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ambrmerlinus ([personal profile] ambrmerlinus) wrote2012-01-19 09:15 am

A Rant of Two Cities: chapters 15-19

Chapter 15: Knitting

We return now to the Defarge's wine shop in France. It's doing pretty well, all things considered. Madame Defarge watches quietly over a roomful of people drinking and talking, all the while poking apparently aimlessly at stuff with her toothpick.

Enter Monsieur Defarge with the blue-capped road mender from the Marquis' manor.

MONSIEUR DEFARGE: Good-day, gentlemen!
MONSIEUR DEFARGE: It is bad weather, gentlemen.
SOME DUDE: /gets up and leaves
MONSIEUR DEFARGE: My wife, I have travelled certain leagues with this good mender of roads, called Jacques. I met him–by accident–a day and a half's journey out of Paris. He is a good child, this mender of roads, called Jacques. Give him to drink, my wife!
SOME OTHER DUDE: /gets up and leaves
A THIRD DUDE: /gets up and leaves

After this curious exchange, Jacques-the-mender-of-roads gets a free meal and Monsieur Defarge takes him to "see an apartment," which in this case is code for "talk to three other dudes names Jacques, bringing the total number of Jacques in this chapter to five."

Jacques-the-mender-of-roads has a story to tell, and it is as follows: The tall man who murdered the Marquis is the same guy whose son got run over and killed by the Marquis' cart. He got away for about a year but was eventually caught and hanged, with the body left over the village well to poison the water and punish the entire village.

Once he's recounted his tale and gone on his merry way, the remaining Jacques discuss business.

pg. 174: "How say you, Jacques?" demanded Number One. "To be registered?"

"To be registered, as doomed to destruction," returned Defarge.

"Magnificent!" croaked the man with the craving.

"The château and all the race?" inquired the first.

"The château and all the race," returned Defarge. "Extermination."

Well, that's good and ominous. But how are they keeping the record of this?

pg. 174: "Are you sure," asked Jacques Two, of Defarge, "that no embarrassment can arise from our manner of keeping the register? WIthout doubt it is safe, for no one beyond ourselves can decipher it; but shall we always be able to decipher it–or, I ought to say, will she?"

"Jacques," returned Defarge, drawing himself up, "if madame my wife undertook to keep the register in her memory alone she would not lose a word of it–not a syllable of it. Knitted, in her own stitches and her own symbols, it will always be as plain to her as the sun. Confide in Madame Defarge. It would be easier for the weakest poltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of Madame Defarge."

Hence the chapter title.

Back inside the wine shop, Jacques-the-mender-of-roads gets a good look at Madame Defarge herself.

pg. 175: But madame sat all day at her counter, so expressly unconscious of him, and so particularly determined not to perceive that his being there had any connection with anything below the surface, that he shook in his wooden shoes whenever his eye lighted on her. For, he contended with himself that t was impossible to foresee what that lady might pretend next; and he felt assure d that if she should take it into her brightly ornamented head to pretend that she had seen him do a murder and afterwards flay the victim, she would infallibly go through with it until the play was played out.

About a paragraph later, Monsieur and Madame Defarge accompany Jacques-the-mender-of-roads to Versailles to see the royal carriage. Questions arise while they mingle amongst the crowd.

pg. 175: "You work hard, madame," said a man near her.

"Yes," answered Madame Defarge; "I have a good deal to do."

"What do you make, madame?"

"Many things."

"For instance–"

"For instance," returned Madame Defarge, composedly, "shrouds."

I like her.

The parade goes by, and Jacques-the-mender-of-roads finds himself moved nearly to tears by the whole spectacle. This seems to play right into Madame Defarge's plan.

pg. 176-177: "If you were shown a great heap of dolls, and were set upon them to pluck them t pieces and despoil them for your own advantage, you would pick out the richest and gayest. Say! Would you not?"

"Truly yes, madame."

"Yes. And if you were shown a flock of birds, unable to fly, and were set upon them to strip them of their feathers for your own advantage, you would set upon the birds of the finest feathers; would you not?"

"It is true, madame."

"You have seen both dolls and birds to-day," said Madame Defarge, with a wave of her hand towards the place where they had last been apparent; "now, go home!"


