A Discussion of Phiz's December 85 Plates for Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities"

Philip V. Allingham, Contributing Editor, Victorian Web; Faculty of Education, Lakehead University (Canada)

The Spy's Funeral The Wine-Shop

7A. "The Double Recognition," Book III, Chapter 8 (for December, 1859; issued 5 October in weekly numbers). See opposite p. 324 in the Penguin edition.

7B. "After the Sentence," Book III, Chapter (for December, 1859; issued 5 November in weekly numbers). See opposite p. 364 in the Penguin edition.

[Click upon illustrations for larger images.]

The final movement of the pictorial narrative, the plates for November and December, has much less of such muting, although the three unconcerned and unrelated jailors to the left of "After the Sentence" certainly foil the melodramatic pose of the principal characters, a visual cliff-hanger that only a reading of the printed text will resolve. In this pictorial climax, Lucie faints into Sydney Carton's arms after the courtroom ordeal and parting from her doomed husband, Mr. Lorry sympathetically takes her hand, and her father (not described in the printed text at this moment) tears his hair to exemplify his frustration at his own powerlessness to alter the outcome of events that his secret document, written in blood years before in the Bastille, has enabled Madame Defarge to produce.

Dickens ingeniously introduces the solution to Darnay's problem, being consigned to the guillotine, even as he is being re-arrested, and it is this plot-gambit that "The Double Recognition" dramatizes in vignette on a shallow stage. Caught in a moment of contraposto, Barsad does a double-take as he twists around to see who has just recalled to life an identity he has submerged in roles created in service of the state. However, his face remains concealed; the viewer must construct its expression and features based on the model Phiz had earlier provided in "The Wine-Shop" in which he wears precisely the same clothes. In this second wine-shop scene, Dickens does not specify what he is wearing, but one assumes that this "thorough Republican" (Book Three, Chapter 8, page 323) has blended in as spies in all ages have done, and is wearing a shaggy spenser and Phrygian cap rather than standard middle-class garb. Furthermore, in the printed text, he does not turn back to regard Miss Pross; rather, "In going, he had to face Miss Pross" (323), who blocks his exit as the arresting party had blocked Darnay's in the previous plate. She will "be the death" of him unless she is silent as to his real name, and he will have to buy her silence. Thus, Phiz in having Barsad twist backward exemplifies the present-past- present movement that occurs again and again in plates and text. Barsad writhes and twists, caught in his own devious coils, but remains an enigmatic figure: we do not see his facial expression.

The scene in the first plate for the December, 85, "double number" contains a number of by-now familiar elements: a room full of onlookers (as in "Before the Tribunal"), the publican and his wife, behind their bar and situated amidst their bottles and tankards, scrutinizing a well-dressed stranger (as in "The Wine- Shop"), a mixture of uniformed and Phrygian-capped patriots (again as in "Before the Tribunal"), Miss Pross (wearing the same dress as in "The Accomplices"), and, depicted clearly for the first time, Jerry Cruncher. Although the text indicates that the Tellson's functionary who doubles as a Resurrection Man is present in "The Mail," "The Likeness" (indeed, Dickens explores much of the English courtroom scene from Jerry's perspective), and "The Spy's Funeral," this is the first plate in which Phiz gives him center stage. In the monthly version's first plate, "The Mail," he is a muffled figure on horseback who is recognizable only by virtue of the context established by the accompanying text. In "The Likeness" we can identify the wigless figure, center, immediately behind attorney Carton, as Jerry only after we have seen him in "The Double Recognition." In the printed text, we enter the Old Bailey with Jerry (Book Two, Chapter 2, page ), experience moment by moment what Jerry sees, thinks, and feels "on the floor of the court" (p. 2), and follow the trial proceedings with him (p. 5), so that he mediates between the action and the reader, although he is usually regarded as a minor character throughout the text.

In the Bastille

7C. "In the Bastille," vignette, Book III, Chapter 0 (for December, 1859; issued 2 October in weekly numbers); issued in the December instalment, a double number (parts 7 and 8), and also as the title-page vignette for first volume edition (Nov. 26); see the Penguin edition, opposite p. 346.

Phiz compels reader-viewers to move from present to past and then back to the present: revisiting the past critically, searching out meaningful detail in both plates and text, and mediating between the two narrative media. This process of engagement with the past enables the reader to find clues to interpret the present, precisely as Dickens the novelist and Carlyle the historian have proposed. The center of this temporal maelstrom is exemplified in the title-page vignette "In the Bastille" (the only such single pictorial character study): "I, Alexandre Manette, write this melancholy paper in my doleful cell in the Bastille, during the last month of the year 1767."(Bk. III. ch. x; Hammerton 440). A ray of light cuts diagonally across the circular picture as the writer folds his communication and prepares to post it towards an uncertain future. The darkness of insanity, of mindlessness, of being buried alive, has not yet engulfed the writer, but it is present, waiting for the light of sanity to fade; to the right and left of the seated prisoner are chains adjacent to the dark fields of the plate, in which Phiz has utilized Baroque chiaroscuro to highlight the writer's broad forehead, suggestive of the power of mind that has thus far been able to transform the stone-walled cell into a writer's workshop.

