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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About Joanne Shattock

I am Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of Leicester. My research interests are nineteenth century women's writing, literary journalism, and the nineteenth-century periodical press. I am currently interested in the networks of professional writers in the middle decades of the nineteenth century and the ways in which these networks impacted on journals such as Household Words and All the Year Round.

28 thoughts on “Week 28: Carton and Darnay (again)

  1. Three weeks to go, and the question is whether the weekly format heightens the tension of the moment, or frustrates it with the constant interruption of everyday life. Does the space between instalments give us too much opportunity to anticipate the next plot development, that we end up guessing before it happens?

    Let’s review what we know so far: Carton has secured access to Darnay in prison, though all are agreed he is doomed to die; he has also acquired substances from an apothecary (to my mind the only other occasion when I’ve heard the term “apothecary” has been in Romeo & Juliet – is that a clue?); he gives his papers to Lorry and tomorrow they will flee from France; and he makes himself seen at the Defarges’ wine-shop as “a necessary preparation”. How does it all fit together?

    But enough of Carton – what about the ladies? Lucie has hinted at her own life ending (through grief or more direct means?), happy for her daughter to go on with friends provided by God, just as she did. This is the second time Dickens has made her express an uncharacteristicly selfish view (the last being the infamous “I am afraid of it” back in week 4 – but we’ll say no more on THAT), and it is tempered later when Carton advises Lorry to stress the danger to her father and daughter as the only incentive for her to live and leave France. I am somewhat annoyed at Darnay for not countering Lucie in her outburst by
    stressing their daughter’s need for a mother, instead leaving her to laments that honour her love for him above their child. It’s a piece of melodrama straight from the stage.

    Elsewhere, Madame Defarge has become Richard III (I mean she has a blood-lust spiralling out of control, rather than that her remains are under a carpark in Leicester – although maybe we could have a quick dig around after the round-table on Friday?). Just as Richard alienates his closest ally Buckingham as he goes too far, so too, as she plans yet more deaths, do we see cracks appearing between the Defarges (now there’s a hell of a marriage counselling session). With Darnay doomed, Dickens maintains the tension and peril by putting the Lucies at risk – can the curse of the Evremondes be lifted in time?

    • I think Lucie’s declaration that she will die (of grief, presumably) if her husband is executed is pure melodrama and thus not really a psychological inconsistency. It’s interesting that you mention rescuing children from burning fires because Lucie’s outburst reminded me of the house fire in Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (a novel Dickens loved and which is very much within the sentiment/sentimental tradition), in which the hero and his wife fear their children have been killed: ‘O Misery! “Where,” cried I, “where are my little ones?” “They are burnt to death in the flames,” says my wife, calmly, “and I will die with them.”‘ (Don’t worry: the sprogs are rescued in the next paragraph.) I remember being profoundly moved by this intense, melodramatic scene when I first read it, but I think that is the purpose of melodrama: the distillation and concentration of emotion to an intense, affective outburst that rouses similar emotion in the audience/reader. Melodrama is not simply a derogatory term for an excess of emotion, but rather a precise, theatricalised way of embody and expressing intense emotions via declamatory statements and bodily gestures. TOTC was very successfully adopted for the stage and I think moments such as this – Lucie steps forwards and makes an extreme, emotion-filled declaration before fainting in grief – are the essence of melodrama.

      • Thanks Ben for the needful reminder that melodrama need not be derogatory. I think this is one of many divergences that modern readers have to come to terms with, along with pathos, as a form of entertainment generally sneered at today (is that because we’re more cynical? More conscious of parody?). Moments like Lucie’s outburst in court come across as over-the-top and a bit cheesy for those of us who like a bit more psychological realism in our characters, but as has been said time and again, this is a story where Dickens was focusing on plot, not character, and therefore emotional responses can be painted with broadstrokes to convey reactions effectively and concisely before moving on to the next plot point.

