His head and throat were bare. . . .

"His head and throat were bare, and as he spoke with a helpless look straying all around, he took his coat off, and let it drop on the floor" (p. 160) by Fred Barnard. 1870s. 10.6 x 13.6 cm. (framed). As a consequence of Charles Darnay's being consigned to the guillotine as a member of the notorious St. Evrémonde family, Doctor Manette had left Tellson's on the same day as the announcing of the verdict, at 4:00 P. M., convinced that as a former Bastille prisoner he could persuade someone in authority to reverse the sentence; just after midnight, he returns, quite out of his senses in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Book 3, chap. xii, "Darkness," originally in the twenty-eighth weekly part (5 November 1859) in All the Year Round, and then in the November volume and 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: An Affecting Spectacle.

As the novel moves to the culmination of the conflict between Terese Defarge, the sole survivor of her peasant family, and the St. Evrémonde family, Doctor Manette has suffered a double reversal: his attempts to use his status as a former Bastille prisoner as leverage with the officials of the revolutionary regime fail, and he loses his grip on present reality and reverts to his shoemaker identity.

As the original illustrator, Phiz, had suggested in the November 1859 illustration "After the Sentence", Doctor Manette is distraught after the reading of the death sentence upon his son-in-law; however, in the text he is still capable of making one final attempt to save Charles from the guillotine. Vowing to try both the Prosecutor and the President of the revolutionary tribunal, as well as "others whom it is better not to name" (157), Doctor Manette leaves Tellson's in the late afternoon. Lorry and Carton, however, are privately convinced that their friend's mission will be fruitless because the new regime's minions will remain implacable to so notorious an enemy of the People. Now, having traversed the streets of the capital all evening to no avail, the Doctor returns after midnight, broken in spirit, his hair askew: "His head and throat were bare, and, as he spoke with a helpless look straying all around" (159), unable to find his shoe-maker's bench and tools, the long-time properties of psychological survival amidst the wretched conditions of the Bastille. The stress of the state trial and its dread verdict have done their worst, shattering the sanity reacquired in the years of freedom. His raving "I must finish those shoes" bespeaks a mind struggling for balance and control in the face of chaos. He tears his hair and beats his feet upon the floor in impatience and frustration while Lorry expresses alarm, just having risen from his arm-chair by the fire, and Carton springs to support his old friend and prevent his falling. From his wasted frame, baldness, and white hair one would judge Barnard's Doctor Manette to be a man of eighty. However, since the character was likely born about 1730, being a young physician from Beauvais (about fifty miles north of the metropolis) but recently arrived in Paris in 1757, with a young wife and child, he is probably in his early sixties in this scene.

The darkness of Barnard's illustration is appropriate to the temporal setting, the chapter title ("Darkness"), and the desolate mood of the Doctor: "Lost, utterly lost!" (159). In fact, by the time that the reader encounters the desolate Doctor in the text and the illustration, the reader has already witnessed Carton's visit to the Defarges' wine-shop in Saint Antoine, deliberating showing himself to the Vengeance and speaking French like an Englishman. Although Barnard focuses the reader's attention on the pathetic figure of the old man, he has placed Carton upstage so that the eye naturally passes from Doctor Manette to the younger, more active man who moves to support him. The reader, then, becomes aware that this is a new, reinvigorated Carton who expresses his solicitude for the Doctor, stepping forward when most needed. While this is fundamentally the same Jarvis Lorry as the one Barnard described in the third illustration, and this is once again the dysfunctional parent of "What is this?", this is a very different Carton from the alcoholic of "The Lion and the Jackal".

McLenan in the headnote vignette for the twenty-eighth instalment of the novel as it appeared in Harper's Weekly (12 November 1859), page 732, had dealt with a similar subject, capturing the moment when the deranged old physician enters Lorry's rooms, the door still open as Lorry and Carton study him. But McLenan, working in a much smaller space, fails to distinguish Carton and Lorry as he focuses the reader's attention on the Doctor's disordered hair, suggestive of his psychological collapse.

References

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1998.

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. (12 November 1859): 732-34.


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Last modified 13 March 2011