Week 24: Tomorrow, Tomorrow!

 

The cliff-hangers are coming thick and fast now. We finished installment 23 with the promise that Darnay’s fate will be sealed in the next episode – ‘Removed to the Conciergrie, and summoned for to-morrow’ – and it looked like Darnay’s second capital trial had also gone his way. Not for long! At the end of installment 24, with Darnay retaken we don’t really seem to have got anywhere. (Though there has been the important information that Darnay’s return has secured Gabelle’s liberty, and that this seemingly foolhardy mission does succeed in saving a loyal servant’s life. I also enjoyed all the attention to the precariousness of sanity, with citizens succumbing to ‘a wild infection of the wildly shaken public mind.) 

I read the end of this installment with Ben’s great suggestions about the guillotining of weekly and monthly parts in mind. This week ends finishes with an absolutely perfect parallel of content and form: “‘Then’ said he of Saint Antoine, with a strange look, ‘you will be answered tomorrow. Now I am dumb’.” There is sudden silence as the part is cut off, as we fear Darnay’s voice and head may be in the next episode. Later this week I’ll be looking at the monthly parts of Martin Chuzzlewit with a group of research students. I was struck by the similarities with the end of the part in which Jonas Chuzzlewit guilty awaits his fate, listening for the summons he knows will come; that part finishes on the word ‘Hush’. These   explicitly verbal references remind us that many people first heard the installments read aloud. Dickens’s careful staging of the weekly curtain/knife drop must have made for some exciting performances.

Does anyone have other examples of instances of part endings that explicitly refer to their own finality? I’d be interested to hear, from anyone reading the novel for the first time, how you feel about the repeated deferment of Darnay’s fate in this part? I feel it’s a bit stagey of  Dickens, although perhaps in quite an emotionally effective way, to make us think he’s safe only to undo that and leave us in the same uncertainty in which the part began.

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About Holly Furneaux

Holly is a Reader in Victorian Literature at the University of Leicester. She has written variously on Dickens, including a book, Queer Dickens: Erotics, Families, Masculinities. For more details of her work, and her current research on the Military Man of Feeling, see her staff page:http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/people/hollyfurneaux

4 thoughts on “Week 24: Tomorrow, Tomorrow!

  1. I agree about the perfect cliffhangers that have ended the last few weekly instalments. It’s therefore difficult to reconcile this with the knowledge that Dickens wrote the novel with a view to monthly parts — John reminded us some while ago that the plans for the parts exist. Seeing the illustrations for the 5th Monthly part that Pete posted last week gave me a jolt . In my reader’s mind the so called ‘murder of the bench’ took place ages ago yet the purchasers of part 5 were only just encountering it. The last few AYR instalments have been so exciting and so tense I wondered whether Dickens had changed his own pattern of writing, composing them in weekly batches for the magazine and then gathering them for the monthly part rather than the reverse . Can anyone help on this?

    And to return to our earlier conversation about publishing in monthly parts we are only a couple months away from the launch of Macmillan’s Magazine and then the Cornhill which would consign monthly part publication to the status of dinosaur.

  2. In response to your question, I felt while reading “Our Mutual Friend,” that parts of it were a bit “stagey” as you said, but I think perhaps in a good way. (?) When Eugene is attacked in “A Cry for Help,” Dickens leaves the reader in complete mystery as to his fate, and then of course, to heighten our suspense, the following chapter takes us away from that story line. During the course of this chapter, we see Lizzie performing acts of amazing strength, picking up a grown man, placing him in a row boat, rowing him to shore and then carrying him into a house where surgeons are sent for. Granted, we meet her as someone who is skilled in rowing at the beginning of the novel, but I still find it funny to visualize her doing these things. The chapter ends with the surgeon saying, “Poor girl, poor girl! She must be amazingly strong of heart, but it is much to be feared that she has set her heart upon the dead. Be gentle with her.” When I was reading this over the summer to prepare for my courses, I remember asking myself, “What does THAT mean? Is Eugene dead? How could Dickens leave me hanging like this?” But, the suspense kept me hooked and I’m pretty sure I read 5 more chapter that night.

    • That’s a great example Katieloubell. It’s in line with the way that Dickens keeps Oliver Twist’s life hanging in the balance for 3 months! in Bentley’s Miscellany. He finished the January 1838 instalment in which Oliver is forced by Bill Sikes to break into a house and is detected and shot, with Oliver bleeding from the gunshot wound fainting and being dragged along by Sikes. The number finishes with the words “a cold deadly feeling crept over the boy’s heart and he saw or heard no more.” And Bentley’s readers heard no more of Oliver until April. Anticipation about whether a character in a Dickens serial had lived or died also gives rise to one of the most famous stories about Dickens’s readers. According to the popular tale, New Yorkers crowded the docks in Boston, awaiting shipments of the final part of The Old Curiosity Shop and (allegedly) shouting up to the sailors on incoming ships, “Is Little Nell dead?”
      I’d be interested to draw together more examples if anyone has any further thoughts!

  3. It’s cliffhangers all the way, now it seems – and the one from last week has still yet to be resolved. Who is the owner of the coat? And who is the third person to condemn Darnay? Could it even be the same person?

    That said, I was interested this week not so much in the ending, but the continuation through chapters. Chapter 6 ends with “I have saved him”, which is then repeated as the opening of chapter 7. Reading this in a book you would assume that a week’s divide had happened in between to warrant the recap; instead Dickens is merging the ideas. Why not just make it one chapter? Well of course this emphasises the structure of the week’s part, triumph and fall (although for reasons of suspense the second chapter has the more enigmatic title of “a knock at the door”). That teasing element of saving Darnay before plunging him back into trouble made me think of the latest Doctor Who episode, I must confess.

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