Wood engraving, approximately 10 cm high by 7.5 cm wide (framed)
Final illustration for Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities in A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations in the Ticknor & Fields (Boston, 1867) Diamond Edition.
There is no precise passage that corresponds to the posture and actions of The Vengeance in Eytinge's illustration, which combines aspects of several places in the text. [Commentary continues below]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Even had he been able to study Hablot Knight Browne's 1859 illustrations for models of The Vengeance through some pirated edition or a Chapman and Hall volume smuggled into the United States in violation of American copyright law, Sol Eytinge, Junior, would have found little upon which to base his imaginative construction of this personification of the forces that motivate the devil-women of Saint Antoine in the assault upon the Bastille in Book Two, Chapter 21 ("Echoing Footsteps") and subsequently upon Foulon in Chapter 22 ("The Sea Still Rises"). The passage upon which Eytinge has based his final illustration is most probably this, even though it does not specifically reference The Vengeance:
'To me, women!' cried madame his wife. 'What! We can kill as well as the men when the place [i. e., The Bastille] is taken!' And to her, with a shrill thirsty cry, trooping women variously armed, but all armed alike in hunger and revenge. [Book Two, Chapter 21, "Echoing Footsteps]
In the subsequent chapter, The Vengeance emerges as a particular character in the mob's quest for Old Foulon:
Instantly Madame Defarge's knife was in her girdle; the drum was beating in the streets, as if it and a drummer had flown together by magic; and The Vengeance, uttering terrific shrieks, and flinging her arms about her head like all the forty Furies at once, was tearing from house to house, rousing the women. [Book Two, Chapter 22, "The Sea still Rises"]
Harry Stone provides a reasonable schema for the figures in the foreground of Phiz's October 1859 illustration "The Sea Rises": detail 1 is Madame Defarge from the left-hand register, back towards the viewer, regarding Foulon (she is identified by Harry Stone on the basis of her bloody knife); detail 2 is "the three Harpies at the center" (Stone 174): "the wild Fury 'with streaming hair' featured at the front (probably the Vengeance), exhorting the mob, knife in one hand, sword in the other“ (Stone 174); and detail 3 is Phiz's invention, a "formidable drummer rounding out the right, meat cleaver raised on high" (Stone 174). Although Dickens stipulates that The Vengeance is the "custodian of the drum" (Book Two, Chapter 22), Phiz imagines that the plump grocer's wife carrying the drum in the assault upon Foulon is a figure separate from that of The Vengeance (centre). Of The Vengeance (the cool, controlled, strategic Madame Defarge's atavistic, blood-thirsty, anarchic double and devoted deputy), Stone notes that this character is never named in the normal manner, and therefore personifies Saint Antoine's lust for retribution in the form of aristocratic blood. Although The Vengeance may be regarded as a psychological projection of the "dark" side of Madame Defarge herself, as Stone asserts, neither Phiz in his group study nor Eytinge in his individual study seems to be offering such a psychological interpretation:
One of Madame Defarge's leading female lieutenants,
mirroring her commander's ferocity, is known only as "The Vengeance."
Later, in the time of the Terror, Madame Defarge and The Vengeance sit
every day in their accustomed, choice seats to feast upon and to
participate in the daily blood-drinking of that thirsty female saint
— to continue with Dickens' imagery—Sainte Guillotine.) Madame
Defarge's ferocity, relentless and bloodthirsty, has been growing and
maturing for many years. She is the product of unendurable grievances.
She has good reasons for being what she is and doing what she does. She
embodies in her person what mobs — or at least most Dickensian mobs
— embody in their corporate being. Like the mobs of Oliver Twist and
In calling her compatriots to arms, the cleaver-wielding female drummer (left) is Phiz's parody of the Goddess of Liberty at the barricades, an iconic image well known throughout post-1820s Europe as a result of Delacroix's painting "Liberty Leading the People" ("La Liberte guidant le peuple"), commemorating the July Revolution of 1830. In her dress and leadership role, she resembles the respectably-clad Madame Defarge rather than the harpies at the vortex of the illustration who grab and threaten to rend the immobilised figure in uniform, Old Foulon (the Controller General of Finances under Louis XVI), representative of the class which has oppressed the denizens of Saint Antoine for centuries. Artfully, Phiz leaves the reader to imagine the mixed expression of elation, triumph, and blood-lust on Madame Defarge's face. On the other hand, Eytinge's portrait of Madame Defarge's lieutenant is a caricature of a human monster: goggle-eyed, swift-moving, and knife-wielding. With powerful arms and broad shoulders, Eytinge's virago figure is an emblem of revolutionary retribution for past injustices rather than a realistically-drawn female, a giantess or ogre out of fairytale and nightmare, and therefore a foreshadowing of Stone's symbolist and psychological interpretation of Dickens's character rather than a literal realisation of the "short, rather plump wife of a starved grocer" that Dickens himself describes in the second paragraph of Book Two, Chapter 22 ("The Sea Still Rises"). Eytinge's exaggerated Vengeance is hardly "the mother of two children," unless those offspring be Mindless Destruction and Unmitigated Retribution. Under Eytinge's hand she becomes the very spirit of the proletarian phase of the French Revolution, which succeeded the bourgeois and constitutional phases and led immediately to the excesses of the Reign of Terror, at the conclusion of which Dickens forecasts that this grocer's wife from Saint Antoine will perish under the very blade near, as one of the knitters in the front row, she has applauded the extermination of so many aristos and their sympathisers.
