Practicality and ideology

I read the first chapter of this week’s instalment with one glaring question running through my mind – why on earth has Lucie come to Paris? Darnay’s decision to go has been rigorously unpicked in prior weeks, but at least he was a) asked to come to Paris and b) travelling at a time when the full dangers were unknown to him. But what on earth is Lucie thinking? Or anyone else? Dr Manette has an immunity stemming from his prisoner status, which is all well and good, but why didn’t he simply go to France alone, instead of dragging along his daughter and – completely baffling – her daughter as well? I think we all side with Lorry when Dickens says:

He found her child and Miss Pross with her; but, it never occurred to him to be surprised by their appearance until a long time afterwards, when he sat watching them in such quiet as the night knew.

The reason perhaps why we are tempted, like Lorry, not to question it at first is that however nonsensical the decision to bring the entire Manette Clan (and servant) over to Paris, dramatically it makes perfect sense. Dickens is drawing together all of his key characters – Lorry and Jerry are already in the country – all converging…for what?

The second chapter justifies this ideological movement of characters in defiance of the impracticality, when Lucie and Madame Defarge are once more brought face to face. They have of course, already met on Lucie’s previous trip across to rescue her father, but this is post-revolution now, and we have seen beneath the facade of Madame to the fury within. There were comments earlier on this blog about the symmetry of the monthly part’s cover, with Lucie and Madame positioned so as to appear as two opposites, and it is here for the first time where we see true substance to that idea. While Lucie has no practical purpose in France – the first thing that happens after she arrives in this instalment is she is bundled out of the room to protect her delicate sensibilities from the horror which Manette and Lorry witness outside – her ideological purpose is key. Madame Defarge is an embodiment of hatred, and a force to be reckoned with; in contrast to that Lucie is love and forgiveness, and her impassivity is, contradictorily, a key measure of her potency against the noise, energy and confusion of Madame Defarge and the mob.

 

What a shame that the force of this episode is immediately followed by the word “Melons” in bold type – although it did make me laugh.  A more immediately relevant article this week is “Five new points of criminal law”; as it is only the second confirmed instance in which Dickens has written a second article for ATYR during the run of ATOTC. The central idea running through, in which Dickens attacks the idea of supporting the murderer’s needs and rights above those of the murdered, bears obvious parallels to his treatment in recent weeks of the aristocracy at the hands of the mob, of violence going unpunished.

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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 (www.droodinquiry.com).

12 thoughts on “Practicality and ideology

  1. It would be entirely out of character for Lucie NOT to have come. Her husband is in danger–what is she going to do? Sit at home? I think she probably thinks that her very presence is going to be a comfort to him. She might be in denial that anything bad might happen to her since it’s the job of the men in her life to protect her (something they are all too eager to do). She might also have accepted, fatalistically, that if something happens to Darnay, it had might as well happen to her and little Lucie as well.
    It’s the job of the men around her to protect her. I do find it, again, kind of infantilizing that they bundle her off into a different room during the knife sharpening scene without telling her what’s happening until later. They probably consider it chivalrous.

  2. Besides the fact that she is trying to support a family member, she does probably need to babysit doctor Manette given that he is going to be pretty constantly bombarded with his past from here on out.

    • I don’t doubt her motivations. I would find it less puzzling if she were Jane Eyre, but Lucie has thus far been presented as a china doll. It can be argued this is a symptom of how the men in her life treat her, which again queries why Manette brought her (if you’re going to hide her in a room, bx extension, why take her to Paris in the first place?).

      It may be that Lucie will justify her being there – her juxtaposition with Madame could indicate this – but the initial decision for her to come lacks explanation. Has Manette brought her against his better judgment and at her own insistence, or is this mutually agreed as you suggest, with father and daughter unable to operate independently (hinting back to that bizarre proposal by Darnay)? And why oh why didn’t they leave her daughter in England? It’s great drama, but begs questions.

