A quick peek at St Antoine

I’m just putting the final touches on a talk for Dickens Day this weekend, and my research threw up this image – unfortunately I won’t get opportunity to discuss A Tale of Two Cities in talk but I felt I had to share the picture here. Hailing right back to week 3, and the strong impression that the spilt wine on the streets made upon us all, here we can see an artist’s attempt to illustrate that moment. What took me aback in finding this picture is that it is in a children’s edition. Is it just me, or does it seem a little bit strong for kids?



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About Pete Orford

I'm an English lecturer at the University of Buckingham, with a research background in both Dickens and Shakespeare; I am also a father of three, with a research background in dinosaurs and moshi monsters. I'm Chief Investigator for The Drood Inquiry (www.droodinquiry.com).

13 thoughts on “A quick peek at St Antoine

  1. Quite the opposite Peter this is a Mabel Lucy Attwell type of illustration, an anodyne representation of what Dickens describes. It contains all the elements of slurping, soaking and scooping of red stuff (could be cherryade) from a remarkably well keep street. Gaspard has only started to write Blood on the wall and he looks very genteel. There is nothing to indicate the hunger and poverty behind the scene.
    It looks like an illustration from an edition from the twenties or thirties. Considering the text it is intended for ten to twelve year olds it is more likely to make them laugh than anything else.

    • I’m not sure if it’s that well-kept: both the houses and the people have clear signs of dirt on them. And cherryade aside, it’s intriguing that the ligquid is much more the colour of blood than red wine. But I think you’re right in so much as children who are the age it is suggested for are quite likely to relish the ghoulish bits. It more surprised me that in an edition which, by neccessity, cuts out a lot of the plot, that this nonessential moment (narratively speaking) is kept in.

  2. I’m not entirely sure how kids would take this either Pete. I think kids would either roll with laughter, or the picture would be one of those things that sticks in their heads and haunts them (as a tv commercial about an American Indian seeing trash and then crying did to me). Nevertheless, I am really looking forward to hearing both you and Ben give talks at Dickens Day Saturday!

    • Yes, children’s literature is a tricky business as you’re very much at the whims of the sensitivity of the child, which can be nigh on impossible to predict: my eldest son loves nothing more than watching dinosaur programmes – which are horrifically violent – but will then be traumatised by watching a Disney movie. Odd.

      See you Saturday!

      • For those of us of a certain age, the mere words, ‘Bambi’s mother’ are enough to reduce us to quivering Dr Manettes!

  3. Thanks so much for posting this amazing image, Pete! My immediate response was that this is a very shocking, gory image for children. However, as katieloubell says, perhaps children would find it rather thrilling. I remember, as a child, having a Ladybird history of the French Revolution, which had a fantastically gory picture of weeping aristocrats being taken to the guillotine. All of the people in the tumbrils were dressed in their aristocratic finery and I remember being particularly shocked and thrilled that there were children among their number. When I was a little older there was a lavish ITV adaptation of TOTC, which I remember as being disappointingly focused on Lucie-Darnay-Carton rather than people being guillotined. I suppose some psychoanalysts would say that children are drawn to fantasies of being devoured and annihilated.

    BTW, I’m thrilled that you’ll be at Dickens Day, katieloubell!

  4. I am really excited as well Ben! It will be my first trip to London by myself and really, my first trip anywhere in the UK since I’ve moved to Leicester for their Victorian Studies programme. I’m really looking forward to hearing everyone’s talks…that is, if I can make it to UoL walking from the train station and not get horribly lost. 0_o

    • If you’re worried about getting lost in London then I don’t mind emailing you my mobile number so you can give me a bell for directions. See you on Saturday!

  5. Kids like stuff like this. There’s too much puppies and hugs and too little baba yaga these days. Could you postmore pics from this? I love TOTC illustrations.

    • I had a quick look online and there have been lots and lots of children’s versions of TOTC since the 1950s (which is really interesting – evidently this story has been deemed salutary for children). Nearly every cover I saw is a variation on the same image, but I dare not post any as they are a major spoiler!

      • Yes – I’m always quite surprised by the way that Dickens stories are adapted for quite young children. We had some discussion of this on the CityRead Oliver Twist reading group. Re-reading Oliver Twist (probably the most popular Dickens for children along with A Christmas Carol) I was surprised at the emphasis on physical violence and suffering. I suppose Oliver! the musical does manage to write most of that out – but I still remember, from my childhood viewings, the scary scene of Nancy being followed to the bridge and knowing that it wasn’t going to be OK. . . TofTC seems a surprising choice for child audiences.

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