Important invitation to all dickenstaleoftwocities followers/participants!

As part of the Being Human national UK festival of the Humanities, Dickens Journals Online and the Victorian Studies Centre at the University of Leicester are inviting you all to join a workshop chaired by members of the original blogging team to discuss the aftermath of the experience, as part of a series of social/analytical events called Defining Digital Dickens.

We have travel grants to assist with getting you there (of up to £25) and full details, directions, and a simple booking method (it’s free–and refreshments are provided!) can be found at:– 

It would be fantastic if you were able to join us at the University of Leicester on Thursday 19th November at 3pm. We look forward to meeting you!

John Drew & Gail Marshall
Director, Dickens Journals Online / Director,Logo

Victorian Studies Centre



Poker in Paris

[Coming into the blog-room rather late in the day like an ill-prepared tutorial student] “Like, what Pete said!”

No, honestly, there’s little to add, but my thanks. I’m just disappointed that Barsad doesn’t actually challenge Carton to explain which poker variant they’re playing (I believe there are some major differences between draw, stud, and ‘Texas hold ’em). Or is it a non-mock-heroic game of Ombre, with all the players bidding for trumps?

Sydney is certainly filling El Hombre’s boots, drinking liquor heroically (from that tiny glass).

Forgive me if this seems a digression, but, having forgotten my turn to post an ‘instigator’ installment of our blog today, and gone through the common variety of emotions from guilt to a general sense of annoyance at a Duty forgot, I suddenly glimpsed what it may have been like for the Big D, to have had the weekly responsibility of carrying the whole show (not just the serial itself but the whole All the Year Round enterprise) week in week out for such a stretch of time. I can barely remember April, when we started out: it’s most of this YEAR, isn’t it?

Admittedly, by October 1859, the writing of ATOTC was all sown up: the composition completed, apparently, on 4th October, and then on 6th he has that important letter to Wilkie Collins, distinguishing between his friend’s manner of presenting revelations in ‘too elaborately trapped, baited and prepared’ a fashion (harsh?!) and his own more, well, divine methods: “I think the business of Art us to lay all that ground carefully, but with the care that conceals itself [ars est celare artem–gosh a concealed arty reference! Will Wilkie get it? Surely yes, admiringly]–to shew, by a backward light, what everything has been working to–but only to SUGGEST [in capitals, mind], until the fulfilment comes. These are the ways of Providence–of which all Art is but a little imitation’

Lofty stuff, suggestive of Someone resting after a mighty labour of Creation. But, even so, there was still the weekly schedule of making up the weekly number, and then Proofing. I found about 6 errors lurking in DJO’s version of this week’s installment (perhaps a higher count than in previous weeks–what do you think?) and felt vaguely responsible: but thanks to the infinitely provisional nature of online editing, was able to remove them in 5 minutes. Back then, presumably, it could involve a last-minute panic and rush of marked-up galley proofs over to the printers….

Anyhow, don’t want to labour the point. But what a weight it must have been, and what a relief–is it almost palpable in the gathering pace and sense that Providence has arranged a long rest for everyone?–to feel that the home straight was in sight, and everyone would get disposed of.

I recall some critic or other writing about the mighty sweep of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago that the first half is dedicated to giving an impression of the teeming multitude of Russia and the disconnectedness of everything, while the second–almost reneging on this worldview–carefully links up all the specks in the snow. Coincidences abound. There’s something of that going on as we hurtle to the not-too-but-quite-carefully-baited trap of the finale, when everyone will have to hold hands and take a bow.

I’ll be on my feet. Will you?