  2. This is the bit I was going to mention when we were earlier talking about Lucie being without Sin. I don’t think it’s pure melodrama. I think that since this was her situation–that her own mother passed away leaving her alone, she too values her husband over her child. Essentially, it’s the way she was raised, or not raised. I think this idea that children are sacred might be a modern one (since at least the Victorian period, which makes it interesting that Lucie can so abjectly flaunt it and still be a sympathetic character) , and our judgement on Lucie being ok with leaving her child an orphan might be coloured by modern values. That being said, her intention of abandoning her child and father in grief here is another chink in Lucie’s flawless personality.

    Poor little Lucie is going to be a bit messed up when she gets older!
    I find it interesting that again, it is Carton who picks her up here. The first time, no one noticed that he was the one to get Lucie help in the courtroom. I’m surprised that this time, Miss Pross doesn’t suspect Carton of moving in on Darnay’s territory when he asks to kiss Lucie. It might be that again, they are all so absorbed in their own tragedy that they aren’t paying attention to him.

    One more thing: Sydney Carton encourages Dr. Manette to go out and make one more try to advocate for Darnay’s life. He says something here along the lines of “for as little as life is worth when we misuse it, it is worth that.” I’ve had a thought about that. I think this indicates that either he’s afraid of something or he doesn’t want Lucie to think that what happens next was done lightly. I’m surprised that again, Mr Lorry is not picking up on his wording here which seems to not apply to Charles at all. Once again, this seems to indicate that everyone else is so absorbed in their own tragedy that they’re missing the really not subtle signs of what is to come.

    • On the last thing: Carton must know that sending Manette out to advocate again for Charles may break him mentally. I think it’s pretty clear that Carton is not doing things without thinking them through at this point and he’s very conscious of how things are going to affect Lucie. I don’t think he’d ask this of Manette unless he himself wasn’t a bit desperate.

      • Do you think that would have occurred to Carton? I wonder. Dr. Manette had been very strong throughout his time in Paris, largely because he was being so active. It’s possible Carton thought of sending him to try one more activity as a last-ditch effort to keep him from mental collapse. But of course, it’s impossible to say for sure what Dickens had in mind there!

      • Hmm, I think I’m with Gina here, and am not convinced that Carton would know this would happen – Lorry has seen Manette in his mentally degraded state, but Carton hasn’t, and the event was hidden even from Lucie, so why should Carton even suspect this should happen? I think it is a case of trying to be kind by a) keeping Manette busy, and b) giving them the belief that all that could be done was done.

        Carton kissing Lucie is a bit of an oddity isn’t it? Not so much for him doing it, but for everyone else being okay with it – in the modern era the idea of kissing a female while in a catatonic state has highly disturbing undertones. But then it’s not an ordinary day and emotions are running high – who’s to say what’s normal and what’s not?

        On that note, I think you’re absolutely on the ball in suggesting that Lucie’s unusual upbringing has coloured her priorities and idea of what is a normal or acceptable upbringing for a child – i.e “I grew up an orphan and I turned out okay” (if being in a volatile revolutinaory country married to a condemned prisoner while lusted upon by his doppelganger and all the while having a mentally unhinged father can be classed as “okay”). I read an interesting article some years back since when the columnist was standing forward and declaring herself to be a bad mother. Her reason? Because as much as she loved her kids, she loved her husband more, and he’d be the first one she’d get out of a burning building. It’s an awkward quesiton for a parent – with no right answer – I think you’re right in suggesting a change in ideas since Dickens’s time.These days we are expected, perhaps women even more so, to prioritise our kids first, but back in the Victorian era we are firmly in the realm of “best seen and not heard”. I’ve just been reading Dickens’s “Sketches of Couples” and one sketch in particular, “the couple who dote upon their children” stands in direct contrast perhaps to the current age’s ideas of parenthood.