Chapter 16: Still Knitting

Back home in Paris, Monsieur and Madame Defarge get news from their friends inside the police force that a British spy by the name of John Barsad is on his way to their wine shop. Monsieur Defarge is upset by having to wait to act on his revolutionary plans.

pg. 180: "It does not take a long time to strike a man with lightning," said Defarge.

"How long," demanded madame, composedly, "does it take to make and store the lightning? Tell me."

Love her.

Over the course of their conversation, it is revealed that Madame Defarge has a lot in common with Lady Macbeth, in terms of being braver, bolder, smarter, and generally better at life than her husband. I get the impression I'm supposed to be rooting against her but truth be told I find her competence too endearing.

The next day, a mysterious stranger enters the wine shop. Madame Defarge responds by putting a rose in her head scarf, and slowly but surely, all the other customers shut up and get out, leaving just her and what is obviously a British spy.

OBVIOUS BRITISH SPY (OBS): Pip pip cheerio!
OBS: Sure is some nice cognac you got here!
MME DEFARGE: It's flattered, I assure you.
OBS: So, how about all that crushing poverty? Super sads, innit?
MME DEFARGE: Je m'en fou.
OBS: It's enough to make a guy want to start a revolution, don'tcha think?
MME DEFARGE: Oh hey look my husband's home.
OBS: Hi, Jacques!
OBS: I said, hi, Jacques!
M DEFARGE: Sorry dude my name's Ernest.
OBS: Aww, shoot. Anyway like I was saying, your bro Dr. Manette's kid is all set to marry Charles Darnay who incidentally is related to that Marquis whose bloodline you probably want eradicated on account of him being a huge dick. Laters!

Chapter 17: One Night

Doctor Manette and Lucie Manette take up an entire chapter with this:

DOCTOR: Are you happy?
LUCIE: I'm happy if you're happy. You?
DOCTOR: I'm only happy when you're happy.
LUCIE: Well I'm perfectly content to be happy as long as you're happy.
DOCTOR: My happiness is entirely dependent on your happiness.
LUCIE: But are you happy?

And so on and so forth until "happy" holds about as much meaning as "pleasant." The twist ending is that they are both happy.

Chapter 18: Nine Days

It's Charles and Lucie's wedding day at long last, and Miss Pross and Mr. Lorry are busy being cute.

pg. 192-193: "And so," said Mr. Lorry, who could not sufficiently admire the bride, and who had been moving round her to take in every point of her quiet, pretty dress; "and so it was for this, my sweet Lucie, that I brought you across the Channel, such a baby! Lord bless me! How little I thought what I was doing! How lightly I valued the obligation I was conferring on my friend Mr. Charles!"

"You didn't mean it," remarked the matter-of-fact Miss Pross, "and therefore how could you know it? Nonsense!"

"Really? Well; but don't cry," said the gentle Mr. Lorry.

"I am not crying," said Miss Pross; "you are."

"I, my Pross?" (By this time, Mr. Lorry dared to be pleasant with her; on occasion.)

"You were, just now; I saw you do it, and I don't wonder at it. Such a present of plate as you have made 'em is enough to bring tears into anybody's eyes. There's not a fork or a spoon in the collection," said Miss Pross, "that I didn't cry over, last night after the box came, till I couldn't see it."

"I am highly gratified," said Mr. Lorry, "though, upon my honour, I had no intention of rendering those trifling articles of remembrance invisible to any one. Dear me! This is an occasion that makes a man speculate on all he has lost. Dear, dear, dear! To think that there might have been a Mrs. Lorry, any time these fifty years almost!"

"Not at all!" From Miss Pross.

"You think there never might have been a Mrs. Lorry?" asked the gentleman of that name.

"Pooh!" rejoined Miss Pross; "you were a bachelor in your cradle."

"Well!" observed Mr. Lorry, beamingly adjusting his little wig, "that seems probable, too."

"And you were cut out for a bachelor," pursued Miss Pross, "before you were put in your cradle."

"Then, I think," said Mr. Lorry, "that I was very unhandsomely dealt with, and that I ought to have had a voice in the selection of my pattern.

If I can get completely off-topic for a moment, I would like to point out how many writing don'ts are exhibited in classic (western English-language) literature. The rampant adverbs, dialogue tags other than "said," over-use of semicolons, unironic referrals to "the other man," etc. Kind of makes you wonder if the constant insistence that modern writers "learn from the classics" is doing more harm than good. (Unless we are supposed to be learning from the classics' mistakes?)

