For an instalment filled with horror and threat the tale opens with a wry humorous look at Tellsons Paris branch. Like Lucie’s Soho home it is set in a quiet courtyard with the addition of carriages standing outside.
We are allowed a small chuckle at the chocolate drinking Monseigneur who has escaped the Revolution disguised as his own cook and smile at either English respectability or French effetism in regard to bank architecture. What lies behind the curtained alcove staring at Cupid’s backside is a question best left unasked but can we detect a side blow when Cupid is “aiming (as he often does) at money from morning to night.”
Underneath the smiles lies a threat which has Mr Lorry shivering in front of his fire.
The transition from a simple smile to the shock and horror of the grindstone, the concern expressed by Lucie and Lorry to the grave doubts Lorry has about Defarge runs the whole gamut of human emotions from love to hatred and is a remarkable piece of writing which left me gagging for more.
There is so much to say about this instalment but I will confine my comments to the scene at the grindstone. This scene covers the whole horror of the September Massacres and Dickens handles it skilfully. This grindstone, driven by a madness more suited to Hieronymus Bosch than anything else, is a composite drawn from Carlyle’s history and his own imagination. I like the reflection of the grindstone which now, instead of grinding young people old, grinds old weapons young as they are aged by the terrible use to which they are put.
“False eyebrows and moustaches were stuck upon them” is a difficult image understand. It is drawn from Carlyle and concerns the treatment of Princess de Lamballe as she was removed from a tribunal to La Force on September 3rd.
In the way that he used the moustache I am not sure whether Dickens a) misread the passage, b) did not understand it or c) he was being a ‘Fellow of Delicacy’
The first is possible but unlikely, second, he was too widely read to misunderstand which leaves me believing that in tune with his time he was being delicate, leaving interpretation to his readership and their own notions.
The relavent passage, gently edited, (Carlyle tends to be flowery and contains notes) runs:
Man after man is cut down; the sabres need sharpening, the killers refresh themselves from wine jugs. Onward and onward goes the butchery; the loud yells wearying down into bass growls. A sombre-faced, shifting multitude looks on; in dull approval, or dull disapproval; in dull recognition that it is Necessity. ………….—for what purpose, ‘if not set on by Pitt,’ Satan and himself know best! …………..—Quick enough goes this Jury-Court; and rigorous. …… Princess de Lamballe has lain down on bed: “Madame, you are to be removed to the Abbaye.” “I do not wish to remove; I am well enough here.” There is a need-be for removing. She will arrange her dress a little, then; rude voices answer, “You have not far to go.” She too is led to the hell-gate; a manifest Queen’s-Friend. She shivers back, at the sight of bloody sabres; but there is no return: Onwards! That fair hindhead is cleft with the axe; the neck is severed. That fair body is cut in fragments; with indignities, and obscene horrors of moustachio grands-levres, which human nature would fain find incredible,—which shall be read in the original language only. She was beautiful, she was good, she had known no happiness. Young hearts, generation after generation, will think with themselves: O worthy of worship, thou king-descended, god-descended and poor sister-woman! why was not I there; and some Sword Balmung, or Thor’s Hammer in my hand? Her head is fixed on a pike; paraded under the windows of the Temple; that a still more hated, a Marie-Antoinette, may see. One Municipal, in the Temple with the Royal Prisoners at the moment, said, “Look out.” Another eagerly whispered, “Do not look.” The circuit of the Temple is guarded, in these hours, by a long stretched tricolor riband: terror enters, and the clangour of infinite tumult: hitherto not regicide, though that too may come.
Carlyle Chapter 3.1.IV
There is some disagreement about the death of Princess de Lamballe but generaly agreement would seem to be that she was mutilated and her genitalia used as described.
No wonder to me that old Lorry locked Lucie away, I would have done the same thing myself.
The reference to Thor’s hammer Dickens reflects at the end of this paragraph;
” …. the same red hue was red in their frenzied eyes– eyes which any unbrutalized beholder would have given twenty years of life to petrify with a well directed gun.”
The starving poor he pitied are pitied no more.