The Fountain — An Allegory
13.7 x 8.8 cm
Eleventh illustration illustration for A Tale of Two Cities in A Tale of Two Cities, American Notes, Pictures from Italy, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 13, facing p. 112.
The illustration combines three visual themes that occur in the previous narrative-pictorial sequences: Phiz's baroque fountain in the public square in St. Antoine, the inconsequential nature of the decadent aristocracy of pre-revolutionary France, and the knitting of the inscrutable Moira figure of Madame Defarge, calculating and implacable as she minutely records the transgressions of the upper class. [Commentary continued below.]
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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[The Marquis St. Evrémonde] . . . was driven on, and other carriages came whirling by in quick succession; the Minister, the State-Projector, the Farmer-General, the Doctor, the Lawyer, the Ecclesiastic, the Grand Opera, the Comedy, the whole Fancy Ball in a bright continuous flow, came whirling by. The rats had crept out of their holes to look on, and they remained looking on for hours; soldiers and police often passing between them and the spectacle, and making a barrier behind which they slunk, and through which they peeped. The father had long ago taken up his bundle and hidden himself away with it, when the women who had tended the bundle while it lay on the base of the fountain, sat there watching the running of the water and the rolling of the Fancy Ball — when the one woman who had stood conspicuous, knitting, still knitted on with the steadfastness of Fate. The water of the fountain ran, the swift river ran, the day ran into evening, so much life in the city ran into death according to rule, time and tide waited for no man, the rats were sleeping close together in their dark holes again, the Fancy Ball was lighted up at supper, all things ran their course. — Book Two, "The Golden Thread," Chapter Seven, "Monseigneur in the City," p. 104.
Relevant Illustrations from earlier editions: 1859, 1867, 1874, and 1905.
Above: Phiz's The Stoppage at the Fountain (1859). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Above: Fred Barnard's characterisation of the hotbed of revolution, "Saint Antoine" (1874). [Click on image to enlarge it.]
Left: John McLenan's indictment of the arbitrary and barbarous justice of the Old Regime — the untitled headnote vignette for Book Two, Chapter Fifteen. Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual character study of the would-be avengers of the past wrongs of the Old Regime, Monsieur and Madame Defarge (1867). Right: A. A. Dixon's wine-shop proprietors coolly assess the government spy in "Madame DeFarge knitted steadily" (1905). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
For the moment, Madame Defarge is content to be the spinner of lives marked for termination, the Fate known as Clotho; all too soon, she will enact the roles of the other two Fates from Greco-Roman mythology: Lachesis, the apportioner of the thread of life (to which Dickens obliquely alludes in the title of the second book, "The Golden Thread"), and Atropos, the merciless severer of that thread. Her presence beside the fountain, death in the offing juxtaposed against the life-affirming waters of the community's fountain, complicates Dickens's much simpler use of the image of the fountain in Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44), in which the centre of the putative community of Eden in the architect's drawing, seen in Phiz's October 1843 steel-engraving The Thriving City of Eden as it Appeared on Paper, is the town-pump, and the centre of Tom Pinch's emotional and creative life as organizing librarian of Old Martin's collection is Fountain Court, where the novel concludes with the romantic meeting of Ruth Pinch and John Westlock, a symbol of romance in the midst of everyday realities in Sol Eytinge, Junior's John Westlock and Ruth Pinch.
Ewald Mengel the fountain both traditionally, as "A symbol of life and fecundity" (26), and innovatively, as "closely associated with the passing of time, with fate and death" (26); clearly, in this illustration Furniss anticipates Megel's interpretation as he juxtaposes Madame Defarge, the patient avenger, and St. Antoine's source of drinking water, strategically located opposite St. Antoine's informal community centre, the wine-shop of the Defarges. In the passage which Furniss's "allegorical" illustration realizes,
The running water of the fountain is thus symbolically equated with the flow of time, and with death, the knitting of Mme Defarge recalling the activities of the Parcae of Greek mythology, who spin the thread of existence and have the power to cut it short at their will. Significantly, Dickens only concentrates on the death-bringing aspects of the 'goddess of fate', Mme Defarge knitting a register of sins of the aristocracy to be presented on 'doomsday', the day of revolution. 
