The sixth monthly part of A Tale of Two Cities (and the first volume of All the Year Round!)

Spare a moment’s thought for the unfortunate few who opted to purchase the monthly instalments instead of the weeklies, lagging behind in the plot while their counterparts get whooshed up in a maelstrom of excitement and revelations. They must have wandered around London with their hands permanently against their ears, yelling ‘Don’t tell me! Don’t tell me!’ Anyway…here are the latest visualisations of the story, courtesy of Phiz, that would now be circulating:

Before the Prison Tribunal

‘Before the Prison Tribunal’ shows Darnay as he first gets into trouble in France (so long ago now) – it’s interesting how Phiz has grouped the revolutionaries into two distinct sections, the one, lolling about in debauchery and games, the other’s much more serious and professional, huddled around the new prisoner and looking a force to be reckoned with.

The Knock at the Door

This next one, ‘A knock at the door’, captures Darnay’s second moment of trouble in France – the choice of illustrations do seem to emphasise his hapless adventures (he’s in trouble, oh, he’s in trouble again); I wonder if that’s intentional? I would have thought the scene from Lorry’s window of the crowd sharpening their axes would have been a great opportunity for Phiz’s skills, but instead we are made to focus very much on the fortunes of Darnay. The scene above has that old Dickens favourite, the fireplace, to show the domestic bliss that is being disrupted by the soldiers (who, against tradition, have entered, and presumably will exit, stage right). Lucie is a beacon of light and purity in white, as is her daughter to some extent.

It was also interesting to see at the end of this week;s instalment that it advertised not only the latest monthly part, but the first volume of All the Year Round as well (eagle-eyed online readers on DJO may have noted that we’ve now moved into volume two). What a bizarre and contradictory set-up to have a complete volume that contains an incomplete story. Clearly these volumes were marketed for the reader intending to purchase the complete set.

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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).

4 thoughts on “The sixth monthly part of A Tale of Two Cities (and the first volume of All the Year Round!)

  1. Thanks so much for posting these, Pete. I find them a little disappointing; they’re rather ‘busy’ and, given the enormous historical scope of the novel, it’s a bit of a let-down that Phiz should depict two interior scenes. However, I suppose these images relate nicely to the earlier depictions of court rooms and domestic interiors – perhaps a specific request from Dickens, or just a favourite theme of Phiz? I’m glad I’m not the only one who found it confusing that the novel is spread across two volumes of AYR! It certainly suggests that Dickens wasn’t bearing this format in mind at all when he was writing the novel.

    • I’ve just finished Valerie Browne Lester’s biography of Phiz, and she suggests two reasons why the pictures for ATOTC are poorer quality. The first, I think I’ve mentioned before, is that perhaps Dickens provided less detailed requests and suggestions as before. The second, intriguingly, is that perhaps Phiz was fed up with Dickens – the man, not the works. This was the time of the Ternan scandal for one, but also his decision not to commission pictures for ATYR may have rankled Phiz. Lester argues that his other drawings at this time for other books are much better – maybe Dickens was no longer his priority?

  2. I definitely will look up Lester’s biography. I took the choice of these scenes to be indicative of the despotic reign of Dickens! I am assuming here that Dickens told Phiz what scenes to focus on and perhaps that didn’t come across as well in ink as it did by the word. There was some letter I came across last week, or rather a quote from a letter of Dickens to his editor of ATOTC (I believe) complaining about Phiz’s lack of timeliness in getting the illustrations to him. The quote went something along the lines of: (to the editor) see that you take care of this tardiness without any more loss of time! Reading this along side reading “American Notes” has made me in many ways feel like working with Dickens, or for Dickens, would have been a formidable task. Maybe that is the cross of visionary geniuses, they can’t communicate well. Did the Phiz biography go into his later stroke and retraining himself to use his brushes and pens with different fingers from loss of mobility? I find that just amazing really.

    • The relationship of Dickens and Phiz is a fascinating one and with some ambiguity as both of them burned the bulk of their letters. There are lots of comments, by both Dickens and other writers, to suggest that Phiz didn’t necessarily read the books he was illustrating, but there is a lot to suggest that Dickens usually provided Phiz with very specific instructions for the drawings, and was not above sending them back with corrections and further suggestions, so for these drawings to come out as they did suggests a break down in communication.

      The book’s worth a thumb through – it does discuss Phiz’s illness and his return to drawing, and I’m always fascinated by accounts of Dickens’s life where he’s not centre stage and how this often gives us a different, perhaps less flattering, version of him.

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