The Menace behind the Kitchen Sink

We have had horror, now we have menace.

Having been sucked into the plot I find myself wanting to give a pantomime warning to Lucie as she stands on a street corner desperately hoping that her husband can see her and know that she is with him.

Lorry and Manette having successfully kept Lucie from the horrors of the massacres the household settles down to a calm domestic life for the next fifteen months. Lorry  ploughs his accounts, Manette roams the prisons and Lucie tends to the sink and makes a home taking care to ensure that Darnay is catered for even though  he is not there. When Manette suggests that Darnay might see her from a prison window Lucie is happy to stand for two hours in all weathers on the off-chance that her husband can at least gaze on her. A steady flow of messages and letters keep her spirits up until Manette can persuade a tribunal to set him free. At least that is what a straightfoward reading would show.

Underneath all this kitchen sink Dickens has weaved much more menacing outcome for three of our characters  and he draws it out with some elegant threats which the victims don’t appear to understand.

Out in the street Lucie is vulnerable not only to street crime but also the menace of tumbrils rolling by. The spot chosen for her, beside a blank wall across from a wood sawyers shop, is in full view of many windows in La Force and I find the whole setting  filled with ominous threat. An empty street surrounded by blank walls and overseen by blank, black panes is an un-nerving situation to be in. Which has me wondering how come that Darnay can move around a Republican prison and spend time on his own staring out of a window. When Darnay is not in the room anyone could be there looking down and gloating on a prisoner held without bars.

Getting letters out of La Force would be strictly controlled. Controlled by whom? In this case my head tells me that it only can be the Defarges who are determined that the name Darnay/Evremond will cease to exist and one way of ensuring Lucie doesn’t try to leave Paris is to offer some indirect contact with Darnay..

The presence of a wood sawyer, whom we learn is no other than Jaques Four, and under Defarge’s influence, poses a continual threat to Lucie and her child. His “La, la,La; la, la, la. And off with his head.” etc. tells us what he hopes will be Lucie’s family fate.

The dance of the Carmagnole, a mixture of a wild Circassian Circle  mixed in with a Four Hand Reel danced to a fast military beat and ending with a charge of screaming Pamplonian bulls, is one of the most menacing pieces I have read. No wonder that Lucie is frightened and bewildered.

She recieves re-assurance from her father who tells her there was no cause for alarm and that Charles will be freed by the tribunal next day.

The silent  appearance of Mme Defarge gives reason to doubt his words. A short greeting and she is gone “a shadow over the white road.” The two short lines describing thi scene are loaded with contempt and Mme is surely contemplating the notion that ‘vengeance is a dish best eaten cold.’

Darnay and Lucie don’t stand a chance against the determination of the Defarges and the Jaques. Only a miracle can save them now, but where will it come from and how?



7 thoughts on “The Menace behind the Kitchen Sink

  1. It doesn’t sit well with me to think of the Defarges as the sole machinating “menaces behind the kitchen sink”. I’m not sure they were behind the arrest of Gabelle that brought Darnay back to Paris. I think Dickens intended for them to be more of a face of the revolution–the part of Saint-Antoine about whose lives we know and to whom we can relate. It would be impractical to put us on a such a familiar basis with the entirety of Saint Antoine, but I think one can assume that the rest of Saint-Antoine would be happy to see Darnay’s head as well. I suspect the Defarges might have their own reasons for wanting Darnay dead but I’d rather think it was, as Madame Defarge says earlier “fate”, that brought the Darnays to Paris than the villainous machinations of the Defarges.
    Of course, now they’re here, the Defarges aren’t about to let Darnay leave outside of a basket. One can assume that the whole of Saint-Antoine is behind them even though the Defarges lead the Mob.
    This might be the purpose of The Vengeance.
    Finally, I really love the Carmagnole scene followed by the brief flash of the white coat upon the chair at Mr. Lorry’s residence. Whose empty coat is it? Dickens leaves us waiting until next week.

      • I’m sitting on the fence with this one. While I agree that there are definbitely machinations at work and the Defarges, certainly Madame, are scheming, I’m not convinced that there diabolical plans extend to the sophistication that Mr Booley is seeing here – I don’t think we can rule out the importance of dumb luck. Defarge seems genuinely surprised to see Darnay arrive, and whatever Madame might have wished for, I doubt even she would credit the Manette family with enough stupidity/naiviety to bring the entire family across the channel. When Darnay first asks Defarge to send word to his family, he refuses, but Manette’s later presence suggests that the request has been carried out. If Defarge and the revolutionaries are keen to get Lucie and child over, why the initial refusal? To me, it makes more sense that Defarge himself is trapped between political ideology and individual attachment. His reply to Darnbay is “I will do nothing for you” – rather than simply “I will do nothing”. He must imprison Darnay, but he must also warn the son-in-law of his former master, so he sends the letter in secret, not from Darnay, but from the other revolutionaries, and he does it not for Darnay, but for Manette.

  2. The only answer I can think of is that the Defarges are not really a team but two individuals with their own agenda. Defarge himself is a political animal but Mme. she is more of the power behind the throne and she certaonly is out for vengeance and death no matter what her husband may think.
    If it was Defarge who contacted Manette then maybe Mme. is playing a longer deep game knowing that Defarge has sympathy with Lucie and doesn’t want her to be sacrificed on the altar of Liberty, Fraternity, Equality and Death.

  3. I think Pete is right about Defarge being trapped between political ideology and personal attachment. And I think Mr Booley is also spot on in his observation that the Defarges seem no longer to be acting as a team. Defarge somehow has to represent the existence of sanity and purpose beneath the excesses of the revolution. His odd facial movements from time to time suggest that he is inwardly torn. Madame by contrast seems impervious to any pleas based on common humanity, witness her response to Lucie. In contrast to the Defarges the ‘mob’ or the ‘populace’ are presented as totally and terrifyingly irrational, hoisting Darnay on to an improvised throne and parading him through the streets when they might just as readily hacked him to pieces.

  4. I felt similarly to Mr. Booley here in that I kept asking the question, “Why aren’t the Doctor and Lucie noticing any of these ridiculously blatant innuendos of death?” More than this though, I am feeling that Dickens has spent so much time with the scene of Paris that he leaves little for his characters. Or maybe, I’m being too critical. I feel like his descriptions of Paris are exquisite here (the blood, the wine, the sparks, etc.) but I end up feeling like the characters suffer. I still don’t feel like Lucie is any one I can feel genuinely sorry for because she’s so underdeveloped and one-dimensional. Seriously, does she NOT notice that the Woodcutter is lopping off her family’s heads as he cuts? Does the Doctor really believe that the crowd won’t harm Lucie? Maybe there is more development to come with these people, but I’m feeling underwhelmed at the moment with Lucie and her father’s reactions here.

  5. I think that they are. I think that the horror has to be implied. It would be out of place in the narrative for the author to describe the horror of Lucie and Little Lucie at the wood sawyer. There’s no mistaking the threat, so we must assume that Lucie and Little Lucie are horrified. The fact that Lucie pays the sawyer off indicates that she’s scared of him and understands the threat that he poses to her and her family, watching as she hopes desperately to comfort her husband with her presence. She knows that it’s going to be easy to frame her steadfastness as “plotting against the state”. They have to be horrified but I think Dickens intended for their characters to be depicted more through their actions than descriptions. Lucie ignores the wood sawyer and the carmagnole and remains steadfast by her husband. Doctor Manette remains firm in his conviction that something good has finally been born from his eighteen-years of torture.

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