About Mr Booley

Just an old geezer with a shed, wife, clapped out car and has just become great grandad.

The End

Apologies for posting this so late in the day. Events in life are occasionally as contorted as in the story.

It has been a long journey. Hung up my coat, cleaned off my boots and indulged in a tall, china mug of tea. All that is left is sit by the fire and contemplate where I have been and why.
The why is easy, besides having done a bit of work for DJO it had been more than sixty odd years since I had last travelled the mud covered roads from London to Paris and back again. And what an exciting road it was, sitting at a long polished oak table in the Co-op library above the Co-op grocer or trudging the roads of North Durham.
I don’t suppose a year has passed since then when I haven’t heard someone quote both opening and closing lines from the Tale so reading the whole story again in its original serial form was a challenge I could not resist.
The journey itself was not quite how I had imagined it. Riding the mail down to Dover was as disconcerting as it had been, with the sight of Jerry muffled up in thick woollen scarf and riding cape (not the cringing wimp in the Phiz illustration, more of a Robert Newton on a bad day in Hatter’s Castle) making my heart stop as he appeared out of the fog and the mad dreams punctuated by ruts in the road giving me nightmares when I fell asleep.
Guts turning over at the wine shop scene, sadness and anger as an old man made shoes. Edge of the seat when young Jerry was chased by coffins (I avoided walking through the cemetery for two weeks after that, even though it added a long walk around the village to get to school) Some lovey-dovey stuff then the thrill of the Bastille. As for the rest; a determined French woman crying vengeance, a kangaroo court, prison, escape and Carton. He was a hero at a time when there had been lots of heroes in the war like the young DLI rifleman who, despite having parts of him missing, carried on firing a two pound gun so that his mates could make a safe retreat.
The closing lines have always struck me as something of an epitaph for those who had made such a sacrifice.
Getting back to the subject, the book I have just read is not the same book I read sitting on a hard wooden chair. Nothing in the words has changed, nothing in the writing has changed but the meaning has changed radically. Over the first fifteen weeks I was content to renew acquaintance with half forgotten characters such as Miss Pross, the Vengeance, Jerry and more, whose names, and sometimes roles, had long slipped through the sieve of my memory. The discipline of ‘not knowing‘ what came next in the story was frustrating at times but provided the same opportunity for discussion and reflection on ‘the story so far’ as its Victorian readers had and digging into more detail than a straight reading would allow for. There were times however when blogs and comments tended to indulge in the mediaeval ecclesiastic sport of counting how many angels were dancing on the head of a pin and I was happy to take part in the game. However at week sixteen I sensed that something was not quite as it should have been and by week twenty I had so many nits chewing at me that I knew that I was not on the same wavelength as others and I didn’t know why.
A more leisurely re-reading of the parts that had left queries in my head lead me to the first of several breadcrumb trails Dickens had left inside the story.
It is this point I should confess, I did not read from the DJO site but from the Penguin 1994 edition which is conveniently divided up in sections as per the weekly instalments. Reading from the transcription is awkward for me as with the short lines I find myself reading in a cross between blank verse and a nursery rhyme. This time I checked the facsimile pages which don’t bother me so much.
Had I been using the transcript, I may have picked up on this earlier because someone else somewhere in the past had queried two sentences. These are on page four of the facsimile. When reading from the transcription the first column of the facsimile is visible and one line has been marked in pencil. When the page is expanded to full size immediately beside the marked section, which records Jerry’s thoughts as he watches the mail get underway, there is another mention, almost a repetition, of what he is thinking as he rides back to the bank.

Jerry mail

Whether the pencil marks were made by some student following through the original text, God forbid, or possibly by the first owner of the volume also queried it, I would like to think so, doesn’t really matter. What is important is that it brought me up short and I knew I had walked into one of those sleights of literary magic Dickens throws out in his stories, misdirecting attention from what is actually going on to something different
When I first read these I dismissed them as being the thoughts of a working man wondering what would happen to him, and his wages, if indeed the dead were recalled to life and the labour market became over saturated. As it is these are the beginnings of the line of crumbs leading through Mrs Crunchers head being banged on a wall, Jerry sucking rust from his fingers and Mr Lorry’s comment about graves to the “The Honest Tradesman” where his Resurrection business is revealed
From there I have followed several breadcrumb trails which have changed the whole story for me.
Where once Lucie was a boring, weepy girl I see her know as a strong character directing and supporting three strange men to the extent of spending hours a day for more than a year standing outside a prison wall to bring comfort to the man she loves. If Leander could swim the Hellespont and Penelope unpick her tapestry why is Lucie waiting outside La Force a silly idea?
Mr Lorry is no longer a genial old buffer who bounces around the story. He is a man of secrets who once fell in love with a woman he could never marry but found happiness as an adopted member of her daughter’s family.
As for Carton he is nothing like the DLI Rifleman. A talented man who can’t cope with his own history and wastes himself in drink and self pity and eventually finds a way to commit suicide without carrying the stigma of what was then a crime.
Those famous last words belong to Dickens, not Carton, as he ruminates on the recent events in his life.
Whilst most of the writing is fine I now find the story is trite and not the old adventure I loved. My copy will go back on its shelf and I don’t think I will be tempted to read it again.