Although the previous illustrators have all given prominence to the figure of Madame Therèse Defarge as the patient spider, laying her web methodically against the day when she will ensnare and annihilate her enemies, fewer of these nineteenth-century illustrators have attempted to render visually the notion of the fountain as emblematic of the river of life. By the time that readers encounter Furniss's allegorical study of the knitter and the baroque fountain, the relevant paragraph realised is some eight pages behind them, and the text is now describing the meeting of the representatives of two very different generations of St. Evrémondes: the young, idealistic Liberal and the inveterate old sinner, whose meeting at the Marquis' chateau is realized in Charles Darnay and The Marquis. The fountain appears prominently in just one of Phiz's monthly illustrations, The Stoppage at the Fountain, and just once in John McLenan's more extensive sequence of small- and medium-sized wood-engravings for Harper's Weekly, the fountain in this case not being the scene of the child's death in St. Antoine, but the source of drinking water for the little village near the Marquis' chateau, now polluted by the blood of his murderer in the untitled headnote vignette for Book Two, Chapter Fifteen, "Knitting".
The traditional symbol of life, the fountain, is here closely linked with a symbol of death, the gallows that throws its shadow upon the water. In the same nanner, the village life is 'poisoned' by Monseigneur and his class. — Mengel, 29.
The readers of the serial published in Great Britain, in the All the Year Round weekly numbers, had no such visual reinforcement of these themes; only the English purchasers of the monthly parts had the benefit of the Phiz steel-engraving The Stoppage at the Fountain (Part Three, August 1859), in which the fountain (left) seems to shed copious tears becoming a curtain of water over the dead child at its foot, the cupidons both forming a second chorus of mourners and mirroring the condition of contemporary French society, with a lone cherub standing at the top, supported by brethren alike in form but compelled by the sculptor to carry their privileged brother, the water-pourer, aloft for eternity.
Whereas the third fountain, that immediately in front of the chateau, does not occur in either Phiz's or McLenan's narrative-pictorial sequence, John McLenan in Harper's Weekly does offers several instances of knitting women, both with Madame Defarge in her shop (as Phiz does) and with her colleagues at the scaffold in the the untitled headnote vignette for Book Three, Chapter Fifteen, "The Steps Die Out Forever", in which three repulsive hags (presumably, the Vengeance, standing centre, and two of her St. Antoine cronies, but surely intended by McLenan to be a grisly parody of the three Moirae) exemplify in the thirteenth and final American instalment the Fates who are cheated of the blood of the Darnays.
In the first of the two studies of Madame Defarge as community leader by Fred Barnard in the Household Edition, Madame Defarge has laid aside her knitting on the counter of to assimilate the testimony of the three Jacques in The Wine-Shop, coolly picking her teeth, while in the second study, Saint Antoine (Book Two, Chapter Sixteen), she hears the grievances of the female half of the population as men lounge in the street. In contrast, A. A. Dixon's image of Madame DeFarge lacks any suggestion of malevolence; rather, the knitter behind the bar, studying John Barsad, in Madame DeFarge Knitted Steadily, dressed in bourgeois fashion and as intent upon her needlework as upon her inquisitive visitor, seems perfectly placid — not the harpy of the revolutionary scenes in Phiz, McLenan, and Barnard.
Whereas Dixon's illustration of the Marquis, gazing placidly out his carriage window at the raving father of the dead child, in 'Killed!' shrieked the man includes neither the fountain, nor the tragic chorus of grieving women, nor yet the dread avenger, Madame Defarge, Furniss's study melds the elements of the paragraph realized — the fountain as emblematic of the waters of life and the steadfast Madame Defarge as the exemplar of Fate — with an entirely new element, the sputtering torch of liberty, from whose smoke emanate the spritely figures of gorgeously dressed and coiffed courtiers, bowing to one another, and gaily dancing. One senses that they are very much on the mind of the patient knitter, despite the fact that she remains focussed on her work and does not look up. The swirling actions of the dancers in the smoke are repeated in the contortions of the cupidons in the fountain. In contrast to both groups, Madame Defarge is a plain, respectably dressed, unadorned, serviceable pillar. The meaning of the allegorical torch is not immediately clear, but one senses that this symbol portends the eradication of all but the memory of the dancing phantoms in the upper register.
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Last modified 12 November 2013