The arch is reminiscent of the grotto-like cell in which Dr. Manette is kept for the sake of his sanity by his former servant, Ernest Defarge, in "The Shoemaker." Here, however, his patient labor is directed not towards the production of shoes but to the production of text. Once again, then, Phiz has created a character who is an author or recorder of events because decoding the past is the central activity of A Tale of Two Cities. Until Dr. Manette can make contact with that younger self who cursed the St. Evr╚mondes and mediates that past self with his present self, he cannot be a whole person. Rather, he will be a fractured personality identified by two jobs and (his descent into insanity effected through ten years of imprisonment and isolation) but one name, lost for a time (significantly, he is shown unchained in Phiz's plate because his manacles are becoming, as poet William Blake had remarked of what kept London's underclass economically and politically oppressed, "mind-forged") but recovered through the benevolent operation of memory, the golden thread that connects the quondam shoemaker to his wife and, by extension, to his former life through the medium of his golden-haired daughter, whose tresses recall that past identity as intellectual, physician, husband, and father to the present. Thus, through the accidents of time and chance, Dr. Manette, reunited with his past sentiments, has become a realization of the good Lucius Junius Brutus of Roman antiquity, sacrificing his family (here, not his son, but his son-in-law) and his daughter's happiness to the blood-thirsty Republic which has idolized him. Dr. Manette regains full knowledge of himself, but at what a cost, as he returns to the time when he was shortly to be reduced to a mere agent or mechanism without higher level thinking and poignant feeling, a shoemaker, and craved but one thing as his sanity slipped from him: vengeance. Thus, the monthly readers of the printed and pictorial texts achieved a coherent vision by fusing the separate images of the Bastille prisoner (present in the title-page vignette, past in "The Shoemaker") and the venerable Enlightenment scientist and humanist of "The Knock at the Door."

The reader of the monthly instalments returns to the Paris of the Reign of Terror, having visited Dr. Manette as he was after ten years' confinement in the Bastille, the writer of the 767 epistle to the future, encapsulated in the figure of the writer of the narrative of Therese Defarge's family and of his own plight, a narrative that comes to closure in a curse upon his and her persecutors. Dickens and Phiz have transported the reader to a point eight years prior to opening of the novel, and from thence ten years earlier, to the period when the St. Evrémonde brothers had committed their unspeakable crimes that have come back to assault their innocent descendant in the present. As the scene "The Double Recognition" suggests, there is no burying the past; it is always there, ready to erupt when least we expect it, threatening to destroy the present self for past sins, even the sins of past generations.

In the Bastille

7D. Frontispiece "Hundreds of People" or "Under the Plane Tree" (Book II, Chapter 6). This plate is not reproduced in the Penguin English Library (70) edition of the novel, edited by George Woodcock.

Major figures from "The Likeness" in the July number˝except Stryver˝are repeated in final month's frontispiece for the novel, "Under the Plane Tree," in which Carton is presented once again as being outside the charmed circle (although, once dead, he will be ever- present in the survivors' thoughts). The Pilgrim editors note that the plate shows "Lucie and Charles Darnay, after their wedding, with Dr. Manette, Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross, drinking wine under the plane-tree of the Manettes' London garden" (Vol. : 36). This, in retrospect, will be a golden moment of domestic harmony before the cataclysm of the French Revolution: as the poet Marvel remarked, "a green thought in a green shade" ("The Garden," line 48), a retreat in the midst of smokey Soho, a "happy garden-state" in which the cares of the politically charged "outer" world of the novel dissolve temporarily. The pillar or trunk of this fair shade is both the plane-tree and the melancholy lover, who casts his own shade upon the otherwise idyllic scene as Lorry, the Manettes, Darnay, and Carton take their after-dinner glasses of wine in the open air. All too soon in the narrative-pictorial sequence, "the Hundreds of people" will present themselves in "The Stoppage at the Fountain," precursor of mass emotion and mob violence.

As in "Congratulations," Carton's listless pose and darkened face (shaded by the arch in the former plate, and by the plane tree in the latter) in the Frontispiece convey his alienation and depression, in contrast to the quiet joy and contentment of the rest of the company, who are paired off and seated around the sacramental bread and wine. Carton facially is almost a doppelgönger for Darnay, a conception Dickens had experimented with ten years earlier in The Haunted Man (848) in giving the gloomy protagonist, Redlaw (who, like Carton and the author himself, suffers from an ennui induced by a painful childhood experience), an even darker genius. In all three plates, Carton is leaning (on the prisoner's dock, against the arch, and against the tree), observing the others rather than joining in, being the most significant background detail in "Congratulations" and "Under the Plane-Tree," connecting the visual sequence from an earlier month to the very last, and pulling together the components of the visual narrative as the December reader casts his mind back to events described in July's letter-press.


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Last modified March 26, 2002