The Fall of the Bastille

The Fall of the Bastille by Harry Furniss. 1910. Framed lithograph, 9.6 high x 14.9 cm wide, framed. Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, The Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing XIII, 201. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image 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.]

Passage Illustrated

The hour was come, when Saint Antoine was to execute his horrible idea of hoisting up men for lamps to show what he could be and do. Saint Antoine's blood was up, and the blood of tyranny and domination by the iron hand was down &mndash; down on the steps of the Hôtel de Ville where the governor's body lay — down on the sole of the shoe of Madame Defarge where she had trodden on the body to steady it for mutilation. "Lower the lamp yonder!" cried Saint Antoine, after glaring round for a new means of death; "here is one of his soldiers to be left on guard!" The swinging sentinel was posted, and the sea rushed on.

The sea of black and threatening waters, and of destructive upheaving of wave against wave, whose depths were yet unfathomed and whose forces were yet unknown. The remorseless sea of turbulently swaying shapes, voices of vengeance, and faces hardened in the furnaces of suffering until the touch of pity could make no mark on them.

But, in the ocean of faces where every fierce and furious expression was in vivid life, there were two groups of faces — each seven in number — so fixedly contrasting with the rest, that never did sea roll which bore more memorable wrecks with it. Seven faces of prisoners, suddenly released by the storm that had burst their tomb, were carried high overhead: all scared, all lost, all wondering and amazed, as if the Last Day were come, and those who rejoiced around them were lost spirits. [Book Two, "The Golden Thread," Chapter Twenty-one, "Echoing Footsteps," 207-8]


Whereas the novel's first American illustrator, John McLenan, provided two illustrations to convey the violence of the outbreak of the Revolution, the wood-engraving within Chapter 21 for the 3 September 1859 instalment entitled "In the name of all the angels or devils, work!" (see below), and a gruesome headnote vignette for the following week's instalment, in which Foulon is hanged from a lamp-standard in the twenty-second chapter, Furniss reverts to the dark plate technique which he employed in Stopping the Mail to suggest that his subject is at least as much historical as literary. In fact, Furniss utilizes the technique (or, more accurately, adapts the technique) developed by John Franklin and Phiz to create dramatic chiaroscuro effects through emphasizing areas suggestive of the nocturnal and the mysterious in dark plates.

Phiz in one of his two monthly illustrations for October 1859 focuses on the swirling action of the mob itself and the destruction of a uniformed Foulon, merely suggesting the Bastille's towers in the distant skyline. Although he includes the lamp-standard upon which Foulon will be hanged (upper right), Fred Barnard in the Household Edition illustration that parallels Phiz's eliminates the Vengeance and Madame Defarge, and places the hapless victim of the mob's outrage and the muscular Ernest Defarge at the centre of the chaotic composition entitled Dragged, and struck at, and stifled by the bunches of grass and straw that were thrust into his face by hundreds of hands, the scene set outside the Hôtel de Ville in Chapter Twenty-two, "The Sea Still Rises," in Book Two). In Furniss's illustration of the mob inside the main courtyard of the Bastille, in contrast, he includes but one recognizable figure from Dickens's narrative (implying that the artist is seeing the moment illustrated through the mists of history rather than through a literary text), whereas the other sanctioned Dickens illustrator, Sol Eytinge, Jr., focussed on the ghoulish leader of the ragged insurgents, The Vengeance, in his depiction of the outbreak of the Revolution in the streets of the faubourg Saint Antoine, and offered no architectural context or informing cityscape, but only a sea of angry faces.

The effect of Furniss's lithograph is both impressionistic and photographic, whereas another illustrator (Edmund Joseph Sullivan) that same year depicting the The Walls of Jericho (The Fall of the Bastille took an allegorical approach for his representation of this historical turning-point in his kinetic line drawing for Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution, Chapter Six, "Storm and Victory. July 14th, 1789":

For four hours now has the World-Bedlam roared: call it the World-Chimera, blowing fire! The poor Invalides have sunk under their battlements, or rise only with reversed muskets: they have made a white flag of napkins; go beating the chamade, or seeming to beat, for one can hear nothing. The very Swiss at the Portcullis look weary of firing; disheartened in the fire-deluge: a porthole at the drawbridge is opened, as by one that would speak. See Huissier Maillard, the shifty man! On his plank, swinging over the abyss of that stone Ditch; plank resting on parapet, balanced by weight of Patriots, — he hovers perilous: such a Dove towards such an Ark! