Twice he put his hand to the wound in his
breast . . . .

"Twice he put his hand to the wound in his breast, and with his forefinger drew a cross in the air" (p. 152) by Fred Barnard. 1870s. 10.5 x 13.5 cm. (framed). In the story-within-a story, Dr. Manette's epistolary denunciation of the St. Evrémonde brothers, his patient (Terese Defarge's brother, in fact), dying, damns the twin aristocrats for crimes against him and his family in the year 1757 in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Book 3, chap. viii, originally in the twenty-seventh weekly part (29 October 1859) in All the Year Round, and then in the December 1859 illustrated monthly number.

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: Envisioning the Flashback

In a rather melodramatic manner, Barnard divides the flashback's illustration along class lines, with the brothers St. Evrémonde, standing in their superior postures and wearing fashionable cloaks, whigs, and hats (left), and young Dr. Alexandre Manette supporting his poorly dressed patient, slain while trying to rescue his sister from the twin sexual predators. The peasant boy's sword — an old sabre that once belonged to an ancestor who served in the French army — lies in the foreground, between the two groups:

"'Marquis,' said the boy, turning to him with his eyes opened wide and his right hand raised, 'in the days when all these things are to be answered for, I summon you, and yours to be the last of your bad race, to answer for them. I mark this cross of blood upon you, as a sign that I do it.'

"'Twice he put his hand to the wound in his breast, and with his forefinger drew a cross in the air. He stood for an instant with his finger yet raised, and, as it dropped, he dropped with it, and I laid him down dead. * * * * [151]

In this serial historical novel, written and originally illustrated over sixty years after the events it purportedly recounts, it is appropriate that the plot secret lies buried in the Bastille and is liberated on the very day of the prison-fortress's destruction. The 1767 narrative penned by the Bastille prisoner who was once the young physician Alexandre Manette at last brings to light in a French court the heinous deeds (executed a full century before the novel's publication) of the Marquis St. Evrémonde, Charles Darnay's father, and his younger brother and successor, later murdered in his bed by the road-mender Gaspard. Since the lad is pointing at the Marquis, Charles's father is the nobleman leaning forward with his hand on his knee, and the rapist is the other man, whose nemesis comes some thirty years later, after his carriage, careening through the streets of Saint Antoine, crushes the life out of another peasant girl. This testimony, read into the transcript of the trial, causes a sensation in both the Revolutionary court and the mind of the Victorian reader. The abuses of the ancien regime become insistently real as one reads of the younger St. Evrémonde's exercising his antiquated privilege, droit de seigneur, upon Terese Defarge's beautiful sister and then liquidating the rest of the peasant family, except Terese. Ironically, these unspeakable events transpired in Christmas week, 1757.

Barnard's effectively realising his vision of the remote event makes it as insistently real as any from the period of the two revolutions that are the bookmarks of the story, the American and French risings against the oppressive colonisers. Barnard, as we have seen, has realised the precise moment at which the youth dying in the loft above his family's stable curses the present Marquis St. Evrémonde and all his line in Dr. Manette's blood-and-iron narrative of past wrongs to be avenged by and upon the next generation.

Although Phiz did not attempt to realise this sensational material, John McLenan in the Harper's Weekly series depicted the moment when Defarge reveals to the court the document he retrieved from Dr. Manette's cell in "This is that paper written!" (22 October 1859). McLenan realises the moment at which the verdict against Darnay is assured as the courtroom erupts at the revelation; Barnard takes the reader back in time to discover in a telling image how such licentious aristocrats as the St. Evrémondes through their utter disregard for law and morality provided the fuel that would eventually supply the justification for the conflagration of revolution.

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. (29 October 1859): 701.


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Last modified 9 March 2011