"John Barsad," the Spy
13.5 x 8 cm
Seventeenth 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. 168.
The illustration corresponds to two distinct passages: in the first, Madame Defarge records the description of the ancien regime spy assigned to Saint Antoine to flush out members of the Jacquerie; in the second, the spy enters the Defarges' wine-shop — in their curious customer Madame Defarge recognizes Barsad from the description leaked to her by the secret society's mole at police headquarters. Because the illustration has reference to two passages, editor J. A. Hammerton has not provided the usual explanatory quotation. [Commentary continued below.]
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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"Say then, my friend; what did Jacques of the police tell thee?"
"Very little to-night, but all he knows. There is another spy commissioned for our quarter. There may be many more, for all that he can say, but he knows of one."
"Eh well!" said Madame Defarge, raising her eyebrows with a cool business air. "It is necessary to register him. How do they call that man?"
"He is English."
"So much the better. His name?"
"Barsad," said Defarge, making it French by pronunciation. But, he had been so careful to get it accurately, that he then spelt it with perfect correctness.
"Barsad," repeated madame. "Good. Christian name?"
"John Barsad," repeated madame, after murmuring it once to herself. "Good. His appearance; is it known?"
"Age, about forty years; height, about five feet nine; black hair; complexion dark; generally, rather handsome visage; eyes dark, face thin, long, and sallow; nose aquiline, but not straight, having a peculiar inclination towards the left cheek; expression, therefore, sinister."
"Eh my faith. It is a portrait!" said madame, laughing. "He shall be registered to-morrow." [Book Two, "The Golden Thread," Chapter Sixteen, "Still Knitting," p. 166]
A figure entering at the door threw a shadow on Madame Defarge which she felt to be a new one. She laid down her knitting, and began to pin her rose in her head-dress, before she looked at the figure.
It was curious. The moment Madame Defarge took up the rose, the customers ceased talking, and began gradually to drop out of the wine-shop.
"Good day, madame," said the new-comer.
"Good day, monsieur."
She said it aloud, but added to herself, as she resumed her knitting: "Hah! Good day, age about forty, height about five feet nine, black hair, generally rather handsome visage, complexion dark, eyes dark, thin, long and sallow face, aquiline nose but not straight, having a peculiar inclination towards the left cheek which imparts a sinister expression! Good day, one and all!"
"Have the goodness to give me a little glass of old cognac, and a mouthful of cool fresh water, madame."
Madame complied with a polite air.
"Marvellous cognac this, madame!"
It was the first time it had ever been so complemented, and Madame Defarge knew enough of its antecedents to know better. She said, however, that the cognac was flattered, and took up her knitting. The visitor watched her fingers for a few moments, and took the opportunity of observing the place in general.
"You knit with great skill, madame."
"I am accustomed to it."
"A pretty pattern too!" "You think so?" said madame, looking at him with a smile.
"Decidedly. May one ask what it is for?"
"Pastime," said madame, still looking at him with a smile while her fingers moved nimbly.
"Not for use?"
"That depends. I may find a use for it one day. If I do — Well," said madame, drawing a breath and nodding her head with a stem kind of coquetry, "I'll use it!"
It was remarkable; but, the taste of Saint Antoine seemed to be decidedly opposed to a rose on the head-dress of Madame Defarge. Two men had entered separately, and had been about to order drink, when, catching sight of that novelty, they faltered, made a pretence of looking about as if for some friend who was not there, and went away. Nor, of those who had been there when this visitor entered, was there one left. They had all dropped off. The spy had kept his eyes open, but had been able to detect no sign. They had lounged away in a poverty-stricken, purposeless, accidental manner, quite natural and unimpeachable.
"JOHN," thought madame, checking off her work as her fingers knitted, and her eyes looked at the stranger. "Stay long enough, and I shall knit 'BARSAD' before you go."
"You have a husband, madame?"
"Business seems bad?"
"Business is very bad; the people are so poor."
"Ah, the unfortunate, miserable people! So oppressed, too — as you say."
"As you say," madame retorted, correcting him, and deftly knitting an extra something into his name that boded him no good. [Book Two, "The Golden Thread," Chapter Sixteen, "Still Knitting," p. 169-170]
Relevant Illustrations from earlier editions, 1859, 1867, 1874, and 1905.
Left: John McLenan's version of Phiz's illustration of Barsad in the wine-shop, And stood with his hand on the back of his wife's chair. Right: Phiz's "The Wine-shop" (September 1859).