Here as elsewhere in his sequence of eight full-page illustrations Eytinge is not much interested in dressing his narrow stage. Even the Vengeance, that personification of proletarian indignation at the oppression of l'Ancien Régime (The Old Order) and frustration at the urban economic and social malaise that bred the Revolution, is not depicted against the backdrop of the prison-fortress of the Bastille or the palace of Tuileries, or even the slum of Saint Antoine, in "The Vengeance." Rather, an androgynous personification of malicious joy, with a toothy, open-mouthed smile betokening blood-lust, she emerges out of a haze of male Jacobin heads and brandished weapons. For Eytinge the whirlwind revolutionary Tale is an intersecting series of personal narratives enacted in narrow, generalised space rather than against a panoramic urban context. Setting is incidental, character is all. Although the passage complemented by the illustration is likely that in Book Three, Chapter 3, in which the Vengeance studies Lucie and her daughter as potential fodder for the guillotine, the picture captures the role of The Vengeance in the dismemberment of Foulon in "The Sea Rises" and the role of such as she in the September Massacres, to which Dickens alludes at the opening of Book Three, Chapter 4 ("Calm in the Storm").
The only possible model for The Vengeance to which we can can be reasonably sure Eytinge had access was the wizened crone in the sequence that John McLenan provided for Harper's Weekly — the chief of the three Fate-like knitters in the headnote vignette for Book Three, Chapter 15 ("The Footsteps Die out for Ever"). But Eytinge wisely rejected this model of a gaunt and agéd crone since such an image is not consistent with either Dickens's text or intention. Nevertheless, since Eytinge wanted to space out his illustrations, the final image in the story as published in Boston in 1867 is that of The Vengeance, in full career (a pose which ironically mocks her leader for hubris since Madame Defarge now lies dead at Miss Pross's weak hand).
Thus, although she is one of the novel's most minor characters, less important than John Barsad, for example, The Vengeance occupies a prominent postion when in the final chapter her superior, Madame Defarge, fails to appear at the execution of the hated Evrémond (i. e., Charles Darnay):
. . .all are following to the Guillotine. In front of it, seated in chairs, as in a garden of public diversion, are a number of women, busily knitting. On one of the foremost chairs, stands The Vengeance, looking about for her friend.
'Thérese!' she cries, in her shrill tones. 'Who has seen her? Thérese Defarge!'
'She never missed before,' says a knitting-woman of the sisterhood.
'No; nor will she miss now,' cries The Vengeance petulantly. 'Theérese!'
'Louder,' the woman recommends.
Ay! Louder, Vengeance, much louder, and still she will scarcely hear thee. Louder yet, Vengeance, with a little oath or so added, and yet it will hardly bring her. Send other women up and down to seek her, lingering somewhere; and yet, although the messengers have done dread deeds, it is questionable whether of their own wills they will go far enough to find her!
'Bad Fortune!' cries The Vengeance, stamping her foot in the chair, "and here are the tumbrils! And Evrémond will be dispatched in a wink, and she not here! See her knitting in my hand, and her empty chair ready for her. I cry with vexation and disappointment!'
As The Vengeance descends from her elevation to do it, the tumbrils begin to discharge their loads. The ministers of Sainte Guillotine are robed and ready. [Book Three, Chapter 15, "The Footsteps Die out for Ever"]
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. Il. John McLenan. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. New York: Harper and Brothers, 7 May through December 3, 1859.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Il. Sol Eytinge, Junior. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Stone, Harry. The Night Side of Dickens: Cannibalism, Passion, Necessity. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1994.
of Two Cities
Last modified 17 August 2011