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.