  3. I would like to go out on a limb and say that going to france was probably Lucie’s initiative.So far we have seen with certainty about her character that she’s driven to provide emotional support to people in traumatic situations. If she has reason to be confident in anything it’s this ability to uplift people through her presence.
    I’m not as willing to chalk this up to a cheap plot device as you seem to be eager to do because I think it works very naturally. Again, it would feel out of character if she was not in France because of what I’ve stated above. As far as bringing the child goes, I’m not sure why Lucie would do that except to not leave her alone without either parent for a long period of time.

    • D’accorde. Lucie is much more of practical woman than people give her credit for. She does have a few soppy moments but even they are reasonable. Fainting in a stuffy 18th century court was not unusual. Being confronted with news of her father by an inept Lorry wouild make anyone hysterical. A Mills and Boon moment with her new husband is surely acceptable. However she was the one to coax Manette out of his garret room. She was practical enough to keep him in the open air on the boat and she alone looked after him during long emotional nights.
      I am sure that she gave Manette little option but to go with her to France and took the young one with her in the belief that if they were in danger they would face it as a family and return together or all suffer the same fate.

      • You both make good arguments for Lucie’s capability, but what about young Lucie? Manette’s daughter went across the channel as a child to live with Miss Pross out of danger, why isn’t the granddaughter given the same treatment? It’s possible her mother, from her own childhood experience, recognises her daughter’s right to be by her troubled father’s side. Indeed it is entirely possible to explain the entire family’s reason for being there – but Dickens does not.

  4. OOh! … Melons. Dickens does often leave things unexplained. How did Pross and little Lucie get into Lorry’s locked room for instance. Lorry thinks about that but only later and still we don’t know.
    Are the lapses like that due to the pressure to produce four thousand words a week which he didn’t have the time to reconsider?
    I found the contrast with melons and coaches quite entertaining considering it followed fairly close on to the passage in which a man climbed into one of Monseigneur’s own. Was he hoping to become Cinderella?

    • Yes, I guess in the light of both time and space pressure, Yes, it’s a case of prioritising what needs to be said, and leaving the loopholes for readers to ponder over a century and a half later on the internet. Ultimately what is put in makes up for what is left out; after all, what would you rather read: an explanation of Lucie and her father discussing their plans to come to France, or revolutionaries with pubic-hair moustaches hoping to be Cinderella?

      • Yes, there certainly are “loopholes”. When the door opens early in chapter II, we’re told that “two figures rushed in … Lucie and her father!” It’s not until later that we learn that Miss Pross is with them, and later still that young Lucie is there as well. And then in the next chapter, Dickens realises he needs to have Jerry there to help out – I don’t think we had any mention of him travelling to Paris earlier. Wasn’t Lorry on his own in the previous episode? OK, so Dickens was writing under pressure – didn’t he ever go back and tweak what he had written when it appeared in book form?

      • So far as I can tell, there were no major ammendments such as you suggest. Did the pressure continue on Dickens throughout his editing career, os was he respecting his original edition? Most edits he made to his novels tended to be minimal – perhaps changing a word occasionally.

        As for Jerry, Jarvis did say in the last chapter of part 2 that “I intend to take Jerry” as “nobody will suspect Jerry of being anything but an English bulldog”.

  5. Thanks, Pete, for pointing out the Jerry reference at the end of part 2. I forgot that – comes from reading the novel week by week, I suppose.
    Incidentally, are all of us TOTC readers also following other serials? I’ve had my head full of Parade’s End (BBC2) lately and now Downton Abbey … Would Dickens’s readers be following other serialisations in other magazines of the time?

    • Sadly my children have custody of the remote control, so my cultural interruptions to Dickens largely consist of Alphablocks, Octonauts and Walking with Dinosaurs. That said I have been reading (and enjoying) Terry Pratchett’s Dodger this week, which I expect we’ll be seeing make an appearance in various Dickens discussions over the coming months.

      I think Dickens’s readers would certainly be following a number of serials at one time. If memory serves right, I think Thackeray was writing Vanity Fair at the same time as Dombey and Son, prompting him to complain to his publisher at one point after a particularly good instalment that he just couldn’t compete with that level of writing.

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