Class Blog

The Wine

“Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even in handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths; others made small mud-embankments, to stem the wine as it ran; others, directed by lookers-on up at high windows, darted here and there to cut off little streams of wine that started away in new directions; others devoted themselves to the sadden and lee-dyed pieces of the cask, licking, and even champing the moister wine-rotted fragments with eager relish” –(31).

As a class, we discussed the significance of this passage at a metaphor for the war that would later happen in France—the wine was meant to symbolize blood. While I agree that this metaphor is a possibility, I feel that there is more going on within the passage than just the imagery of spilt blood running down the streets. The scene that Dickens depicts is one that is, at the least, chaotic. Mothers are using their headwear to absorb wine to feed their children, and others are using everything that they can to stop the flow of wine, so that they may gather it all for themselves. Simply put, it is a scene of pure desperation.

            If I am to go along with the assumption that this scene is meant to metaphorically replace blood, from war, tainting the streets red, then I feel that I would fail to acknowledge the layers that are set up within the scene. Dickens’ portrait is not one that takes place solely on the ground, but up above, too. There is the mention of “lookers-on up at high windows” (31) telling those down below where to go to gather wine. Is this not more indicative of the social hierarchy in both England and France, than of the oncoming war? For those down below are depicted in such desperation to feel the need to, quite literally, pounce on the spilt wine, that they lose all sanity for a moment. Though, I am aware that the late 18th century was not a time of great hygiene, I am sure that most people did not eat or drink from the ground often. Nevertheless, this is what the scene portrays—people doing whatever they could, despite the pieces of earth and other debris that would have been inevitably intermixed, to absorb the wine.

            Though not obviously, I feel that there is a connection from this scene to the scene within the Cruncher’s household as young Jerry is the spitting image of his father, though smaller, and follows his every demand. I feel that there is a strange parallel set up here between the two, which uses the different elevations as metaphors critiquing the social standings of the time. Even though one scene is more chaotic than the other, the image of height is used and associated with power. As height is only able to be used as a comparison between two things, thereby the more height one has, the more power they hold over the smaller being to which they are being compared.

Thus, I feel this scene is a direct reflection, and even critique, of the social standings of the time. Those down below, who are in the middle of all the chaos, are being directed by the onlookers who sit up above. There is not only a level of separation within the actions of the two groups, but in height. This quite literally sets up a hierarchical scene where those above direct those below. Moreover, those above are yelling from their windows, balconies, or at least some elevated surface that protects them from the chaos below. Whereas those down below are using their bodies as ways to contain the wine. While one has protection, and directs with their voice, the other uses their body and follows the orders of those above.

Do You Hear The People Sing? — The Thundering Revolt

“‘There is a great crowd coming one day into our lives, if that be so,’ Sydney Carton struck in, in his moody way. The footsteps were incessant, and the hurry of them became more and more rapid. The corner echoed and re-echoed with the tread of feet; some, as it seemed, under the windows; some, as it seemed, in the room; some coming, some going, some breaking off, some stopping altogether; all in the distant streets, and not one within sight.” (Dickens, 98)

These ghostly footsteps seem to be a heavily recurring theme in Dickens’ writing, as they keep popping up all over the place. The characters seem to have different beliefs as to what these footsteps mean: Lucie believes they are the temporal echoes of people who have yet to enter her and her father’s lives, and so she harbors a benevolent attitude towards them; Charles Darnay seems to have a bit of a more snarky attitude towards them, not really believing that they are anything in particular, as evident in the way that he almost teases Lucie about them (being that he doesn’t seem to be able to hear them); but Sydney Carton has a more braced and paranoid attitude towards these footsteps, believing them to be of some great crowd that will crush them all beneath its feet.

“And I hear them!…Here they come, fast, fierce, furious!” (Dickens, 98). As Carton exclaims these words, Dickens attributes it all to him actually just mistaking the approaching storm for the sound of thundering footsteps. But what if this is just Dickens’ own verbal subtlety at its finest? He claims that Carton is actually hearing just a normal storm, but what if Dickens is implying that the footsteps are the storm? Carton may be the most correct one out of the three in regards to what the footsteps actually mean. The story, at this time, takes place in the calm before the storm, the years building up to the French Revolution. And, (spoiler alert), the latter part of the story will take place during the actual revolution. The footsteps that Carton hears, then, are in all likelihood the thundering approach of these revolutionaries, who are about to enter their lives in a big way.