    • I was reading somewhere how Dickens continues to idealise and infantilise Lucie, even though she is a married woman who has had children (and thus, presumably, sex). In a brilliant essay called ‘The Ideal Girl in Industrial England’, Catherine Robson persuasively argues that Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop is presented as static, unchanging and always essentially virtuous and sexually pure, despite the multiple sexualised threats she faces from Quilp and her grandfather. Robson describes Nell as ‘a paradox of moving stillness’ as Dickens ‘attempts to erase the [sexual] ambiguities [of Nell] by maintaining that the child’s body is invested with an essential stillness that no motion can disturb.’ I wonder if something similar is happening here: Lucie has been wrought to a fever pitch of melodramatic passion, surrounded by the ever shifting tumult of the court and the revolutionaries. Here, though, is a moment of stillness, of her virtue and goodness frozen, her motion and sexuality stopped. Without being crass, Dickens did have a bit of a thing for dead/still girls and I wonder if Carton here embodies Dickens’s erotic attraction towards such girls. Also, it makes a wonderful ‘tableau vivant’, those moments in melodramas and amateur dramatics when the action would freeze and everybody would pose as if in a painting.

      • Part of the danger of pretending we are oblivious to the ending of the book is that we may be tempted to read too much into some of these small gestures. I’m betting that most of the original readers would have guessed the ending by now given the megaton sized hints that Dickens is leaving in Carton’s dialog. The characters have an excuse for not recognizing it–they’ve kept poor Carton on the fringes for most of the novel, and are now absorbed in their own trauma.
        Keeping with the fantasy, though, of not knowing the ending, the kiss may simply be necessary.

      • My own theory (in keeping with what Pete said a little while earlier about plot being paramount here): The faint is in large part a plot device that keeps Lucie from being aware of Carton’s presence. You’ll recall he said earlier that he had better not see her while there in Paris, and circumstances seem to be conspiring to help him follow through on that declaration. (Well, technically, he’s seeing her, but she’s not seeing him, so it counts!) I can’t say any more on that without going into spoiler territory, but maybe I’ll come back to it later . . .

      • Thanks, both, for these great comments. I hadn’t thought about the kiss in terms of the plot; of course it’s necessary for Carton to be hidden from Lucie, so her faint is mightily ‘convenient’. It does beg the interesting question, though: if Lucie knew Carton’s intention, what would she do? Anyway, spoilers!

  3. Loosely connected to this: going back to poor Dr Manette and his fragile mental state, has anyone else picked up on the BBC’s latest Dickens adaptation? Understandible if you haven’t as it’s being shown in the daytime (thank heavern for Iplayer) every day this week at 2.15. It’s called Nick Nickleby and it’s in modern dress, and one of the more interesting updates is to Dotheboys, which becomes Dotheolds Home for the elderly, and Smike is now Mrs Smike, an elderly patient with a history of mental illness. It took me aback at first but on reflection it makes sense inasmuch as, with Ofsted and such like in full force, failing schools can’t hide, whereas there has been a spate of scandals of hidden abuse in care homes that identifies these as the establishments where a modern day Squeers might thrive.

    • I had heard about the show, but I didn’t know it had started yet. (Dotheolds — ha! Very clever.) I’m hoping BBC America or some other channel will show it over here.

      • Thanks for the tip off Pete, this sounds great. I love it when Dickens as social reformer is recalled to life by politically minded adaptations. A favourite is the South African film ‘A Boy Called Twist’, which worked with a children’s charity in Cape Town to recruit street kids to play the members of Fagin’s gang.

  4. Lots of interesting points Gina, Rokujolady and Pete. Returning to Rokujolady’s suggestion that little Lucie was likely to be affected by these events later on , Dickens anticipates that one but saying that she told her grandchildren ‘when she was a handsome old lady’ what she had heard him say — so the implication is that she had a happy life despite everything.

    On Carton’s kissing Lucie, he does ask little Lucie’s permission — and Lucie is after all unconscious — so no proprieties are broken here are they?

    I’m with Pete on Dr. Manette’s having to make one last effort to save Darnay even though Mr Lorry and Carton know it will be futile. He is a man of honour and he wants to do everything for his daughter’s happiness. He has shown amazing resilience throughout the whole Reign of Terror and only Mr Lorry and Lucie remember his former shattered condition. Carton is only advising him (Manette) to do what he knows he wants to do.

    • It’s funny; I didn’t think about the significance of little Lucie retelling the story to her grandchildren, but you’re right, it does give us quite a clue as to her fate doesn’t it – i.e., whatever happens now in these last few weeks, little Lucie at least is going to make it.

