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.