Wowser. We seem to have reached a stage where every instalment ends with an unspoken “dum-dum-duuummmmmm”. What is the word that Sydney wants to have with Barsard, and just what plan is he hatching that gives “a braced purpose in his arm and a kind of inspiration in his eyes, which not only contradicted his light manner, but changed and raised the man”?
There’s been talk of late (some of it from me, I confess), of how in some instalments Dickens has been a bit off his game, but this week I think he’s really done himself proud. The pacing in particular is breath-taking. It opens with the reader frustrated in their desire to find out more about what’s happened to Darnay, then swiftly baffled by a succession of revelations: the appearance of Miss Pross’s brother; his dual identity as John Barsard (for all those who continue to trot out the tired comparison that if Dickens were alive today, he would be writing soaps, I present this revelation as exhibit a in a counter-argument that he’d actually be writing Scooby-Doo); the appearance of Sydney Carton, “his hands behind him under the skirts of his riding-coat” – that same riding-coat seen on Lorry’s chair two-weeks ago (but only one night ago in the text); and then that magisterial game of cards where suddenly it all starts to come together. The court case. Darnay’s imprisonment. Jerry’s thwarted grave-robbing escapades. It’s all connected – but to what end?
Note also how Dickens takes the opportunity to remind readers of the past connections. We are twice told of when Miss Pross talked to Lorry about her brother, just as we are reminded of the court case and Jerry’s midnight adventure. Dickens is drawing everything together and he wants to ensure that we are following every detail.
Even Jerry gets to have a purpose too, which is lucky, as I was a little concerned at the start of this chapter with how domesticated he had become. I wager that if his son had not followed him on that night he went to rob a grave, but instead followed him on this night, then he would not be so afraid, but rather bemused at seeing his old man carrying Miss Pross’s basket around as she does the weekly shop.
And purpose is empowering. For some time now we have been following the tracks of a storm, seeing bad things happen to good people beyond their control – the classic set up of seemingly insurmountable odds against the Hollywood hero; and now, finally, we get some inkling of a retaliation, the goodies taking a stand. Perhaps it’s not so much “dum-dum-duuummm” after all as the intro to the hero’s theme-tune: take it away Mr Dickens.