Left: Fred Barnard's "Here Mr. Lorry became aware, from where he sat, of a most remarkable goblin shadow on the wall" (1874). Right: A. A. Dixon's wine-shop proprietors coolly assess the government spy in "Madame DeFarge knitted steadily" (1905). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
CommentaryPreviously, in the crowded Old Bailey courtroom scene captured by Hablot Knight Browne in The Likeness, the government witnesses Roger Cly and John Barsad must be present (as is Jerry Cruncher, immediately behind Sydney Carton, centre), but Phiz has certainly not made his presence obvious. Consequently, in the original monthly sequence of illustrations, the reader had to wait until the September issue to see in The Wine-shop a realisation of this slippery, long-faced but otherwise undistinguished figure who sells his investigative talents to the government of the day. When we meet him again in the original narrative-pictorial sequence, in The Double Recognition, his clothing is unchanged, despite the fact that he is now "The Sheep of the Prisons" (a specialist in gleaning information from prison-house conversations) for the Revolutionary regime. Furthermore, Phiz does not reveal his face, leaving him an shadowy figure whom Dickens uses to facilitate the escape of Charles Darnay from La Force.
The fifteenth weekly instalment in Harper's, issued on the 13th of August 1859, features John McLenan's less animated and detailed realisation of the scene in the wine-shop, And stood with his hand on the back of his wife's chair for Book Two, Chapter Sixteen, "Still Knitting". Again, the illustrator does not particularize the spy, who great talent is to blend in rather than stand out. Although McLenan probably had no recourse to Phiz's monthly illustrations, he has imagined the spy in much the same garb, although his stockings are dark rather than light, as in Phiz's illustration. McLenan, however, throws his figure into the shade, as if deliberately obscuring his facial features. The American serial artist throws the light available (presumably from the open door) upon the faces of the Defarges, and renders the spy's figure somewhat smaller in perspective.
In the September illustration by Phiz, The Wine-shop, the illustrator has also placed the emphasis on the knitting Madame Defarge, whereas McLenan's scene has a divided focus since the caption points to Defarge as the principal figure whereas the wood-engraving, dropped into the text, itself places Madame Defarge at its centre. Fred Barnard, on the other hand, in his version of The Wine-shop seems far more interested in the three "Jacques" opposite the placid proprietess, who has laid her knitting aside to pick her teeth. Fred Barnard does depict Madame Defarge on a number of occasions, but his parallel wood-engraving, Saint Antoine, does not depict Madame Defarge in the context of her business, and in fact does not reveal the figure of John Barsad, bearded and in a greatcoat of the latest style, until very late in his sequence, Here Mr. Lorry became aware, from where he sat, of a most remarkable goblin shadow on the wall, illustration for Book Three, Chapter 8 — the twentieth large-scale wood-engraving in his sequence of twenty-five. Again, Barnard has chosen to place the spy in the shadow, but has naturalised him, making him a plausible presence: here is the man who knows how the system operates, Barnard implies.
Furniss's John Barsad, like Phiz's, is dressed as a solid bourgeois of the period, in respectable black and unremarkable clothing. But whereas Phiz's figure is undistinguished, except, perhaps, for a rather long nose and nutcracker physiognomy, Furniss's much more realistic study conveys something of the subject's personality and attitude. Here is a confident observer of the human play who is somewhat cynical about his values and allegiances. Although Furniss does not present the Anglo-French spy Solomon Pross (alias "John Barsad") in the context of the wine-shop, he particularizes the chameleon-like agent of whatever political faction is in power. His Barsad has a knowing, almost supercilious look, as if he is taking the reader-viewer into his confidence. This is one of the few Furniss images in volume 13 not accompanied by any sort of explanatory quotation, other than that the artist and editor suggest that his name, appearing in quotation marks, is an assumed rather than a birth-name, and therefore an apellation not to be given much credence. Only much later, of course, will his sister reveal John Barsad's real identity, but Furniss has opted not to copy Phiz's The Double Recognition. This is, in fact, the spy's only appearance in Furniss's illustrations, but his regarding the viewer with such scrutiny and attitude renders that one appearance memorable, a figure no longer in the shadows, but scrutinized in all his particulars, including the "sinister expression" (169) that Dickens mentions and a certain swagger implied by the placement of his hands. As in his second appearance in Phiz's original illustrations, we do not see "straight on," but from the back.
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Last modified 26 November 2013