I love it when a plan comes together and I love the way this plan is brought to life. From an angst ridden beginning in which Darnay comes to terms with the fact that he is soon to die to his slow awakening in a coach with something clutched in his hand is, for me, the most exciting part of the story.
It is filled with heart-stopping moments which precurse Hitchcock’s films by a good eighty years and add fuel to Ben’s comments on Dickens’ use of psychology. Staging the action in three steps and using changes in the pace of time he has Darnay himself ‘recalled to life’ from the certain death he has accepted as being his lot.
Knowing that he will soon be one of Mme. Guillotine’s victims he gradually relaxes and dashes of three letters, sleeps and dreams two dreams, reflections of Manettes visions in the Bastille. With the advent of morning he waits the day out, pacing and counting the hours until his name will be called to mount a tumbril to journey to the slaughterhouse in Place de la Concorde. Slowly his pacing turns into a strut and he folds his arms as if a stiff upper lip and becomes a true English man (shades of Newbolt and falling among thieves) As the deadline, literally, approaches, footsteps ring along the stone passageway and he stops pacing. A key turns in the lock, his time has come.
A low voiced conversation and the pace changes as Carton steps in. A very different Carton to the the man who gazed up at the courtroom ceiling, drank punch by the pint and couldn’t care less about anything, including himself. This Carton is full of energy and go, giving Darnay no time to resist or protest as he orders him to exchange clothes and write Carton’s love letter to his own wife. Now we know why he purchased chemicals, wore a long distinctve white coat and took time to check his loose cravat and wild hair at a shop window. Changing places with Darnay is what we all knew he was destined to do. Having drugged Darnay the whole plot now rests on the Spy. Will he give away Carton, will he do what Carton wants? Edge of the seat stuff as Carton convinces him that his secret is safe with him and all will be well and Darnay is carried out to freedom by two of his jailers. In his game of poker Carton has played himself as a wild card Joker and the count remains at fifty two.
A few nailbiting minutes later and he knows his part in the plot has worked as “Keys turned, doors clashed, footsteps passed along distant passages: no cry was raised, or hurry made, that seemed unusual.” Then other doors are opened and Evremond is called to attend the altar of the Republic.
The nailbiting isn’t over. As he waits in a dark room he is embraced by a man “…as having knowledge of him.” Is this where the plot will fall apart; will it all have been in vain? No, the man moves on and we can share Carton’s releif for a breif moment until a young woman recognises him as Evremond whom she met on La Force and another ‘thrill of discovery’ rushes over him as he bluffs his way through. Tension falls away as she explains her innocence which she is willing to give up for the good of ‘….us poor’ which truly she doubts. Tho’ she is “Such a poor weak little creature.” she understands what Carton is about. So our two idealists are both content to die for love of one sort or the other and all she requires of him is that they hold hands when the tumbril bounces them away.
The change of style of writing as we pass from the Conciergerie to the North Barrier is nothing if not dramatic. From being informed we become part of the tale and sit there in the coach sweating as passports are slowly and thoroughly checked. It is scenes such as this that have Mrs. B leaning aggresively out of her chair screaming and threatening the TV. The journey to the coast can’t be hurried and like Lucie we are filled with apprehension and fear that something will go wrong and the carriage be stopped. She wants to go faster but Lorry is to wise for that. The carriage rolls on through villages, passing fields and tanneries which are all the same, giving an impression that no matter how fast we go we wont get any further by going faster in any case and all we can do is sit quiet and sweat.
Arriving at a post house the fear and apprehension increases as the postillions take their time changing horses but at last we are off. Or are we? The carriage stops and with hearts in mouths we draw deep breath and prepare for the worst.
The question “How many did they say?” leaves us all perplexed. The situation is reminiscent of the guards on the Dover mail as they considered what ‘recalled to life’ might mean.
This time the debate is about the number who have been sent to the Guillotine today, a harsh reminder that Samson’s work still goes on. Lorry answers with the words “Fifty two.” The coach moves on as the postillion cries out “… I love it. Hi forward, whoops.” At least two on the coach are happy and we can mentally fall back on our seats for a moment before straining to look back through the dark for any signs of pursuit feeling only the breath of the wind, seeing nothing but cloud and moon as the wheels grind round and carry us away from a city of pain to one where hope can thrive.
I love it.