Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Book the Second - Chap. 1-6

Joe's Two Cents

The first four chapters of Book the Second - The Golden Thread are loaded with comedy. Despite the serious nature of the plot - a man on trial for treason: a crime punishable by torture on the rack, death by strangling, and quartering of the corpse - Dickens tells the story of Charles Darnay's trial with his tongue as deeply embedded in his cheek as ever. From the opening pages where he describes Tellson's bank as "the triumphant perfection of inconvenience," and its tellers, "any one of [whom] would have disinherited his son over the question of rebuilding Tellson's," Dickens is as sarcastic and droll as in any of his most lighthearted work.

The courtroom scene is one of my favorites in the whole book, for Dickens' merciless treatment of the British legal system, which he regarded as brutal and barbarous. Particularly during the remarks of the prosecution does Dickens use humor to ridicule the not-so-proud history of Britain's court:
Silence in the court! Charles Darnay had yesterday pleaded not guilty to an indictment denouncing him (with infinite jingle and jangle) for that he was a false traitor to our serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth, prince, our Lord the King, by reason of his having, on divers occasions, and by divers means and ways, assisted Lewis, the French King, in his wars against our said serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth; that was to say, by coming and going, between the dominions of our said serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth, and those of the said French Lewis, and wickedly, falsely, traitorously, and otherwise evil-adverbiously, revealing to the said French Lewis what forces our said serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth, had in preparation to send to Canada and North America.
The closing remarks of the prosecution are no less amusing:
That, for these reasons, the jury, being a loyal jury (as he knew they were), and being a responsible jury (as they knew they were), must positively find the prisoner guilty, and make an end of him, whether they liked it or not. That they never could lay their heads upon their pillows; that they never could tolerate the idea of their wives laying their heads upon their pillows; that they could never endure the notion of their children laying their heads upon their pillows; in short, that there never more could be, for them or theirs, any laying of heads upon pillows at all, unless the prisoner's head was taken off.
As the opening section of Book the Second slows considerably in terms of pace, compared with Book the First, I think it important to relish such comedic elements and good writing in this section, which more than make up for the slightly weaker plot. Dickens is, after all, simply setting up the fury of action that is to follow. In fact, the entire first book may be regarded as a prelude, and these first six chapters as an introduction proper in the whole scheme of the novel (hence the symbolism of a breaking storm and impending footsteps in chapter six - but more of that later.) So, whereas Dickensonian structure was my focus in the last part, I think Dickensonian comedy (closely linked to his style of writing - with all of its parenthetical statments - which I have, if you have not noticed, been imitating in this very post) is in my opinion the gem of the first parts of Book the Second - The Golden Thread.

Discussion Points/Questions


Book the Second is subtitled "The Golden Thread." What, or who, is the Golden Thread? (Hint: the answer is in the section we read) The answer given, please comment upon it. See comment box - Chris got this one.

Chapter One

1) Jerry Cruncher's boots are not dirty when he comes home from work at Tellson's, but are always dirty when he wakes up each morning; his wife is said to be "praying against" his "work"; he is insistent upon his being regarded as "an honest tradesman"; and later, Dickens notes that Jerry always has iron rust on his fingers. What's up with Jerry Cruncher?

Bonus: When a writer like Charles Dickens repeats a theme or symbol, or brings a conversation topic up multiple times, you can be assured that it is not by mistake. In the section we read, Dickens repeats a theme with Jerry Cruncher from Book the First. Did anyone catch what it was, or what it might mean?

The answer is coming in our fourth discussion... STAY TUNED!

Chapter Two

1) The mirror above Darnay's head comes up a few times in this and following chapters. Significantly, at one point (in chapter three) Darnay and his own real life "reflection" - the look-alike Sydney Carton - are reflected in the mirror together. Any ideas about the symbolism of this mirror in the dock?

No answers, but a hint... once the mirror captures an image, it is like a doom-sayer, a call from another world. Darnay escapes that call... for the time being...

Chapter Three through Five

Imprimis: In three chapters, Syndney Carton becomes the most complex and most developed of Dickens characters in the novel thus far. This is significant. If you missed it, you might want to go back and reread these three chapters with that consideration in mind.

Research note: A "jackal" is a term unfamiliar to us. It means a person who does menial tasks for another person. Carton is described as such a one, even from early age (see p. 95).

1) Contrasting the personality of Mr. Stryver to Mr. Carton's, what do you think about the two men's last names?

Stryver Or, if you will, Striver. That is, one who strives. Stryver is constantly "shouldering his way" through the world, striving to get ahead and on top.

Carton: A closed box, letting nothing in or out. Carton is sealed and resigned to his fate, going nowhere, isolated from the world, like Scrooge "solitary as an oyster."

2) Mr. Carton is portrayed as rather loathesome. Yet, again, Dickens painstakingly shapes him as the most defined character so far. Before commenting upon Mr. Carton's personality, and your impression of him, reconsider this paragraph, second to last in chapter five, "The Jackal." Note the descriptive words.
Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone. Climbing to a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears.

Chapter Six

Imprimis: This is probably the most difficult chapter so far...

There is much foreshadowing in this chapter. No discussion questions, but a few individual things to consider from the reading:

Carton might seem, to a reader, out of place showing up at the Doctor's house... Miss Pross is given to a certain kind of motherly intuition, and this is made much of, yet her observation about "hundreds of people" coming into Lucie's life is obviously an exaggeration... At the end of the chapter, Lucie, Doctor Manette, Mr. Carton, and Mr. Darnay are described at the window watching the storm break, but Mr. Lorry is left out of the description...

Are these inconsistancies, or deliberate?
Make note of them... you'll find out later.

No inconsistancies, I promise you. Dickens deliberately leaves Lorry out and takes a risk by putting Carton in the home before shaping his relationship with the Manette's later on. The reason for this omission, and this placement, is that Dickens wants to place the main four characters of the book in the scene right before the storm breaks and the real action of the book begins. Brilliant!



Anonymous Chris said...

The Golden Thread
- Lucie is the golden thread. In chapter 4 of book the second Dickens explains that Lucie is the thread that connects Dr. Manette's distant past before his suffering to his present after his suffering. She is golden because of her value to him.

- Chapter One
- The boots that are never dirty when Jerry returns home from work and always dirty the next morning and his constant insistance that he is an "Honest tradesmen" combined with his wife "praying against" his "work" lead one to beleive Jerry is up to something unsavory at night, something his holy wife dislikes greatly

As for the bonus, I did find it intresting that in the end of chapter 3 Jerry uses the phrase "Returned to Life" again. The theme of resurection seems to be hinted at again, what exactly this foreshadows for the future I could not determine.

Will post more later

12/28/05, 6:15 PM  
Blogger Joey G. said...

Good to hear from you, Chris. Thanks for your comments on the first post, too. You got the bonus right, so bury that one in the back of your mind - you'll appreciate the cleverness of Dickens' foreshadowing later on...

12/28/05, 7:02 PM  

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