I do not believe it. We have all smiled at innocence abroad but this one doesn’t just take the biscuit, he consumes the whole factory.
Having left his wife and child without telling where he was going, ignoring the intelligence and emigres at Tellsons, then persuading himself he is knight in shining armour our friend Darnay travels through Revolutionary France waving a letter giving his aristocratic name as if it were a passport. Shades of Larson’s deer and l’Oeil-de-Bouef.
Not only does he put one foot in the grave he seems determined to have two by exposing the fact that Lorry is at Tellsons despite Mr Lorry telling him that his mission was to ensure Tellsons was emptied of evidence which might be used to accuse others and he didn’t want to attract any revolutionary attention.
Quite why Dickens should want to portray Darnay in this way I find difficult to understand. Either Darnay is a high-minded Idealist believing that truth will shield him from danger and set Gabelle free, which Dickens would know by hindsight was not the way of bloody revolution, or he is driven by guilt. Guilt not only at leaving Gabelle to clear up his own mess, but guilt at not being honest with his wife and friends about his own history and going directly to confession.
The problem with such a confession is that it involves more than himself, as Dickens knows. In the Knitting instalment the name D’Everemonde is knitted into the register of those who are enemies of the people, ” ‘The chateau and all of the race, ‘ returned Defarge. ‘Extermination.’ ” Not only are Lorry and Darnay at risk, so are the two Lucies. Truth, Justice and honourable intentions can have their own hidden dangers and consequences.
There is a tension here. Is Darnay an noble, honourable man or is he guilty in not recognising his responsibilities. Could there be a hint of a struggle outside the context of the Tale?
When Darnay is escorted to La Force he has a strange conversation with Defarge and I have the impression that Defarge is not best pleased.
” ‘It is you, said Defarge in a low voice…” — ” ‘In the name ……La Guillotine, why did you come to France?’ ” — ” ‘A bad truth for you.’ ” The words Dickens uses are mild compared to those which must be rolling through Defarge’s head. Darnay has put him in a dilemma. He doesn’t want any harm to come to Manette’s family, at the same time he can’t go against the revolution he has taken part in much less against the Knitter. For the rest of the journey through the Parisian streets he plays a straight bat to all of Darnay’s questions refusing to help him in anyway and sticking close to the party line in case they are overheard and he will be at risk himself.
Like Dickens, Defarge is changing his sympathy not so much for the aristocrats but for the course that the revolution has taken. The overthrow of the Bastille hasn’t made any difference to the life of Sainte Antoine or any other part of France. The Legislative assembly is a talking shop full of mixed voices Jacobins, Girondistes, Feuillants, Herbists and a mass of political clubs each trying to push their own case and getting nowhere except when the country is threatened from outside. As a political animal can he sense that the whole country is a powder keg with no one in charge and that the name D’Everemonde could be one of the sparks that will set off the barrel and so unleash a storm?