley), he must have known the danger Gabelle was in but does nothing to help. I really do agree with Stryver; “… he’ll always show ’em a clean pair of heels very early in the scuffle, and sneak away.”

With the advent of the letter from Gabelle and the comments he has heard about Evremonde from the emigres in the bank it dawns on him that “…he had acted imperfectly.” He persuades himself he has done nothing wrong,  that he can ride into Paris on a white horse and explain everything , rescue Gabelle and even change the course of affairs in France.

Never once does he stop to to wonder why Gabelle should send a letter, why the Parisian authorities would allow Gabelle to send a letter, to an emigrant at Tellson’s Bank of all places. How would Gabelle know that an Evremonde had an account there or that Tellsons would know how to contact him?

Fully in charge of his white horse he involves Jarvis Lorry to carry a message saying he will be in Paris in twenty four hours as if Mr Lorry hasn’t enough problems with his own mission without risking himself to  revolutionary scutiny by visiting a prisoner in L’Abbaye.

Dickens explanation that he was drown to the Lodestone Rock suggests that like Ajip in the Arabian Nights he would be marooned when the rock pulled the nails out of his ship.

I’m not sure that the Lodestone Rock is the best metaphor for Darnay’s journey, Ajip got there by accident. To me he seems to be like Odysseus insisting on hearing the sirens sing whilst everyone else was struggling hard to get away from them.

I am not really keen on Darnay, however thanks to the Victorian Web we have this neat illustration of the confrontation betwen him and Stryver.


5 thoughts on “Siren Song

  1. Thanks for much for this great post, mrbooley. Darnay is so bland and inoffensive that I think he has somewhat dropped off our radar – and perhaps contemporary readers had the same experience? I think he perhaps comes across as empty because he really exists to serve a particular ideological function in the novel, (outlandishly) rejecting the privilege and power of his aristocratic inheritance for a life of ‘self-help’, i.e. – hard graft, independence and personal achievement. As you say, why not remain to labour for the benefit of ‘his’ peasants? Samuel Smiles’s famous ‘Self-Help’ was published in the same year as TOTC and Darnay is the character who most epitomises the Victorian faith in hard work and self-determination. If Carton and Darnay represent opposing parts of Dickens’s character then Darnay is presumably the workaholic Dickens who poured his ferocious energy into his literary output (rather, as Hazel observed, like Dr Manette with his shoemaking) and extolled the Gospel of Work. For Dickens, British bourgeois domesticity is a cure for all social ills and, throughout TOTC, it is juxtaposed with the dysfunctional French aristocracy and the warped family lives of the French peasantry. Also, the convoluted machinations to get Darnay back to Paris, and thus to imperil his life, is central to the development of the plot for the remainder of the novel – but let’s avoid spoilers!

    • It puzzles me that both Darnay and Lucie are such controversial characters because of their blandness. We assume from their impeachable morality and the perfect lifestyle that they are the heroes of the novel, and therefore judge them by their lack of depth or interest. Or is it just that Dickens makes them so perfect that we cannot relate to them? Perhaps this is why we dedicate our efforts to identifying their faults, to make them more interesting characters to invest in.

      • Could it be that they are so bland because they are wa;king on eggshells around Dr Manette?
        Lucie has two men in her life and needs to juggle between one and the other so she sets up a perfect home with wine under the plane tree to grtaify both. Darnay has a dark secret which he is not allowed to disclose, not the best way to run a marriage. The result is that they exist but don’t really live.

    • Thinking of machinations there apppears to be several.
      Jerry didn’t find a body during his resurrection night. Just where is Roger Cly?
      Why did Lefarge make a bee-line for 105 north tower and ransack it when everyone else were rescuing prisoners or decapitating prison guards?
      There’s dirty work at the crossroads somewhere.

  2. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, our Darnay. I rather like him myself, most of the time, but there’s no doubt he does some colossally boneheaded things. I once devoted an entire post at Dickensblog — a short post, but still — to what an idiot he was for thinking Lucie would feel less pain if he left her without a word. He’s like a baby who thinks that if he can’t see things or people or events, they don’t really exist!

    I like the Odysseus-and-the-sirens comparison.

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