September 15, 2008

TBR3: A Tale of Two Cities - Sighing for Versailles

Are you reading?

It occurs to me that we now are thoroughly acquainted with the two cities of which this novel is a tale. Saint Antoine and Soho; Paris and London. In both cities there is graft, theft, degeneracy (which is a great 19th century word) and poverty. In both cities there are good people living above average lives, and average people living lives that could be considered thoroughly dicey. Perhaps Dickens' point is that this selfsame story could have taken place... in either location.

This brainwave came to me because the characters continue to amaze. At times I root for them, then, in the next page, I pretty thoroughly hate them. That's... like real human beings. They're complicated and really hard to pin down.

Dickens. A master novelist kind of guy.

Onward ~ to the text!
Book 2: The Golden Thread, Chapters 13-16

Ch. 13 ~ The Fellow of No Delicacy
Lucie Manette, three, Universe, zip.
It was inevitable that Sydney Carton, poor moody, melancholic Syd, would come admire Lucie's charms next. At least it wasn't with an eye towards securing said charms for his Eeyore-ing self. He once called her a golden-haired doll, and apparently he chooses to use her as small children use dolls -- to talk to, and to tell a secret. They have a thoroughly depressing conversation:

She was pale and trembling. He came to her relief with a fixed despair of himself which made the interview unlike any other that could have been holden.

"If it had been possible, Miss Manette, that you could have returned the love of the man you see before you- self-flung away, wasted, drunken, poor creature of misuse as you know him to be- he would have been conscious this day and hour, in spite of his happiness, that he would bring you to misery, bring you to sorrow and repentance, blight you, disgrace you, pull you down with him. I know very well that you can have no tenderness for me; I ask for none; I am even thankful that it cannot be."

Poor Lucie.
For the first time, I feel kind of sorry for her, and feel that mighty brow might actually be creased in genuine confusion. Imagine some guy coming by and saying, "Basically I'm wrecked over you, but I'm not good enough for you, I know you'll never like me, I'm glad you can't, but for a moment I considered trying hard enough to be better than awful for you, now let's never talk about this again."

At least Syd got it off of his chest.
(I guess.)

Ch. 14 ~ The Honest Tradesman
Ah, Dickens, Dickens. Such irony, using the word "honest."

Here we see Jeremiah Cruncher, heathen rustic (!), surveying the world from his stool in front of Tellson's, along with Jeremiah Junior, who sees a funeral procession coming, and ...cheers, the little ghoul. He gets a thick ear for his pains, but then his father goes off and joins the rowdies who kick out the mourner and take over the hearse of the alleged spy. With a bear processing along out front, they sing and cheer and dump the body at the morgue -- and then rush off to accuse other people of being spies, and kick the crap out of them.


Somehow it doesn't surprise me at all that this Cruncher guy is in the thick of the ignorant behavior of the mob. Not at all. His ignorance continues at home -- where he accuses his wife of praying for him again (showing himself to be a True Believer, only somehow of a backwards sort), not feeding up Jerry Junior and basically bullies and threatens everyone for an interminable length of time, until he orders them to bed.

Meanwhile, Jerry Jr. turns out to be a dab hand at the spying game. He's faked sleeping, knowing his Dad is going "fishing" that night. He follows him and sees him meet with another mysterious fisherman, and then they go to the graveyard...and fish out something horrible, to poor Jerry's eyes.

It hid in doorways too, rubbing its horrible shoulders against doors, and drawing them up to its ears, as if it were laughing. It got into shadows on the road, and lay cunningly on its back to trip him up. All this time it was incessantly hopping on behind and gaining on him, so that when the boy got to his own door he had reason for being half dead. And even then it would not leave him, but followed him upstairs with a bump on every stair, scrambled into bed with him, and bumped down, dead and heavy, on his breast when he fell asleep.

Jeremiah Cruncher returns home without whatever it is he was after while grave-robbing, and he's in a fit. He abuses his wife some more, and goes to bed, but is later cheered by the sly comments of Jerry Junior, who asks what a Resurrection Man might be, and comments that he wishes he might be one someday. His father tells him ponderously to mind that he "dewelop" his talents, and finds himself much soothed to think that his smart boy will make up for the boy's mother.

(At this time, I'd like to say that it is my sincerest hope that Mrs. C. does something really awful to that man.)

Ch. 15 ~ Knitting
Boy, the drinks flow early in Saint Antoine. Six a.m., and Mme. DeFarge is already up and knitting and passing out very bad wine, apparently a sort that makes people more ill-tempered than ever. Nobody seems to notice M. DeFarge's absence, and when he finally appears, there's a general stir of almost... happiness. He's brought a man with him called Jacque, who is a road mender, and young and poor. Jacques has a glass of wine, eats some black bread, and soon retires to an apartment M. DeFarge is happy to show him. Of course, it's the same apartment where Dr. Manette convalesced after his imprisonment.

Crazily enough, everyone in the apartment is named Jacques. I mean, okay: this is France. But the fact that they're numbered Jacques clues me in to the fact that they're code names. And then I remember: the name signed by the Marquis' executioner... was also Jacques.