This is not the only time that Dickens alludes to an eventual uprising of the people: when Madame DeFarge looks into the Marquis’s eyes, when the Marquis is killed, when there are multiple Jacques’s who could have killed the Marquis, and all of them are suspects, when the commoners attack the vehicles said to hold spies (this also contains a very foreshadow-y and relevant quote: “…for a crowd in those times stopped at nothing, and was a monster much dreaded.” (Dickens, 150)), etc. These commoners, Madame DeFarge, and countless other people are alluded to no doubt be a part of the thundering footsteps that belong to an enormous, bloodthirsty crowd who will eventually fall upon Lucie, Darnay, and Carton…and may claim one of their lives in the process.

Death and Resurrection – Good and Evil

“It lay back on the pillow of Monsieur the Marquis. It was like a fine mask, suddenly startled, made angry, and petrified. Driven home into the heart of the stone figure attached to it, was a knife. Round its hilt was a frill of paper, on which was scrawled: “Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from Jacques.” (Dickens, 154 Oxford World Classics Edition).

Throughout A Tale of Two Cities thus far, readers have been forced to acknowledge the presence of two types of characters: namely, the members of the upper class and the members of the lower class. In terms of context, this passage ends chapter 9 of the second book, keying in on the death – the murder – of Monsieur the Marquis, a man who is, undoubtedly, a member of the French aristocracy.

Let’s connect this passage to the opening passage of chapter 9: “It was a heavy mass of building, that chateau of Monsieur the Marquis, with a large stone courtyard before it, and two stone sweeps of staircase meeting in a stone terrace before the principal door. A stony business altogether…”

When the reader finally makes it to the end of book 2 chapter 9, it is difficult not to compare the Marquis’ stony chateau to himself. Interestingly, Dickens is swift to point out that the heart itself is not necessarily stone, it is the “figure attached to [the heart].” Perhaps Dickens is trying to point out that, while the Marquis seems cold and heartless on the outside, on the inside, he actually has the possibility to show compassion? Let’s dig deeper. While the Marquis de Evrèmonde’s role in the novel is relatively short-lived, his presence is one that is certainly remembered because it served a pivotal role. In a sense, the Marquis is a symbol – a representation – for the aristocracy itself. Think about it: we are never given the Marquis’ entire name and we never really meet many of the elite. This begs the question, is the Marquis even a real person? In each instance the reader encounters the Marquis, he/she is continuously beset with the one-dimensionality of his character. He literally has no redeeming qualities: he kills the son of a peasant named Gaspard (note he actually has a name) remorselessly, ignores the pleas of a poor, dying woman, and later, wishes that his nephew would burn alive in bed. Nevertheless, the Marquis believes that his elite power – his noble blood – justifies all of his wrongdoings. Due to this method of thinking, one could come to the conclusion that the aristocracy itself is the direct cause of the Revolution, which, in this case, would not be incorrect. Madame Defarge would agree with you.

On a grander scale, this passage is referring directly to the relationship between rich and poor, powerful and powerless. More particularly, this is pointing to the relationship between death and resurrection which, as Dickens has already shown, plays a large role in the novel (Dr. Manette’s resurrection from being a prisoner, Darnay’s rebirth from being quartered, etc.). When the Marquis’ death is made apparent, the peasants living below the chateau are resurrected. They are no longer constrained by the heartless and wicked man who lives on the hill behind their homes. As a result, they come to the realization that, perhaps, they can hold power, even over those who possess the most of it. This is a very important scene because it is one of the first instances – if not the first – when the peasants hold power over the elite. As a result, who is to say that this cannot happen in the heart of Paris? Something terrible, bloody, and frightening is coming. Can you hear the footsteps?

While the dichotomy of rich versus poor and death versus renewal are themes that are certainly present in the novel, I think Dickens is trying to make something much darker known to his reading public, and that is the relationship between good and evil. Think about this: while the peasants are, toward the beginning, made out to be the “good guys,” and the elite are made out to be the “bad guys,” that idea is stood on its head later in the novel when the situation seems to be completely flip-flopped. Now, the peasants are the ones that are killing others remorsefully and throwing others in prison without sufficient reasons, while the elite are powerless, begging for mercy. In a way, the readers begin to sympathize for the artistocracy.