One Joker and Two Idealists

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.

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.

Resurrection Men

Like Hazel I find ‘no spoilers’ a drag but now we can see where we are going and have some idea what the story is about.

I have just returned from a morning walk with dear Mrs. B. who had turned right at a path I would normally avoid. It led us down to a busy trunk road with a narrow path between a verge and a hedge. With the lady in front we ambled along until with a joyful squeak she leaned into the bushes and began to laugh.

“I haven’t done this since I was a child.” she said, whilst popping small white globes hanging in bundles from some shrubs in the hedge.

Over the next fifty yards our advance was slow as she popped, popped and laughed with sparkling eyes. Myself?

My thoughts went back to other autumns when gangs of us would cut pipes from hogweed and ‘pluff’ out haws at one another then run through woods kicking up great showers of leaves.

When the hedgerow of snow white globes ran out we almost skipped back home.

At some time, like Mr. Lorry, we all turn back to a life long past, and wonder at our return to the beginning to resurrect some distant part of our being.

Resurrection of one kind or another is this week’s theme. While Carton pens his sheep, Lorry queries Jerry about his past as a resurrection man and finds himself stymied by Jerry’s reply. Carton we find has a past once full of promise which he seems to regret – “[…] my young way was never the way to age.” and he ruminates about it as he paces the night with the opening of the order of burial service ringing through his head  just as Lorry  was stuck with the refrain “Buried how long?” “Almost eighteen years.” as he travelled through dark night at the beginning of the Tale.

Lorry’s journey ended with the resurrection of Manette. Can we take it that Sydney’s tramp will end in the resurrection of Darnay? With chemicals in his pocket and a one time chance to meet with Lucie’s husband in prison just what is he up to? Saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal would be enough to blow a hole in a wall if tamped down by something like a heavy riding coat but  that seems a bit trite.

Whatever it is that he is going to do he is doing it for Lucie and must be something to do with resurrection and light rather that burial and darkness which appear to be the  themes of the story. Whatever happens I’m clenching teeth to resist reading on.

Dickens would be pleased.

Two Judgments of Solomon and a dash of Serendipity

We descend — or do we climb? — from despair to slapstick at the stroke of a pen.

The story of Miss Pross and Jerry out shopping just as Darnay is being re-arrested provides a scene in which strange revelations can be made in the story without giving the appearance of ‘being made up on the spot’ like the dragon in Scott’s “Count Robert of Paris.”. It also provides a spot of laughter in a gloomy situation (is this an English thing? — ITMA, Flanaghan and Allan, comedy as an antidote to adversity)

Like so many others I know the beginning and end of the Tale but time has washed away much memory of what lies in between. The result is that I came to this without any knowledge of what was to happen. What does happen had me regaled with laughter as Dickens lets rip with a piece full of sideways allusions and apparent double entendres. What’s more, I found myself referencing the whole chapter and characters in it to the celluloid world which Dickens never knew. Some one said once that Dickens would make a good writer of soaps. With the current instalment I would suggest he would be better at film scripts.

By some happy chance Miss Pross finds a pinko wine shop and enters ‘The Good Republican Brutus of Antiquity’ with Jerry in tow as a cavalier (et tu Brute) and recognises her brother Solomon. Jerry recognises him too but is not sure whether he is a Solomon John or a John Solomon (what in the Dickens does he mean by that?)

To Miss Pross, Solomon is her beloved brother who has been lost these many years..

Her cry of recognition wakes up the quiet bar and I am sure that I heard dozens of muskets being cocked as Dickens writes a saloon scene used in Western movies hundreds of times. Happily this time no-one drops down dead.

Enter Sydney Carton, replete, one supposes, in long, white riding coat, last seen lying across Mr. Lorry’s chair. He turns into the Cincinnati Kid dealing a hand at poker and running a long bluff. This cool dude drinks slugs while the villain sweats and waits. Wherefore art thou John Wayne, Alan Ladd or Perry Mason doing a count to nine?

