There are times when reading that a particlar word or phrase sets one scratching at one’s head as if trying to get rid of those little crestures who live in the comfort of hair. These nits are often dismissed as we rationalise and assume that the words mean what we want them to be so that we can carry on with the narrative.
There have been a few of these for me as I have made my way through the Tale. Looking back over the last chapter I have come across two examples which I would like to share (the words I mean, not the nits, so rest easy).
“The shining Bull’s Eye of the Court was gone, …”
Dickens has used the Bull’s Eye before and I took it as a metaphor reprenting the aristocracy seeing in my head a huge black bull staring down at the peasantry, using its power of presence to frighten and oppress the poor. Going through Carlyle’s History to broaden my background knowledge to the story the phrase ‘Oeil-de-Boeuf” is used as an expression not of the aristocracy as a whole but the immediate circle surrounding the King, in other words, the Government. The soubriquet comes from the octagonal room, with a small oval window, where the members met.
Translating Oeil-de-Boeuf as Bull’s Eye adds a slightly different dimension to the phrase. In English there are three different interpretations, that which I assumed as referring to a bull, a bulls eye as in a window pane and bullseye as in a target. A bulls eye window would suggest a distorted, narrow view of the world which was true of the Ancien Regime. Bullseye as a target might suggest that Dickens considered the Government was ripe for overthrow and a new (parliamentary?)system should have replaced it. Did Dickens use these words as a code for all three meanings? Was he saying in effect that a narrow minded government needed to be overthrown by what ever means?
In the same paragraph he goes on ” … never been a good eye to see with – had long had the mote in it of Lucifer’s pride, Sardanapalus’s luxury and a mole’s blindness …” Obviously the eye is distainful and proud, not a much as Lucifer but enough to make it unacceptable. Sardanapalus is surely one of those legendary monarchs from the mid-East or Mediterranean whose wealth made luxury the norm whist we all understand a mole’s blindness. In a nutshell the eye belongs to a pleasure seeking, overweening, blind set of people who have over time accepted their luxuries as of right.
These interpretations give rise to a great amount of scratching.
Beside the biblical connotation of motes and beams, Lucifer’s pride lead to his downfall and expulsion from heaven. Sardanapalus was reputed to be the last king of Assyria and fabulously wealthy. He was also debauched in every concievable way. When his kingdom was about to fall he built a huge pyre and burned all his concubines and catamites along with his whole wealth and possessions before immolating himself. (Thank you Google.) Not only is the mole blind it is destructive causing problems for toilers of the soil. All of which puts a more powerful spin on what Dickens is conveying. The Ancien Regime was not only blind but depraved and debauched and cast out by the hand of God, or am I reading too much into it.
Even now I have the desire to scratch, so I’ll close before I contaminate the keys.