Let’s return to the passage from the beginning. The reason that Dickens is swift to point out that the heart itself is not necessarily stone but the “figure [which is attached to the heart]” is because he is showing that we all may believe that we have good intentions, but, in truth, we are all corrupt and, if we get the right amount of power, we might just abuse it. Keep your wits about you.

That Breath of Heaven

“Thus, 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, and both were audible to Lucie in a hushed murmur–like the breathing of a summer sea asleep upon a sandy shore” (Dickens 203).

The text surrounding this passage describes the worries that Lucie faces in her life: she thinks constantly of the echoes of the people and events that have played roles in her life. In the first six paragraphs of Chapter XXI from Book II, years fly by in Lucie’s life. Without fully concentrating on what is happening, the reader could miss the death of Lucie’s child. Only two paragraphs are devoted to the event, and the narrator never even directly states what happened.

When her child dies, he seemingly ascends into heaven on his deathbed, creating an image of the Darnay family as blessed by God. This holiness is evident in the narrator’s description of Lucie’s son’s death. The “echo” that Lucie hears when her son dies is the “rustling of an Angel’s wings.” The sound is soft, mild, and comforting. The sound is connected with domesticity, as we can imagine the rustling of sheets or a bed. The death of this child contrasts with the rest of those who have thus far died in the novel; there is no violence or horror in his passing. Moreover, the boy leaves earth accompanied by an “Angel,” therefore placing him in a category of a being innocent enough to merit divine accompaniment into heaven. The narrator further promotes this idea of the child’s divinity by stating that his echo had in it a “breath of Heaven.” For Lucie, this is soothing.

The idea that her child’s echo comforts Lucie in her darker moments presents itself in the description of how she hears these echoes. There are no haunting footsteps in the echoes of her son’s death; there are the “Sighs” of wind through a garden with a “little garden-tomb.” These Sighs come from the natural world and the loss of purity. They reflect sadness, but not fear. For Lucie, however, she enjoys the solace of the fact that her child entered into heaven. The divine and comforting sound of the Angel’s wings combine with and the worldly sighs that drift over a tombstone, and they mix to produce the “breathing of a summer sea asleep upon a sandy shore.”

In conclusion, Lucie is almost in a trance of calmness after her child’s death. Although it might appear that she is not terribly affected by the event, she is in reality torn between her devotion to the divine and her belief in heaven and her own worldly pain from losing her child. She responds to this pain not unlike her father responded when he was locked away: she relies on a rhythmic, ocean motion to rock her back to a place of comfort and security that she would have otherwise lost.

The Setting of Tellson’s Bank

“Thus it had come to pass, that Tellson’s was the triumphant perfection of inconvenience. After bursting open a door of idiotic obstinacy (stubbornness) with a weak rattle in its throat, you fell into Tellson’s down two steps, and came to your senses in a miserable little shop […]” (51)

In this passage, although it has been mentioned before, the reader is being formally introduced to Tellson’s, a bank that becomes a central setting in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. What immediately stuck out to me in this description of Tellson’s is that Dickens describes it as “the triumphant perfection of inconvenience.” Not only is the statement an oxymoron, but it also ties into the background of one of the main characters, Lucie. As an orphan who was told that her parents were dead, Lucie ended up being taken from France to England, where she was raised at Tellson’s Bank. What makes this significant is that in the novel, Lucie is often referred to as a being with what was culturally known as “perfection” at the time (and for the most part, still is when it comes to standards of beauty for women)—young, fair, radiant, well-mannered. In a novel about a dark time in history, although she is not meant to be in England, Lucie, a Frenchwoman, represents the hidden beauty in a time of strife being the “triumphant perfection of inconvenience” by being accidentally sent as something that the gloomy setting of Tellson’s needs.

