September 22, 2008

TBR3: A Tale of Two Cities - The Dark Before ...?

Are you reading?

Book III - The Track of the Storm, Chapters 1-4

It's the bottom of the ninth, kids. Hard to believe, but we'll finish our scintillating coverage of A TALE OF TWO CITIES this week. And, I have to admit, I'm about ready to be finished. I'm seriously annoyed with Charles Darnay's last move, and I still haven't forgiven him for it. Probably Lucie will wriggle her brow a few times, and get over it, but me, I'm with Miss Pross, who will probably repudiate him and try and get her brother out of jail to marry Poor Lucie.

Well. There's no help for it. The gaping maw of the revolution is before us, and we must go in. Brace yourselves: to the text!

Chapter 1 ~ In Secret
Oh, stupid, stupid, Charles. He travels onward to France, which is more perilous than usual. In everyday travel, one would have bad inns and badly shod horses; now it's bad inns, bad horses and people waking you up at 3 a.m., telling you that they will escort you to France, and making you pay for it. And then, when you're okay with that, calling you "the prisoner".

The word "wife" seemed to serve as a gloomy reminder to Defarge, to say with sudden impatience, "In the name of that sharp female newlyborn, and called La Guillotine, why did you come to France?"

"You heard me say why, a minute ago. Do you not believe it is the truth?"

"A bad truth for you," said Defarge, speaking with knitted brows, and looking straight before him.

"Indeed I am lost here. All here is so unprecedented, so changed, so sudden and unfair, that I am absolutely lost. Will you render me a little help?"

"None." Defarge spoke, always looking straight before him.

SUDDEN!? UNFAIR? HELLO!? People have been dying for. Three. Years. Did he miss this!? Charles, carrying the letter from Monsieur Gabelle, seems still so ...clueless. Granted, it's maybe like how the rest of the world didn't find out about the atrocities committed upon the Jews in WWII -- maybe the British truly didn't know. Dickens assumes this to be so. However, one would think the British knew enough to know that lives were being lost. Daily. Hourly. The king had been overthrown. Did they think revolution happened nicely?

At least Charles has the pride not to ask again. At some point, facing tyranny, one realizes that resistance is futile.

Oh, WHY did Charles think himself so special that this would not happen to him? Because Lucie of the Agile Brow had chosen him? Because he'd made it out of a accusation of treason before!?!? Did he now suppose himself to be magical?


Chapter 2 ~ The Grindstone
Poor Mr. Lorry. He's in Paris, and of course, Tellson's itself has his suitably horrified. First, there's a plaster cupid peering down at the money. Next, there are mirrors, and the Tellson' clerks are apt to dance -- in public! -- at any time. They're French, and when they were there, they were shocking. But the clerks are gone and the people who put the money in are mostly imprisoned or beyond balancing their accounts ever again. Nothing can distract from the murderous bloodlust Mr. Lorry sees in the street. Jarvis Lorry is scared.

His fear -- and trepidation -- only get worse when Lucie and the Doctor show up -- with MISS PROSS AND THEIR CHILD. (Hello!? Child welfare? We have a case for you... Whose idea was it to bring the child AND the nanny? I mean, does Lucie seriously still need her to corral that brow? And wasn't Miss Pross of the opinion that she should always stay in England?!) Oddly, Mr. Lorry locks Lucie in a room briefly -- apparently maybe the nanny is for HER -- and gives Doctor Manette the 411. Because his Bastille street cred goes before him, he's well loved in the city, and knows he can help Charles. He zips out without his hat to La Force, where Charles is being held, and doesn't come back. And Lucie swoons. Because that's helpful and stuff.


Chapter 3 ~ The Shadow
To this lodging he at once removed Lucie and her child, and Miss Pross: giving them what comfort he could, and much more than he had himself. He left Jerry with them, as a figure to fill a doorway that would bear considerable knocking on the head, and returned to his own occupations. A disturbed and doleful mind he brought to bear upon them, and slowly and heavily the day lagged on with him.

