The Three Jacques

"The Three Jacques," the sixth full-page illustration for the volume by Sol Eytinge, Jr. 7.4 cm high by 9.9 cm wide. The Diamond Edition of Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867). Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

The 'Jacquerie' was the name given to the peasants' revolt in France in 1358, derived from the name 'Jacques Bonhomme', contemptuously applied to any peasant by the nobility. [Bentley et al., 131]

The group character study involves the revolutionary leader — Ernest Defarge, landlord of Saint Antoine's wine-shop — and his almost indistinguishable followers, the only individual among them being Jacques Three. Ten years later, and probably entirely without Eytinge's illustration for reference (gven the effects of nineteenth-century copyright exclusivity for the American and British book markets), Fred Barnard selected almost precisely the same moment for realisation in his sequence of twenty-five illustrations for the Household Edition of the novel. In the garret to which Defarge leads them, he and his comrades receive with burning interest the road-mender's account of the execution of Gaspard:

The looks of all of them were dark, repressed, and revengeful, as they listened to the countryman's story; the manner of all of them, while it was secret, was authoritative too. They had the air of a rough tribunal; Jacques One and Two sitting on the old pallet-bed, each with his chin resting on his hand, and his eyes intent on the road-mender; Jacques Three, equally intent, on one knee behind them, with his agitated hand always gliding over the network of fine nerves about his mouth and nose; Defarge standing between them and the narrator, whom he had stationed in the light of the window, by turns looking from him to them, and from them to him.

The raised gesture of the narrator, the road-mender, and the rapt attention of the Jacquerie, as well as the characteristic movement of The hand of Jacques Three to his mouth, suggest that the passage realised is likely this:

"Enough!" said Defarge, with grim impatience. "Long live the Devil! Go on."

"Well! Some whisper this, some whisper that; they speak of nothing else; even the fountain appears to fall to that tune. At length, on Sunday night when all the village is asleep, come soldiers, winding down from the prison, and their guns ring on the stones of the little street. 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 than 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 midday, 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 the children draw water! Who can gossip of an evening, under that shadow! Under it, have I said? When I left the village, Monday evening as the sun was going to bed, and looked back from the hill, the shadow struck across the church, across the mill, across the prison — seemed to strike across the earth, messieurs, to where the sky rests upon it!" [Book 2, Chapter 15, "Knitting"]

Despite the care with which Phiz researched period costumes for his serial illustrations, he chose not to depict the book's clandestine revolutionaries, the Jacquerie, whereas both Eytinge in 1867 and Barnard in 1876 felt that these characters, generalised though they may be in Dickens's novel, were worthy of examination in order to place the redemptive action of the story in the context of the root causes and furtive planning of the revolution which led to the slaughter of thousands during the Reign of Terror. Paul Davis notes that members of the revolutionary brotherhood all adopted the secret name "Jacques," and that "Jacques Four" is the pseudonym which Ernest Defarge adopts in these meetings, which eventually involve the road-mender from the Marquis' village, an excitable peasant whom the brotherhood designate as "Jacques Five." By virtue of his position of narrator in Eytinge's sixth illustration, his gesture, and his cap with which he mops his perspiring brow, one may readily identify the road-mender as the man standing to the right.

However, aside from Defarge, in terms of the narrative the most important member of the Jacquerie assembled in the garret is Jacques Three, upon whom Davis passes no comment but about whom critic Harry Stone has much to say. Eytinge's depiction of the figure, alienated from his fellows at the back left, is consistent with Stone's interpretation in that this third, idiosyncratic "Jacques" is transfixed by the gruesome narrative unfolding. Jacques Three in the text is obsessed with the slaughter of the upper class, and in particular with the notion of large-scale blood-letting. Stone relates Dickens's creation of this character, whom the writer "tags" with a distinctive, repetitive gesture (touching the area immediately around his mouth), with the novelist's boyhood reading of The Terrific Register, a cheap periodical devoted to sensational and horrific disasters on land and sea, especially tales involving dismemberment and cannibalism. Eytinge sets Jacques Three apart from the others in this scene by virtue of his "restless hand and craving air" — realising him as the "hungry man [who] gnawed one of his fingers as he looked at the other three" (Book Two, Chapter 15, "Knitting"), the other three being Defarge (behind the road-mender in Eytinge's realisation) and the two in front of him on what is in fact the old pallet bed of Doctor Manette (as Barnard's illustration makes clear). As the road-mender describes the manner of Gaspard's protracted execution, Jacques Three cannot help but betray his own blood lust as "his finger quivered with the craving that was on him." In Book Three, Chapter Nine ("The Game Made"), Jacques Three appears as a member of the jury that will pronounce upon the guilt or innocence of Charles Darnay. Arguably, under Dickens's hands, Jacques Three is not so much an individual as a type, a sadist who yearns to see the blood and suffering of those formerly in power and now at the mercy of the mob; in particular, he lusts after the blood of Lucie, and of seeing her golden-haired, blue-eyed head held aloft by the master executioner, Samson.

Eytinge's handling of the scene is comparatively realistic in manner and faithful to Dickens's text, right down to Jacques Five's cap and Jacque Three's touching his face, but lacks the telling details of the urban petite bourgeois' fashionable waistcoat, breeches, stockings, and buckled shoes — in sharp contrast to the rural road-mender's wooden shoes — and the clearly defined source of light in the upstairs garret that Barnard provides (left). However, as a close-up of the faces of the three Jacques Eytinge's illustration is still an effective complement to Dickens's rendering of the clandestine meeting, which concludes with a sentence of extinction for the entire Evrémonde family.

References

Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.

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. Il. Hablot Knight Browne. London: Chapman and Hall, 1859.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Il. Sol Eytinge, Junior. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman & Hall, 1876.

Stone, Harry. The Night Side of Dickens: Cannibalism, Passion, Necessity. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1994.


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Last modified 22 August 2011

-- Philip V. Allingham, Ph. D., Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, and Adjunct Professor, Department of English, Lakehead University; Contributing Editor of The Victorian Web; Editorial Consultant, The Dickens Magazine. Office phone: 807-343-8897.