      On Manette’s suffering and doing all that he can, I did wonder about Darnay’s response after the trial; he says: “What have you done, what have you done, that you should kneel to us! We know now, what a struggle you made of old. We know now, what you underwent when you suspected my descent, and when you knew it. We know now, the natural antipathy you strove against, and conquered, for her dear sake.” So as far as Darnay is concerned, everything that can be done has already been done; consequently Manette’s actions afterwards, though futile,. only have any meaning because they are being done AFTER the trial – objectively, Manette could sit back already and say “I’ve done everything I can”, but of course such thoughts are not a comfort, and it is far more rewarding at this point of desperation to feel that you’re doing something – anything – rather than acceppting the inevitable.

      What I also wonder – and please tell me if it was mentioned earlier in the plot and I missed it – is whether Manette has had any suspicion all this time that his letter is still out there and what it contains? Has he been blissfully unaware of what he wrote during his incarceration, or has it been haunting him as a potential threat to everything he’s tried to achieve – is he sat there in the trial with a dull dread of what’s coming or is he taken completely unawares?

      • There was a moment in an earlier chapter — it was when they all had tea under the tree, before Lucie and Darnay were married — when Darnay was talking about the discovery of an old hidden manuscript or something like that, and Dr. Manette gave a sudden start and seemed agitated. It was as if he remembered without really remembering.

      • Ah yes, I thought there might have been something – so he is (on some level) aware of his own letter and the threat within. But doesn’t that incident occur before the revolution, and while Darnay is safe and snug in England – in other words, before he is at any risk? So Manette’s fear of the letter at that stage would be the guilt of having made a judgment upon his future son-in-law (perhaps an overly thoughtful reaction given the treatment he received which prompted the letter). Can anyone recall any mention of the letter post-revolution (other than Defarge’s digging it out of the cell), or can we assume Dickens is deliberately avoiding bringing it back to our attention for the grand reveal at Darnay’s retrial?

  5. Sitting here on a cold, foggy, late Autumn afternoon I have a few nits and need a good scratch.
    Lucie does not, as Rokujolady suggests, value her child over her husband. She has no intention of abandoning little Lucie as Peter says. What she does understand is that without Charles her heart will break just as her mother’s did but she will fight against it (“I feel that this will break my heart by and by; but I will do my duty while I can….”) and her hope is that her daughter will find her own Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross and not grow into a mixed up kid.
    That Kiss! There is more to it than an inappropriate gesture. Carton himself is an orphan whose mother died when he was a young boy, whether from a broken heart or not we don’t know but in the custom of the time he would kiss her cheek before she was buried as would others who loved her. With Lucie unconscious and faint she may well look deathly white and a last kiss from a surrogate deathbound Charles would be a kind gesture even though it would be Charles himself she would never be kissed by again. The kiss being from “A life you love” gives rise to an ambiguity. It could be Charles but it could also be one first and last kiss from a forlorn lover, a Samurai bidding farewell to his love and girding his loins in front of a shop window before setting out for war, for war against the Defarges is what he is about.

    • Hmm. That kiss. So are we suggesting that Carton believes Lucies to be on the point of death here? Because Carton’s later comments about fleeing France point to her continued life after Darnay’s death; plus he implicitly asks the others not to waker her but to leave her unconscious as an anaesthetic for her pain. Otherwise, I still find her being unconscious for the kiss rather odd – of whom is he asking permission, and why not ask it of Lucie herself? I can only assume that Dickens renders her unconcscious to allow Carton his moment without impairing Lucie’s purity – it is a stolen kiss. It could also be extended to see Lucie not as a dying soul, but rather some sort of saviour, a virgin mary or somesuch who Carton kisses as one might kiss an aretefact, both as a mark of homage and as part of a prayer (an ironic mistype back there (now corrected) saw me write Lucier instead of Lucie, which made me think of the name’s close approximation to Lucifer, rather an inappropriate connection for such a pure soul!).

