Saint Antoine

"Saint Antoine" by Fred Barnard. 1870s. 10.7 x 13.8 cm. The economically-depressed centre of the imminent political revolution, the urban slum of St. Antoine, is a contrast to areas of eighteenth-century London that are crucial to the action: the Old Bailey, Tellson's Bank near Temple Bar, and Doctor Manette's house in Soho. Although the illustration is situated late in chapter 17, it reflects events in "Still Knitting." Returning home at night, the Defarges learn from their contact within the ranks of the police that another spy has been commissioned for their district, an Englishman named "John Barsad." Presumably Barnard's view of the environs of the Defarges' wine shop is next afternoon, after an inquisitive new-comer matching the very description given them of Barsad enters the shop and orders a cognac in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Book 2, chap. xvi.

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 is again reluctant to duplicate a scene by his friend and mentor Hablot Knight Browne, so that he only obliquely realises the scene in which the spy, John Barsad, arrives on the Defarges' doorstep in "The Wine-Shop" in Book 2, Chapter 6 (in the monthly part for September, 1859). In Phiz's illustration, the teaming street life is suggested by the movements of the slum's denizens glimpsed through the open door (left). Whereas Phiz emphasises the apparent non-chalance of the knitting wife and smoking husband as they confront the government spy, Barnard provides what a cinematographer would term "an establishing shot" of the female-dominated breeding ground of the revolution. The textual moment realised in the sixteenth chapter of the second book, "Still Knitting," occurs after the visit of the spy. The passage illustrated describing the foul-smelling suburb is this:

In the evening, at which season, of all others, Saint Antoine turned himself inside out, and sat on door-steps and window-ledges, and came to the corners of vile streets and courts for a breath of air, Madame Defarge, with her work in her hand, was accustomed to pass from place to place and from group to group: a Missionary — there were many like her — such as the world will do well never to breed again. All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things; but, the mechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking; the hands moved for the jaws and digestive apparatus . . . . [85]

Whereas Phiz elected to show the interior of the wine shop and just three figures, Barnard shows Madame Defarge (centre) as a community organizer and social networker. He has identified her for the viewer by repeating her profile, her turban, and her pendulous ear-rings. The extension of the text is the relative solidarity of the women (left) as opposed to the quarrelsome nature of the male-dominated register of the picture, right, in which men in the doorway and street gesticulate and a pair of skeletal cats square off with one another at Madame Defarge's feet.

Like Phiz, McLenan in his series for Harper's Weekly focussed on the earlier scene in the wine shop, realising the three figures rather than the shop's interior, in "And stood with his hand on the back of his wife's chair". McLenan's figure of Madame Defarge is far less appealing than either Phiz's or Barnard's, and McLenan's spy is surprisingly well dressed for a man whose profession's cardinal rule is, "Blend in."

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. (13 August 1859).


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Last modified 26 February 2011