Week Eighteen–A Hard Rain

” ‘Tis the sunset of life give me mystical lore/ And coming events cast their shadow before”. This favourite couplet from Thos. Campbell’s ‘Lochiel’s Warning’ was one Dickens loved to play with, and somehow, all the foreshadowing and echoing that’s been going on makes me feel surprised this week that the Bastille hasn’t been stormed already. Which of course it has, and in a sense we’ve been working our way forwards and backwards to it like good weavers should. The description of Lucie in her shadowy corner is making me think of Tennyson, and I wonder whether Dickens thinks there’s anything to be made of her as a Lady of Shalott type or a Mariana at the moated grange. The speaker of Adelaide Anne Procter’s ”Over the Mountain’—simultaneously tranquil and nervously waiting for something to come over the hill in this week’s poetry offering–makes a good foil. Given the short space he’s got to move in to bring the narrative forward the requisite amount of time, the stylised concision of verse, or at least some of its rhetorical techniques, is/are helpful for Dickens to adopt. And what about this for a passage of fine iambic pentatmeters?–

Suffer them and forbid them not. They see
My Father’s face. O Father, blessed words! […]
The rustling of an Angel’s wings got blended
With the other echoes, and they were
Not wholly of earth, but had in them
That breath of Heaven. Sighs of the winds that blew
Over a little garden-tomb were mingled
With them also; […] both were audible
To Lucie, in a hushed murmur—like the
Breathing of a summer sea asleep
Upon a sandy shore….

Actually, this bit is more Wordsworth than Tennyson, with a wee hint of ‘Tintern Abbey’ (‘with a hushed inland murmur’ etc) mixed up with the ‘Immortality Ode’–which poems also have to articulate powerfully the ideas of the passage of time and growth/loss/rebirth, in short compass, in order to work their magic.

Lucie listening, Paul Dombey listening to ‘what the waves were always saying’–surely an echo there too, though quite why Dickens feels the need to go one step further and introduce, in addition to little Lucie, a second boy child who gets born and dies nobly, all within a paragraph, is rather beyond me. His age is undefined, presumably negligible, so his ability to talk about SC like a chum from the upper sixth (“Poor Carton. Kiss him for me!”), is disconcerting.

Stryver, as usual, provides some opportunity for grotesque comedy rather than romantic strains. Dickens seems genuinely affronted by his own creation’s effrontery, and anticipates, in a curious aside, the desire for methods of summary execution he will soon cry down in the Parisian mob (p. 410, …’surely such an incorrigible aggravation of an originally bad offence, as to justify any such offender’s being carried off to some suitably retired spot, and there hanged out of the way.’).

The transition to the Paris movement, through the introduction of a nervous Jarvis, attuned to the panicking European financial markets, is wonderfully done I think, as Dickens works himself up to storm the Bastille as, some 16 years before, he had got himself into a suitable lather to break into Newgate with the London mob of Barnaby Rudge, in the midst of the ‘Gordon riots’. I don’t have a chronology to hand, but I think that was also being composed and distributed in the month of August, with Dickens and perhaps a goodly number of his middle class readers, within hearing of the sea breakers. There is a terrific specificity in the Newgate scenes in Rudge, and we have the added interest of looking out, with a whole variety of sensations, for old friends amongst the rioters–Barnaby with his flag, Hugh, Dennis, Simon Tappertit et al.–whereas here I don’t think we have quite the same human interest with the Defarges…. Instead though, Dickens goes for a more apocalyptic register, with the transformation of Saint Antoine into some kind of republican Leviathan helllbent on Hulkish destruction. The seven astonished prisoners, the seven severed heads, the beast and the ocean–it’s all building tremendously to remind us what a hard rain’s gonna fall.

The transition to a non-fiction article called ‘Rice’ at the end of the installment can hardly fail to seem bathetic–though here too we have a starving mob by torchlight, perishing and fighting. The fine report of the ‘Sack of Perugia’ towards the end of this week’s number offers another taut synchronicity between accounts of continental revolution and terror in All the Year Round.

Week Eleven: Dickens the Designer

Coming to the weekly part a couple of days late–well, five, if you consider that All the Year Round hit the bookstands the Wednesday before its Saturday publication date–I read it all at one breakfast-time sitting. First reactions? Pardon me, the ATOTC episode felt thin. I’ve looked several times at the first sentence–

MORE months, to the number of twelve, had come and gone, and Mr. Charles Darnay was established in England as a higher teacher of the French language who was conversant with French literature.

