The jackal and the sheep

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.

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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).

2 thoughts on “The jackal and the sheep

  1. Sidney is really on his game in this installment. It’s odd, because as I have read ATOTC years and years ago, I had really forgotten this chapter that is almost completely driven by Sidney, we really see him as powerful for once. Yesterday, I was reading about the ways in which Victorian writers aimed to describe their characters using physiognomy. Chiefly, when the reader is first introduced to the character, the Victorian writer would use physiognomy as a way of showing us (the reader) the essence of the character before too much plot has driven them to action. I was trying in vain to look up in the first installments of ATOTC when Sidney Carton is first described, but it seems that Dickens may have skipped over a lengthy physical description of him in lieu of the manic courtroom. I was trying to find if there was any evidence in Dickens’ first descriptions of Sidney that he would become such a fiery character, but I couldn’t find any this go around. You wrote about how it is satisfying (?) for all the pieces of the puzzle to come together: Jerry’s grave robbing, the jacket which was Sidney’s laying over Mr. Lorry’s chair, Solomon Pross, and I was gratified by these tying of ends as well. But, I was most taken by Sidney in this installment and it made me think that perhaps I had enjoyed being duped by Dickens earlier in the novel. Duped by him in believing that Sidney was just a loafer, someone who would never amount to much and would always be miserable. I think I really like Sidney more than Darnay and am questioning why Lucie didn’t see this difference earlier (but then again, I liked neither so go figure).

    • Well Dickens has a problem here with Carton’s physiognomy, in so much as we are told he looks a lot like Darnay. So at first sight it appears to fly in the face of the stanadard approach, where Dickens undermines the habit of judging a book by its cover by giving two very different books the same cover. That said, now that we are seeing Carton in this new light, does it now reinforce the original idea, that both Carton and Darnay are noble characters after all, and that Carton was previously rebelling against the character that his looks would suggest? My head hurts…

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