Months and months ago, back when we first started this blog, there was some debate as to the rules of how we should proceed. With such a famous novel even those who hadn’t read it before had some awareness as to plot or character or oft-repeated quotes – could we discuss these things as we went? Could we even refer to Lucie as “Lucie” and not Miss Manette given that Dickens didn’t get round to mentioning her first name for what seemed like an age? It was decided that no, we could not, there should be no spoilers. And fair enough, we don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience of reading the novel. But when reading this instalment it occurred to me, that such rules have meant that we have had to read against the grain to an extent and curtail our discussion of what seems to have been a vital part of the text. Note, this isn’t a criticism – I absolutely see the necessity of the rule – but this is a novel that is constantly looking to the future, hinting at a known or unknown something just around the corner. The echoing footsteps are back in this part and back in force. Carton’s wanderings around Paris clearly point to something, even if we do not yet know exactly what that something is.
The clues have been there all along, I think, even if we do not yet know quite how to interpret them. Is Dickens suggesting something of this kind through Mr Lorry’s idea of the cyclical pattern of life in this part?:
‘[A]s I draw closer and closer to the end, I travel in the circle, nearer and nearer to the beginning. It seems to be one of the kind smoothings and preparings of the way. My heart is touched now, by many remembrances that had long fallen asleep, of my pretty young mother (and I so old!), and by many associations of the days when what we call the World was not so real with me, and my faults were not confirmed in me’.
Beginnings and endings are not so different. Life is a circle. This fits with the Bible passage that haunts Carton on his wanderings:
‘I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were
dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die’.
It also seems go well with the poem that follows on from this instalment, entitled ‘Life’.
LIFE is a tree, and we and all mankind
Are but the tender germ or fruit thereon.
Some born to blossom, some to fade away,
Some to endure the end by furthest stay.
[…] Yet, mortal, hear,
And chiefly note, O man, the fruit shall die
Whilst thou endure the vast eternity.
Perhaps this is why, despite the rather creepy paragraph regarding eyes in the courtroom, and ghoulish guillotine-barber timekeeping, there seemed to be something hopeful about this instalment for me, and the image that sticks with me is that of Carton helping the small girl across the mud and asking her for a kiss.
Post Script: On a random note, the mention of Sydney’s white coat seems rather odd – could this be a reference to Fielding’s Tom Jones?