This Road Mender Jacques tells Jacques 1-4 about the guy he saw on the bottom of the Marquis' coach that night. And then he tells about how the guy was arrested. Sadly, it was the father of the child who the Marquis' coach and horses killed, or so it's assumed by the authorities. Despite M. DeFarge's seeking a stay of execution from the King, explaining what had happened with his son -- for which he is beaten by the guardsmen and soldiers -- Gaspard is tormented, imprisoned, and hung -- above the fountain in the town, which poisons it for the whole village.

The Jacques dismiss Road Mender Jacque, and pass judgment. Doomed to destruction, they decide, and write it down.

And then, wisely, one of the Jacques wonders if they should be writing down anything. The wine shop owner calms them, and reminds them that the registrar is Mme. DeFarge, who knits the records in a pattern only she can read -- which explains her constant composed stitching.

The road mender is unnerved by her knitting, and shocked when she brings it in the carriage and into the public sphere on their trip to Versailles. Not surprisingly, after an explanation, the newest Jacques finds her work just that bit more terrifying:

"You work hard, madame," said a man near her.

"Yes," answered Madame Defarge; "I have a good deal to do."

"What do you make, madame?"

"Many things."

"For instance-"

"For instance," returned Madame Defarge, composedly, "shrouds."

Okay, yikes, lady.

And then, in one of the most succinct and condescending conversations ever, Mme. DeFarge cheerfully tells Road Mender Jacques that he's a royalty whore, that he'd cheer for anything with enough bright lights and color, and that if he could have the shiniest dolly or the brightest bird for himself, he'd pick the prettiest one.

"You have seen both dolls and birds to-day," said Madame Defarge, with a wave of her hand towards the place where they had last been apparent; "now, go home!"

Ch. 16 ~ Still Knitting
So, at last, the DeFarges go home, and Road Mender Jacques goes his way, to look at the chateau of the Marquis. The DeFarges are stopped at the police station; the policeman looks over their papers and exchanges a bit of information with M. DeFarge -- mainly that there's a new guy in town, and he's a spy. Mme. DeFarge asks for a description of him, and it's detailed -- she's quite pleased.

M. DeFarge takes the news with a bit of discouragement; his actions on behalf of Gaspard are probably the reason the spy is coming to town. Mme. DeFarge simply makes note of the man's name and appearance, and says he will have to be "registered."

I am reminded of Lord and Lady MacBeth in reading this chapter. The DeFarges -- though plotting -- are so loving to each other. M. DeFarge paces and watches his wife's pecuniary economy admiringly; Mme. DeFarge, in her brisk, acerbic way, watches him pace and yanks him out of his halfheartedness and encroaching depression.
"How long," demanded madame, composedly, "does it take to make and store the lightning? Tell me."

Defarge raised his head thoughtfully, as if there were something in that too.

"It does not take a long time," said madame, "for an earthquake to swallow a town. Eh well! Tell me how long it takes to prepare the earthquake?"

"A long time, I suppose," said Defarge.

"But when it is ready, it takes place, and grinds to pieces everything before it. In the meantime, it is always preparing, though it is not seen or heard. That is your consolation. Keep it."

At first, I thought that the rose that Mme. DeFarge had next to her the following day, in the fly-ridden wine shop, was from her husband, in thanks for her supportiveness. I had briefly forgotten with whom I was dealing! These are revolutionaries! A rosebud in a lapel or, in this case, in Mme. DeFarge's high hair, is a SIGN, and when Mme. DeFarge puts hers on, the wine shop empties... except for a newcomer.
"Good day, monsieur."

She said it aloud, but added to herself, as she resumed her knitting: "Hah! Good day, age about forty, height about five feet nine, black hair, generally rather handsome visage, complexion dark, eyes dark, thin, long and sallow face, aquiline nose but not straight, having a peculiar inclination towards the left cheek which imparts a sinister expression! Good day, one and all!"

The spy has been so well described that Mme. DeFarge is on to him in a second. (The second major clue is that he says the cognac's good -- and of course, it's not.) For awhile, Mme. DeFarge chats with him and admits nothing, and then M. DeFarge arrives -- and he's really not as good at the whole Spy v. Spy thing as his ruthless lady. He doesn't jump when the spy calls him Jacques -- which gave ME a turn -- he just tells him that's not his name. The spy persists, acting like he knows all manner of things, but no one bites.

They do a sort of James Bond sort of wrangling -- the spy trying to get them to admit things, the DeFarges turning bland ears to all of his comments -- until he strikes a nerve, and tells them that Mam'selle Manette is going to marry the nephew of the evil Marquis. Soon afterward, Spy Barsad leaves, and M. DeFarge expresses his disbelief that Charles Darnay -- D'Aulnais -- could possibly be marrying Manette's daughter, when Doctor Manette was so ill-treated by the government. M. DeFarge hopes for Lucie Manette's sake that Charles keeps the heck out of France.

Mme. DeFarge, meanwhile, just knits in Charles Darnay's name into her register!

Her husband smoked at his door, looking after her with admiration. "A great woman," said he, "a strong woman, a grand woman, a frightfully grand woman!"

Oh, dear. "Frightfully" is right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I looooved this section. And I'm glad you felt the same way about Syd and Lucie -- it was the first time I was able to identify with her, to imagine myself in her place and just... shudder.