Lettres de Cachet

I believe I quoted Victor Meldrew some time ago so I won’t repeat his refrain. I am afraid that much more of this will render my temporary suspension of disbelief into a more permanent state.

Can anyone really be allowed to suggest that two French nobles in 1757 would be concerned over the health or otherwise of peasants they regarded as dogs and vermin?

Why would Darnay’s uncle, who in 1777 was not concerned over the death of a child under his carriage wheels, go to the trouble of seeking out a doctor to attend a peasant he had mortally injured, in a case of self-defence, and a girl he had taken in droit de seigneur by proxy? The death of either or both would not have attracted any attention from their peers and no one else could have protested.

Manette knows this: “I knew what court influence was, and what the immunities of  nobles were, and I expected that the matter would never be heard of …..”, yet he writes a letter to the minister not out of outrage at injustice but “.. to relieve my own mind.” Pontius Pilate did something similar.

For Manette to think that it would go no further shows that like Darnay he doesn’t understand the danger to his wife and himself by galloping off on a white horse.  He has written his own Lettre de Cachet and whilst imprisoned he has written the same for Darnay, an achievement his uncle could not perform.

Having got the grouch over, the instalment, which I think Dickens could have written  in a much more imaginative way, does explain the first cause that gave rise to the Golden Thread and how past actions  can roll along the line of time to create a storm years later.

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4 thoughts on “Lettres de Cachet

  1. Perhaps the Marquis gave up on getting medical care for peasants when a doctor tried to snitch.
    But seriously, this one doesn’t bother me so much. I think given the clannish nature of people it’s not hard to believe that the court could shun someone so inhuman when in their midst but ignore rumours of anything bad he did while at home and ultimately defend this bad apple in their midst if this person was accused by an outsider. I mean, one need look no farther than the Catholic church defending paedophile priests to see this behaviour.

    It’s also not hard for me to swallow that a younger marquis wouldn’t have been quite as inhuman as the older one. People change over time and depending on what day it is. We saw how apathetic and even happy he was when the peasant girl died. The boy he hit with the coach was already dead by the time the coach stopped. He couldn’t have called a doctor if he wanted, so instead of token human gestures, we just go straight to apathy.

    • I’ve been thinking recently about the number of faults and plot issues we’ve been discovering in this story (somewhat ironic, given Dickens’s intention that this book would be all about plot, rather than character).

      Now, as a film geek, I have spent more evenings than I would care to admit in the company of friends picking apart the plots of films, identifying loop holes that render the rest of the movie nonsensical or unnecessary. Occassionally we will do this about a bad film, but more often than not it will be about films that we all love and enjoy. Perhaps this is because, unlike the bad movies, they’ve been subjcted to repeat viewings, or because we spend more time thinking about and revisiting them. The truth is that all stories can be picked apart, and such a process can actually be a warped form of flattery.

      Having said all of that, I’m with rokujolady here in that this particular discrepancy can be explained with some imaginative filling in of the blanks. For example, assuming the elder brother is Darnay’s father, and therefore dead by the time the main plot is happening, is it possible that as evil as he is, he has some sense of self-preservation that would result in him handling incidents semi-responsibly, while his younger brother, who has after all abducted this young girl effectively, is one step beyond, hence not being especially bothered about running over a peasant child years later? In addition, are we seeing here the result of a lifetime of getting away with it? As younger men they are more cautious of exactly how far they can push things, whereas years later the Marquis has become overly confident in the supremacy of the upper class?

  2. I agree it is unsettling and confusing; the result surely of Dickens trying to be even handed and finding himself in a liberal dilemma. He is questioning the meanings of good and evil and where we might draw a line. Could there be more to this than just a story? I find myself wondering.

    The elder brother is Darnay’s father, which leads to the question ‘Why did Dickens choose to use an agnatic succession instead of primogeniture, as it could be under Salic Law?’ Was it an attempt to leave a loophole in the cursing of ‘race’ which has a more specific meaning than that which we use today. Too many questions, so I’m going to bed before I jump into the next instalment.

  3. Week 28 Carton and Darnay (again)
    After last week’s intense gothic tale, which raised a few questions in readers’ minds, as the discussion showed, we are firmly back in the present, 1793, with Darnay only twenty-four hours from execution and Dr Manette resolved to use what remains of his influence to save him . Lucie is given leave for a final embrace by a momentarily tender hearted Barsad and then, once he is taken away, swoons at her father’s feet. Who springs forward to pick her up? The same person who at Darnay’s first trial, suddenly spotted that she was about to faint, and directed a court officer to take her out of the room. Did I immediately make that connection? I’m not entirely sure.

    But Dickens IS very demanding of his readers, as Pete said last week. Carton, determined to make himself visible in Paris, purposefully walks to Sainte Antoine, entering the Defarges’s wine shop, ordering a glass of wine in ‘indifferent French’ and then, when questioned by Madame Defarge, responding with the careful accents of an English speaker of French. Madame Defarge is struck by the likeness between the Englishman and Evremonde, Defarge agrees. At this point, I had to flip back to the instalments for weeks 6 and 7, to the scene in the court during the earlier trial, when a seemingly inattentive Carton suddenly tosses a note to Stryver, and the court is invited to consider the likeness between him and the prisoner, Darnay, particularly after Carton takes off his wig. Carton and Darnay drink a toast to Lucie, at Carton’s instigation. ‘Is it worth being tried for one’s life, to be the object of such sympathy and compassion Mr Darnay?’, Carton asks. And later, looking in the mirror, asks himself, ‘Do you particularly like the man…why should you particularly like a man who resembles you?’

    Did Dickens expect his readers to have complete recall of an episode they had read some five months earlier? The answer simply is yes. Just as Pete had to remind himself of earlier episodes in an effort to remember which of the brothers was Darnay’s father, so I found myself rereading the episode for week 6 and then week 7, wondering if I was the only one who didn’t have these far off instalments completely clear in my mind?

    There are other things to think about. Dr Manette returns, defeated, and worse, has regressed to the state he was in when released from the Bastille. In this novel which supposedly turns on plot, not character, we’re being introduced to some complex psychology. How much did Dickens know of contemporary psychological theories – it was still a science in comparative infancy, after all?

    And then there is the terrifying pronouncement of Madame Defarge, ‘Tell the Wind and the Fire where to stop; not me!’ ‘Defarge, that sister of the mortally wounded boy upon the ground was my sister, that husband was my sister’s husband, that unborn child was their child….’. So far we’ve been commenting on Dickens’s oscillation between presenting the aristocracy as the villains, and then the revolutionaries. Is Madame Defarge the villainess of the novel, or a complex portrait of a woman who has been so hardened by a life time of witnessing injustice that all compassion, all humanity has been removed – the perfect revolutionary?

    The signals this week are clear. Darnay will not survive. There are only a few hours before left before his execution. BUT we still have another three weeks to go.

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