Anyway, the wedding happens in less than a page. Charles and Lucie are unspeakably happy (literally unspeakably; they don't get a single line of dialogue at their own damn wedding) and trot off on their honeymoon, leaving the Doctor behind.

Turns out, Lucie's happiness does not guarantee his happiness. As soon as she's gone, he reverts back to his pre-recalled-to-life self, begins making shoes, and stops recognizing the people and places around him.

pg. 196: Two things at once impressed themselves on Mr. Lorry, as important above all others; the first, that this must be kept secret from Lucie; the second that it must be kept secret from all who knew him.

And third, he was unconditionally, irrevocably in love with Doctor Manette.

No, but seriously, I'd think the primary concern would be helping Doctor Manette, not making sure nobody knows he's suffering. But what do I know?

Turns out Mr. Lorry does have a treatment plan for Doctor Manette's relapse: act normal. Give him meals, talk to him, invite him out for walks. This goes on for the nine days indicated in the chapter title.

Chapter 19: An Opinion opens on the tenth day.

pg. 198: Even when he had satisfied himself that he was awake, Mr. Lorry felt giddily uncertain for some few moments whether the late shoemaking might not be a disturbed dream of his own; for, did not his eyes show him his friend before him in his accustomed clothing and aspect and employed as usual; and was there any sign within their range, that the change of which he had so strange and impression had actually happened?

Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

pg. 199: If he appeared to be in his customary state of mind, Mr. Lorry would then cautiously proceed to seek direction and guidance from the opinion he had been, in his anxiety, so anxious to obtain.

Ah, good, so it was his anxiety that was making him anxious. Glad we cleared that up.

Incomprehensible questions and sundry redundancies aside, Mr. Lorry's treatment plan finally starts working. It appears Doctor Manette is back to his healthy self.

Mr. Lorry takes this opportunity to quiz Doctor Manette on his relapse and what might be done to prevent something like it in the future, in what is honestly one of the novel's more heartwarming scenes. I would end up re-typing several pages worth of text if I attempted to quote my favorite parts, so once again I must implore you to seek this book out on your own and read it for yourself. 'Cause it's cute.

Short version: Mr. Lorry asks Doctor Manette for advice concerning the recent collapse of a "friend." Both parties know he's really talking about Doctor Manette, but pretending it's a third person lets Doctor Manette speak freely of his problems without embarrassment. He can feel these relapses coming on, but is powerless to speak about them before they overtake him. He reverts to shoemaking because he remembers it as the one not-completely-awful thing about being in prison. Now, however, he feels quite cured, and ready to take on the world. He does not want to rest because idleness seems to make the relapses worse.

Mr. Lorry wants to get rid of the shoemaking equipment entirely, as he thinks doing so might prevent another relapse. Doctor Manette is less convinced.

pg. 204: Even now, when I believe he is more hopeful of himself than he has ever been, and even speaks of himself with a kind of confidence, the idea that he might need that old employment, and not find it, gives him a sudden sense of terror, like that which one may fancy strikes to the heart of a lost child.

tl;dr - Shoemaking is the only coping mechanism he's got.

Speaking from my own experience, taking away a person's only coping mechanism without having a healthy one on hand to replace it is dangerous, but Mr. Lorry would disagree with me. He persists until Doctor Manette agrees to get rid of his shoemaking stuff.

pg. 204-205: On the night of the day on which he had left the house, Mr. Lorry went into his room with a chopper, saw, chisel, and hammer, attended by Miss Pross carrying a light. There, with closed doors, and in a mysterious and guilty manner, Mr. Lorry hacked the shoemaker's bench to pieces, while Miss Pross held the candle as if she were assisting at a murder–for which, indeed, in her grimness, she was no unsuitable figure. The burning of the body (previously reduced to pieces convenient for the purpose) was commenced without delay in the kitchen fire; and the tools, shoes, and leather were buried in the garden. So wicked do destruction and secrecy appear to honest minds, that Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross, while engaged in the commission of their deed and in the removal of its traces, almost felt, and almost looked, like accomplices in a horrible crime.

This is going to come back to bite them in the ass, isn't it?


For more Dickens, check out the Rant of Two Cities tag. Alternatively, you can start from the beginning.