He plays an ace, Barsad covers it with his. Carton runs one more bluff, does he have another?  A wild card deuce is thrown on the table in the form of the jailer’s friend.

Visions of Psycho and Nosferatu creep across Tellsons wall as Jerry’s hair grows into long fingered spikes. Cly did not die this fellow is nothing more than a lying Barsad. (At least we now know why Mrs. Cruncher’s head was banged on the headboard in chapter fourteen) and a single ace becomes a prile.

Barsad wilts , “You won’t make a Great Escape.” Our Cool Hand Luke doesn’t agree and both retire to negotiate.

Will Carton bring it off? Will he give Manette another chance to argue Darnay’s release or will he find himself in the cooler bouncing a ball, maybe doing leatherwork  or will he be preparing his toilette for a very close shave.?

That’s all for now folks. See you again next week.

Cat and Mouse

They thought it was all over but reckoned without the cat and mouse. Manette has had his day in court and won. Bastille honour  has prevailed and he is now a good citizen of the Republic and can’t object to supporting it. Having played his trump once I don’t think he will be allowed to play it twice. Not if the Defarges, who are responsible for Darnay’s re-arrest, have anything to do with it.

Good news tho’, poor Gabelle has been released after nearly eighteeen months in prison for doing absolutely nothing but the job he was paid to do.

From the excitement and expectation that normal life can be resumed with a swoop of his pen Dickens has twisted the story around

For Lucie it is a shattering blow just when she thought it was dusted and done and like Pross must have been considering about getting back to the quiet of Soho Square. Instead there is the prospect of a quick trial and a quicker ending. What the charge maybe the four Jaques will not say except that it comes from St. Antoine and the Defarges and more disconcerting another who is not named.

Could there be a connection between these events and the white coat last seen lying on Lorry’s chair? Only one hundred and sixty eight hours to go before we might know.

Don’t think much of him.

I’ve just being correcting text in Australian newspapers and came across this. Is it a known piece, where did it originally come from? Anyone know?

Taken from ”The Portland Guardian” 22nd April 1869 via Trove, Australian National Library


What might not Mr Dickens have been if to his many natural gifts he had added culture; if he had spurned popularity, and resolved to aim at nothing short of perfection; he does not overwhelm and fret us with minutiea, after the fashion of Mr. Wilkie Collins, with whom the hero’s making a memorandum with a quill pen instead of his wonted gold nib may be as incident pregnant with the greatest consequence, and most important to bear in mind. But from first to last there is hardly an incident introduced at random, and which does not bear on the plot; hardly a character really superfluous, and contributing nothing towards working out the general result. We may note, too, the care and skill with which the various lines of the story are made to converge and fit together, yet without strain or effort. It is true, of course, that Mr Dickens’s ignorance of, or indifference to, the laws of human action, give him an advantage in weaving his plots similar to that enjoyed by the romance writers of former days, who could always avail themselves of spectres, or trap doors, or secret springs in the wall, or providential bandits á discretion. His little worlds are so completely subject to his that that it is not such a difficult task for him to produce order and harmony. But granting that the dramatis personae are too often impossibilities or (il toilie”, inanities?) we must admit the dexterity with which they are moved about. His fertility of incident is so great that, coupled with that tendency to strong and glaring effect to which we have already adverted, it often leads him astray. One being as easy to him as the other, his taste is not sufficiently healthy to reject the improbable and the extravagant, when the natural and simple would have served just as well. Witness the death of Krook; the old rag-and-bone seller, from spontaneous combustion, in “Bleak House.” It is a vexata quaestio whether what is called “‘spontaneous combustion ” ever happened or is possible, and this constitutes a grave objection against employing it in a novel, unless there were some strong counterbalancing advantage. But beyond an opportunity for a little extra “sensationalism” nothing is gained. The old man had to die, and to die suddenly; but that was all, and that might have been managed in a dozen different ways. It is no more than might be expected that Mr. Dickens, with his quick eye for the use of accessories, should excel in the (seizing?) of his stores. This is by no means an unimportant merit. There are men who might have conceived Mr Pickwick or Sam Weller, for instance, but would have spoiled their creation, or, at any rate greatly weakened its effect, by pointing (painting?) them on an inappropriate background. But the old-fashioned inns, and the Manor Farm, with their good-fellowship, high living, and vulgar comfort, constitute a kind of atmosphere exactly suited to the existence of such creatures. We see them really colored by its (hue?), though without thinking how much the picture owes to its medium. To the question, “is Mr Dickens genius dramatic or not ?” we should answer, ” Not dramatic but melodramatic.”–” Charles Dickens,” in a Contemporary Review.