"A Knock at the Door"
14 x 9.6 cm vignetted
Twenty-eighth 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. 280.
The essential difference between Furniss's impressionistic treatment of the celebrated scene of Darnay's second arrest by the Revolutionary authorities and earlier treatments by Phiz and MacLenan is a shift in emphasis. Whereas the earlier illustrators have focussed on Darnay, his wife, and child, Furniss has placed them in the background and foregrounded the sanguinary fourth Jacobin, who smokes his pipe and smiles as if this were a routine call rather than an apprehension in a capital trial. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
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.]
"My child," said the Doctor, rising, and laying his hand upon her shoulder, "I have saved him. What weakness is this, my dear! Let me go to the door."
He took the lamp in his hand, crossed the two intervening outer rooms, and opened it. A rude clattering of feet over the floor, and four rough men in red caps, armed with sabres and pistols, entered the room.
"The Citizen Evrémonde, called Darnay," said the first.
"Who seeks him?" answered Darnay.
"I seek him. We seek him. I know you, Evrémonde; I saw you before the Tribunal to-day. You are again the prisoner of the Republic."
The four surrounded him, where he stood with his wife and child clinging to him.
"Tell me how and why am I again a prisoner?"
"It is enough that you return straight to the Conciergerie, and will know to-morrow. You are summoned for to-morrow." [Book Three, "The Track of a Storm," Chapter Seven, "A Knock at the Door," 277]
Relevant Illustrations from earlier editions: 1859, 1874, and 1905
Left: John McLenan's 5 October 1859 depiction of the re-arrest of Darnay after his first trial, "The Citizen Evrémonde, called Darnay". Right: "The Knock at the Door" by Hablot Knight Browne in the sixth monthly number (November 1859). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: Fred Barnard's Household Edition illustration depicting Darnay's being led away after his second trial in Book Three, Chapter Nine, "As he was drawn away, his wife released him, and stood looking after him with her hands touching one another in the attitude of prayer" (1874). Right: A. A. Dixon's version of Darnay's re-arrest following the Defarges' denunciation, "I know you, Evrémonde!" (1905). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Most significantly, Furniss's Doctor Manette is barely visible, as if his presence can do nothing to prevent his son-in-law's being found guilty of an (as yet) unspecified charge. The unexpected turn of events makes so dramatic a reversal in the fates of Darnay and his family that both John MacLenan in his illustrations for Harper's Weekly and Hablot Knight Browne in his illustrations for the monthly parts independently recognized the scene's narrative power and effectively realised it, Phiz in a panoramic, theatrical treatment, MacLenan in a telling close up of the Jacobin agents surrounding the Darnays.Again, Charles Darnay's life is threatened, despite his having evaded the 19 September 1793 Republican law enacted against "Aristocrats, Federalists, [and] Monsieurs" (according to Thomas Carlyle's account in The French Revolution, 3.4.6, cited in Sanders 148). Darnay, having been "drawn to the loadstone rock" to rescue Gabelle, an Evrémonde family retainer, but through the eloquence of his father-in-law already acquitted of charges of being a returned emigrant, now is unexpectedly rearrested, not by legitimate functionaries of the court, but by four thugs in Phrygian caps whom Dickens does not dignify with uniforms. Little does Darnay realize that he is about to face the dread consequences of his uncle and father's having raped Madame Defarge's sister and having murdered the family, his denouncer being none other than Doctor Manette himself, in a letter written in blood and hidden in his Bastille cell, although Dickens withholds this crucial piece of information until the ensuing second trial.
Whereas Phiz dresses his stage set with screens, fireplace, and well-padded armchair and ottoman to convince the reader of the reality of the illustration, Furniss focuses on the figures, individualising the Jacobins by their poses rather than their faces and attitudes, and merely sketching in the scene of the action lightly. The reader sees Phiz's illustration as if he or she were sitting in the orchestra of a Victorian theatre, surveying the action in the context of a large, comfortable, upper-middle-class drawing room filled with eighteenth-century furnishings, with Doctor Manette stage right; Darnay, his wife, and frightened child, centre; and three rather than four well-armed Jacobins (identified by their caps and rough demeanour) to the right, by the door, balancing Doctor Manette's figure on the left — the fourth Jacobin is presumably standing guard outside.
Using this 1859 steel engraving as his primary reference point, Furniss has realigned the scene from a vantage point in the corridor outside the drawing room, thereby moving the reader into the scene so that the figures occur in perspective, with exterior guard as the largest and Doctor Manette, the furthest figure, as the smallest. Although the Darnay family are still at the centre of Furniss's composition, this Baroque realignment enables the illustrator to have the three Jacobins within surround the Darnays while reducing the figure of Doctor Manette. Significantly, Furniss has distinguished these dubious agents of the state by their poses and uniforms — the pipe-smoking guard at the door wearing his Phrygian cap over an officer's helmet, by which juxtaposition Furniss implies that these uniforms of the regular army are the spoils of the insurrection, and that these men have no legitimate authority as agents of the court. While the Jacobin to the right strikes a pose and grins at the prisoner, his simple-minded companion in the foreground attempts to play with the Darnay's spaniel, his enormous sabre representing the extent of the danger under which Darnay now stands. Although both illustrators are technically incorrect in their disposition of the Jacobins, all four of whom surround Darnay in the letterpress, Furniss has corrected Phiz's composition in terms of the lamp rather than the guttering candle which Doctor Manette holds in the earlier illustration.
Since Dickens notes that the four ruffians enter the suite of rooms with a "rude clattering of feet over the floor," we should assume that these patriots are wearing wooden shoes rather than military boots, but only one of Furniss's posse is wearing clogs, as opposed to two of the three in Phiz's' illustration. However, in spirit Furniss's lithograph seems more effectively and naturally organized, with the later artist emphasizing the arrogant self-assurance of those despatched to arrest Darnay. The capriciousness of the Jacobins in the 1910 illustration, epitomized by their supercilious expressions, betokens a greater threat to Darnay than the stolid militiamen of Phiz's 1859 engraving. In terms of composition, Furniss has replaced the static, tableau vivant quality of Phiz's stage scene for aerial perspective and a certain dynamism of the figures in action, emphasized by the Jacobin's attending to the dog rather than prisoner, a piece of comic business in the midst of an otherwise serious action, such comic relief being one of the hallmarks of Furniss's style.
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Last modified 27 December 2013