From a historical standpoint, the bank could be described as such a miserable place because it is a bank, which at the time of the French Revolution, was not a particularly thriving location, as most of France was suffering from extreme hunger and property. The vivid description of the atmosphere, namely how upon entrance, one is likely to fall down the stairs and how it is a “miserable little shop” relates to the other characters that are associated with it. Because of the economic disparity at the time, it is described as a place where documents and money go to die. However, money is not the only thing that is going to die at Tellson’s. Namely, Mr. Cruncher, who resides outside of Tellson’s and is a body-snatcher contributes to the death and inhumanity of the bank; as his “profession” of digging up dead bodies quickly becomes one of his more identifiable character traits, This adds to the characterization of the setting of Tellson’s as a location where things go to die—whether it be documents or people, or in Cruncher’s case, people who are already dead.  My big point is that in a book about the French Revolution, it makes sense that one of the central settings has a connection to death and being miserable, however, if one looks far enough, one is able to find beauty within it.










































The Gorgon

Page 122-123

“The Gorgon had surveyed the building again in the night, and had added the one stone face wanting; the stone face for which it had waited through about two hundred years.”

To me this sentence is about ending the line of royalty and discontinuing the name Evremond. The Evremond line  caused the people a lot of hurt for two-hundred years and finally it was about to end. The word gorgon in the beginning of this sentence and in the chapter title “The Gorgon’s Head” foreshadows that the Marquis will die.

I figured this out by looking up what the word gorgon meant, said it was “any of three sister monsters commonly represented as having snakes for hair, wings, brazen claws, and eyes that turned anyone looking into them to stone.” This definition led me to believe that the Marquis was supposed to represent the gorgon and that he would become the stone face.

I think that the stone face represented more than the foreshadowing of the Marquis death, I think it represented the fear that the Marquis gave to people. For example, when he ran over the boy and showed no emotional remorse, it shocked the bystanders and me as the reader. Personally, the body language and facial emotions associated with feeling shock makes me stand completely still with a wide eyed look. This is what I imagine as having a stone face and I also think that this was the face the Marquis made when he died.

I didn’t think that this was the only definition of gorgon so I went back to the internet and looked up other definitions. Wikipedia said that it was “a fierce, frightening or repulsive woman.” I immediately thought back to the woman who threw the sack of coins back at the Marquis after he had ran over her son. To the Marquis this woman was repulsive but to her peers this woman was fierce and frightening. She was able to stand up to the Marquis and because of this, she could’ve been the karma or the gorgon that had killed him.

The Marquis death was symbolic because it supposedly ends the Evremond line since Darnay does not wish to continue it. This gives the people hope for a new leader and hope for a new kind of ruling.  Dickens might be trying to say that the Marquis death was long overdue because he had been abusing his power and taking advantage of others misfortunes. From the people’s point of view, the Marquis death was “the one stone face wanting.” The people had been awaiting the death of the Marquis but more specifically the end of the unfair rulers.


Lucie as Light

Lucie goes to see her father shortly after they speak of her impending marriage. She goes to him in the dark while he is sleeping. This scene is very similar to the scene in which Lucie first meets her father. They are in a dark room. She advances towards him in the dark. Both passages portray her as a spectral figure moving through the dark like an angel of light. For example, in the passage where Lucie first meets her father the novel describes how the light shifts from the face of Doctor Manette to the face of Lucie (51). She becomes “like a spirit beside him” (51). The later passage in which Lucie is checking on her father in the middle of the night she places a “needless candle” to one side and continues “creep[ing]” forward leaving the “shadow[s] at a distance” (231). Lucie is the figure that creates commonality between the two scenes. She is the ethereal creature that appears at the side of the Doctor when he most needs her.  She is a guiding force out of the darkness. She is the light. However, in the first scene she is the light arriving and in the latter she is the light leaving.

Lucie’s ethereal nature as a light has an impact on the mental health of others, particularly her father. The Doctor is unconscious in both situations of Lucie’s appearance. He is “unconscious of the figure [Lucie] that could have put out its hand and touched him” when she moves toward him in the room above the wine-shop (51). He moves from a state of being unconscious of her presence to being cured by it. The second scene is less psychological in his unconscious; he is physically asleep (231). However, the second scene has the Doctor moving from a consciousness of Lucie, their conversation about her upcoming marriage, to an unconscious state. The move from conscious to unconscious, unlike the move from unconscious to conscious, causes a reappearance of Doctor Manette’s illness for the nine days after she departs for the first half of her honeymoon. I believe Lucie’s ability here described in two paralleling cases concerning the mental health of her father, could also potentially be used in relation to other characters like Charles Darnay or Sydney Carton, though future research will have to be done in order to verify if these suspicions are reasonable or fanciful.


Welcome to The Nineteenth-Century NovelSpring 2017

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