–and tried to consider by what measure of judgement I could consider it a good one. As an opener for the issue, it feels depressingly like a Murray first serve. Or like a barely fleshed out synopsis: ‘Music plays “The Passage of Time” (1 year) / Darnay now a tutor; successful (explain). Dialogue…’

[This reminds me that, along with the manuscript at the V&A, are preserved the number plans for ATOTC, which Dickens approached  as though he was planning a monthly rather than a weekly serial, and then chopped up. Note to self: dig copy of these out of badly-organised office archive, and post anything of interest.]

My sense of the thinness of the episode is based partly on the fact that Dickensian description, that luxuriant article, is so tightly reined in. The account of how Darnay has been spending his time has few unnecessary details, no sprouting, curious analogies, no arch backhanders. Straight from the middle of the racket. The dialogue itself, when we get there, is, again, like a rather uninteresting rally–

“Dear Doctor Manette, I love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her You have loved yourself; let your old love speak for me!”
“Not that, sir! Let that be! I adjure you, do not recal that!”

Meanwhile, on court number one, Stryver vs. Carton. This, though a contest between (apparently) two lesser players, is far more engaging. Dickens seems so much more at home with these two–if only his dialogists could always be mixing punch!

Gradually, almost grudgingly, however, as the episode comes to a close I come to admire all the things I know already Dickens is trying to do. He’s designing a story, for structure, rather than telling one for the love of talking. The episode proposes ‘two promises’, one from each pair of speakers, with a condition thrown in for good measure, and duly delivers. The situation is engrossing, and the contrasts between Lucie’s three suitors could not be more clearly drawn (manly thoughtfulness; complacent coarseness; hopeless secrecy), even if the reader continues to feel a degree of outrage at the golden haired doll’s being disposed of so summarily by everyone around her. Even Manette’s at it (‘If she should ever tell me that you are essential to her perfect happiness, I will give her to you’). Still, at 9¼ columns the episode fulfils its own promise as economically as could be desired, and–widening the aperture to consider the issue as a whole, from an editorial perspective–I think one can also admire how Dickens is prepared to leave the supply of grotesque comic socio-political detail to other writers, who grapple with the material realities, the heft and stubborness of life, in more open and formless articles. John Hollingshead’s ‘Castles in the Sea’, Walter Thornbury’s ‘Viva L’Italia!’ and the final part of Charley Collins’s ‘New Sentimental Journey’ are all wonderfully ‘Dickensian’ in this respect, yet also push–with their emphasis on repressed plots and presentiments of things to come–back towards one of the central design themes of the main magazine serial.

There are a few interesting circumstantial trifles too, that this week’s episode throws up. On 30th June 1859, Dickens sent his sub-editor W.H. Wills instructions to post ‘fair revises’ of the proofs of these two chapters, and of the two that follow next week, ‘to Miss Ellen Ternan, 2 Ampthill Place, Ampthill Square, N.W.’ She would read them a week or more before the rest of the world did. Dickens’s thoughts about what she would make of their content, her reactions to being asked to consider Lucie’s situation as the object of all this tortured parental-conjugal passion are beyond recuperation–but are surely interesting to speculate about. There is perhaps an added frisson in all this supplied by the knowledge that by the Autumn of this year, Dickens would be dealing with Charley Collins as the accepted suitor of his high-spirited daughter Katey; they married in July 1860. One wonders how Charley approached the task of addressing his future father-in-law on the subject: if he borrowed or fled from the Darnay model?

Finally, the author of ‘Totty’s Consolations'(p. 252 of this issue) research reveals to be Robert Barnabas Brough (1828-60); more info. on the DJO website shortly!

Week Four

Having fought my way through all the titles, subtitles, chapter titles etc. (the casual reader is not to be in doubt that this is A PROPERLY THOUGHT-OUT BOOK) the first thing I sense about this encounter is the effect of camera close-ups, and a sort of slow motion focus on the prisoner’s state of mind, as expressed in gestures, and the pantomime with the shoe. Not being expert in the effects of imprisonment, trauma, memory loss, etc. I’m not sure if what I am seeing is casebook genuine or a fantastic actor’s performance of the real thing. Does it matter? This is what we’ve come up into the tower to see. Continue reading