      • Well, you have the Lucifer thing partly right as Lucifer’s name shares the same root indicative of brightness as does Lucie. Interesting comment about the Kiss. This is one we might have to comment on in hindsight, but it’s an interesting thought about kissing the cheek of a corpse or even a religious relic. I think the words “a life you love” are an allusion to the end of the chapter “Fellow of No Delicacy” where he promises that he will embrace any sacrifice to keep a life you [Lucie] love beside you.

  6. Well remembered! Another good example of the demands Dickens makes on his readers. The full quotation is ‘O Miss Manette, when the little picture of a happy father’s face looks up in yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!’

  7. So on the topic of orphans: Oliver Twist’s mother died in childbirth, as did David Copperfield’s with her second child, Esther Summerson’s parentage remains a mystery and she is thought to be an orphan, Ebenezer Scrooge’s parents sent him away to boarding school, effectively making him an emotional orphan, Nicholas Nickleby’s father dies at the beginning of the novel, Edwin Drood is an orphan as his betrothed, Rosa Budd, AND surprise, surprise, so is John Harmond/Rokesmith an orphan as well. Therefore, while I am troubled by Lucie’s farewell to Charles, hinting that Little Lucy will be an orphan soon, I kind of saw it coming.

    I just wish that Dickens would have had more time to flesh out the character of Little Lucy. I think it could have really added something to this text as he always seemed to write the child’s point of view so eloquently.

    • Thank you for this great observation, Katie. I was also thinking about how the novel is haunted by children who have lived and died, either physically or phantasmically – Lucie’s dead child; Dr Manette’s ‘other’ son and daughter – and how the adults are haunted by the ghosts of their dead childhood. Madame Defarge, for example is so powerfully dominated by the ghosts of her dead family and by the ghost of her traumatised youth that she would send an innocent family to the guillotine to sate her rage. (I must say that I am secretly loving Madame Defarge!) It would make sense for Lucie Jnr to be an orphan, according to the Gothicised logic of the novel, because most of the characters have dreadful parents, abandoning parents, locked-up (physically and emotionally) parents, or dead parents. If there’s one thing you can count on from a Dickensian (biological) parent, it’s disappointment!

      • I know it’s dangerous to try to link fiction to biography, but I am intrigued by this. We’re always quick to whip out the Warren’s blacking factory trauma as a key influence on his life, and his disappointment in his parents and their debt can be seen as a cause for so many disappointing parents in his fiction, but – and it’s quite a big but – Dickens himself was a parent for the majority of his writing career, so why do parents continue to disappoint? What does this say about Dickens? Why do we only see positive surrogate parents, and distanced biological parents?

    • It’s interesting you say that, katieloubell, because one of the very few things I dislike about this great novel is Little Lucie’s dialogue at this point. I always want to smack my forehead and say, “Dickens, why couldn’t you just let her talk like a normal child instead of a Greek orator?!” 🙂

  8. I was fascinated by Joanne’s observation about Victorian psychology. In one instalment – I’m afraid I can’t find the quote now – there is mention of ‘a chain of association’, which demonstrates that Dickens was au fait with the popular Victorian psychological theory of associationism. Associationist psychology conjectured that mental life originates in sensory experience of a quantifiable and knowable material environment; the mind’s organisational structures develop to order a continuous stream of sensations with complex ideas arising from the accretion and
    repetition of simple ones. This was a materialist psychology, rooted in Lockean philosophy, and opposed to Kant’s transcendentalism – in which fragmentary perceptions are cognitively synthesised and unified in the mind by a priori categories. This materialist understanding of the contingent, physiological nature of mental synthesis led scientists and doctors to seek to delineate the physical and psychological processes by which disjointed sensory experiences were coherently integrated as consciousness. TOTC abounds with images of streams and chains – which were common metaphors in materialist psychology – and with the idea that childhood memories and sensations remain an intense, motivating element of adult mental life. Also, associationist psychologists were fascinated by habits, tics, quirks and repetitions and how the mind responded to emotional and physical trauma (Dr Manette’s shoemaking). I think the entire story is framed by this psychological approach.

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