There is a man who would give his life

"...there is a man who would give his life" by Fred Barnard. 1870s. 10.7 x 13.8 cm. The dissolute attorney Sydney Carton (right) has just confessed his undying devotion for the beautiful Anglo-French physician's daughter Lucie Manette, her blond innocence and age (20) reflecting perhaps those of Dickens's mistress, Ellen Ternan, in A Tale of Two Cities, Book 2, chap. xiii.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one.]

Commentary

Dickens has the hapless alcoholic whose addiction has blighted his personal and private lives, Sydney Carton, reveal his complete devotion to the beautiful young woman who is another's, Lucie Manette, Book the Second, "The Golden Thread," ch. 13, "The Fellow of No Delicacy." The passage illustrated, although it comes some pages before the illustration on page 72, is likely this:

"My last supplication of all is this; . . . . For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. If my career were of that better kind that there was any opportunity or capacity of sacrifice in it, I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you. Try to hold me in your mind, at some quiet times, as ardent and sincere in this one thing. The time will come, the time will not be long in coming, when new ties will be formed about you — ties that will bind you yet more tenderly and strongly to the home you so adorn — the dearest ties that will ever grace and gladden you. Oh, Miss Manette, when the little picture of a happy father's face looks up in yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life to keep a life you love beside you!" [70]

The "confession" that the dissipated attorney makes reveals the source of Dickens's inspiration for the novel, namely the role of Richard Wardour, the thwarted lover of Wilkie Collins's The Frozen Deep, first performed on 6 January 1857 for a select audience in the converted schoolroom of Dickens's London residence, Tavistock House. Dickens so strongly identified himself with the self-sacrificing, volatile hero of the play, that the role of Wardour contributed directly to his characterisation of Sydney Carton, whose original Christian name ("Dick") points to the emotional connection, the initials "DC" being an inversion of Dickens's own. Indeed, he even confessed the connection between the novel and Collins's play in the "Preface":

When I was acting with my children and friends, in Mr. Wilkie Collins's drama of The Frozen Deep, I first conceived the main idea of this story. A strong desire was upon me then to embody it in my own person; and I traced out in my fancy the state of mind of which it would necessitate the presentation to an observant spectator, with particular care and interest. [iii]

Although this powerful moment of foreshadowing in the narrative is crucial to understanding the motivation of Carton's sacrificing himself to preserve the life of the man who is his rival in Lucie's affections, it is not a powerfully realised scene in Barnard's narrative-pictorial sequence of twenty-five images. Rather than offering us a close up of Carton as he has just done of the Marquis in the previous illustration, Barnard stages the dialogue in a comfortably furnished eighteenth-century drawing-room. Lucie's embroidery on its frame is before her, and she and Carton are dressed in the upper-middle-class fashions of the mid-eighteenth century. She listens to him with rapt seriousness as he stands at the door, ready to depart to a life devoid of love and the domestic felicities he so earnestly and pointlessly desires to share with Lucie. Her ornately patterned dress and the screen behind her establish a visual continuity with the previous plate's pillows, headboard, and coverlet. The svelte figure, emaciated visage, and elegant figure of Carton imply his status as a Byronic hero, a handsome but embittered young man whose past harbours some terrible, dark secret, as is the case with "The Master of Thornfield," Edward Rochester, in Jane Eyre, a best-seller of the previous decade. Neither Carton nor Lucie is particularized in the original serial illustrations, Lucie Manette being a stock Phiz figure of slender-waisted, delicate feminine beauty in "The Knock at the Door," in Book Three, Chapter 7 (for November, 1859).

References

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Illustrated by Phiz. London: Chapman & Hall, 1859.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman & Hall, 1870s.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. illustrated by John McLenan. Harper's Weekly. (19 November 1859): 748.

Schlicke, Paul, ed. "Frozen Deep, The." Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999. Pp. 243- 245.


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Last modified 25 February 2011