Mr. Lorry takes his job seriously. With the roving band of marauders in the streets, he realizes that he personally cannot sacrifice the bank for the silly people who have come to Paris. That he gives them Jerry is both amusing and touching. He's not one of those people who will be easily killed, Jerry isn't, but that Mr. Lorry would leave himself unprotected is poignant. Stupid Charles.

Monsieur DeFarge comes to see Mr. Lorry, and brings with him the merry duo: Mme. DeFarge and The Vengeance. M. DeFarge has a letter for Lucie from Charles, and she's all kissing hands and joy about it -- not seeming to really look at the people who have brought her the letter. MADAME DEFARGE IS FREAKING KNITTING. Does anyone else find this ominous?

You had better, Lucie," said Mr. Lorry, doing all he could to propitiate, by tone and manner, "have the dear child here, and our good Pross. Our good Pross, Defarge, is an English lady, and knows no French."

The lady in question, whose rooted conviction that she was more than a match for any foreigner, was not to be shaken by distress and danger, appeared with folded arms, and observed in English to The Vengeance, whom her eyes first encountered, "Well, I am sure, Boldface! I hope you are pretty well!" She also bestowed a British cough on Madame Defarge; but, neither of the two took much heed of her.

Oh, Miss Pross, I love you. I give a discreet and snide British cough in your honor. I won't even ask what the heck a British cough is, just for you.

Dickens depicts the British as almost childlike in this section, or criminally unobservant. It's still baffling to me. They're in Paris. Lucie has been with her father all this time, surely all of the paper-checks between the Channel and Paris alerted them that something was different in France. Surely the idea that Charles had been imprisoned just for entering the country should have given Lucie some ...idea of the gravity of the situation. But she still seems so grateful, so eager to kiss hands and beg the cold-hearted butchers for help. Charles, at least, caught on a little sooner.

(All right, Dickens. Stop writing the young women as stupid.)

Chapter 4 ~ Calm in Storm
In a surprising a reversal, Mr. Lorry finally realizes he no longer has to worry about Doctor Manette lapsing back into madness. The Doctor, knowing very well evil done unprovoked and without cause, is at home in providing succor to both the Upright Citizens Brigade masquerading under the flag of liberté, equalitié, fraternité -- and death, and those who are the citizen's victims. He's not about to go mad. For once, what he's gone through doesn't make him a weak man, or a nutter about to go off and scandalize polite British society. He can do something for his daughter to help her, and he's set on it.

However, it's not easy, and I have to say I'm glad that Dickens doesn't make it so. We might have been required to suspend our disbelief on some things, but the fact of how many died and how is filled in as fact.

-- though I still have some major issues with the fact that no one told Lucie. She was seventeen when her father was "recalled to life." She's a married woman, at least in her mid-twenties. Can she grow up now? Please?

There was no pause, no pity, no peace, no interval of relenting rest, no measurement of time. Though days and nights circled as regularly as when time was young, and the evening and morning were the first day, other count of time there was none. Hold of it was lost in the raging fever of a nation, as it is in the fever of one patient. Now, breaking the unnatural silence of a whole city, the executioner showed the people the head of the king- and now, it seemed almost in the same breath, the bead of his fair wife which had had eight weary months of imprisoned widowhood and misery, to turn it grey.

France is washing to sea on a tide of blood that Doctor Manette cannot stem, and now Charles has been in prison for a year and a half. There's nothing anyone can do.

I suppose Monsier Gabelle is dead by now. What a horrible irony.

Will Charles EVER get out of prison? Is Jeremiah Cruncher finding a side occupation ferrying corpses across the Channel? Is Miss Pross going to say something tart and acerbic to get everyone going again? Tune in next time as we continue THE BIG READ.


Anonymous said...

"And wasn't Miss Pross of the opinion that she should always stay in England?!"

Right? Right? I totally forgot about that. And WHY ON EARTH would you bring your kid into a warzone if you didn't HAVE to?

And I also wish they'd let Lucie grow up -- though note that he let it slip that she survives, as she finds out about what happened years later. (I swear he says that somewhere!)

Heidi said...

I finally got caught up. I figured with another Big Read starting I'd better finish the last one. big post for book 3.