It is frightful, messieurs. How can the women and
children draw water? Who can gossip of an evening under that shadow?

"It is frightful, messieurs. . . ." by Fred Barnard. 1870s. 10.7 x 13.8 cm. The animated figure of the road-mender from the little village of the Marquis St. Evrémonde, his wooden shoes the signifier of his rural origins, narrates the fate of the murderer of the Marquis, a wretch whose decaying corpse is now polluting the village's fountain and casting a blight on the social life of the little community. His audience in the chamber above the St. Antoine wine shop are Defarge (left) and the three radical revolutionaries, Jacques One, Two, and Three, in Barnard's realisation from a scene in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Book 2, chap. xv.

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

Barnard follows the tranquil scene of Carton's protestation of love for Lucie in England with a scene in the French capital that advances the plot surrounding the Defarges' determination to eradicate the race of St. Evrémonde. The picture of the road-mender's narration of the punishment of the Marquis' assassin occurs just over the page from the textual moment realised in the fifteenth chapter of the second book, "Knitting." The passage illustrated is this:

Workmen dig, workmen hammer, soldiers laugh and sing; in the morning, by the fountain, there is raised a gallows forty feet high, poisoning the water."

The mender of roads looked through rather that at the low ceiling, and pointed as if he saw the gallows somewhere in the sky.

"All work is stopped, all assemble there, nobody leads the cows out, the cows are there with the rest. At mid-day, the roll of drums. Soldiers have marched into the prison in the night, and he is in the midst of many soldiers. He is bound as before, and in his mouth there is a gag — tied so, with a tight string, making him look almost as if he laughed." He suggested it by creasing his face with his two thumbs, from the corners of his mouth to his ears. "on the top of the gallows is fixed the knife, blade upwards, with its point in the air. He is hanged there forty feet high — and is left hanging, poisoning the water."

They looked at one another, as he used his blue cap to wipe his face, on which the perspiration had started afresh while he recalled the spectacle.

"It is frightful, messieurs. How can the women and children draw water? Who can gossip of an evening under that shadow?" [78]

Whereas Phiz selected, perhaps at Dickens's instruction, only those scenes with emotional and pictorial appeal, Barnard has attempted to realise key moments in the plot as well as to present studies of some of the key characters. McLenan, in contrast, was interested in objects that hold some special significance in the plot. In this instance, he focused on the village fountain, leaving little to the imagination of the horrified reader in the headnote vignette for "Knitting." He subsequently shows the same scene as Barnard selected from the chapter, but McLenan's figures are far less effectively modelled in "He described it as if he were there —" in the August 6th instalment in Harper's Weekly.

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. (6 August 1859).


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Last modified 25 February 2011

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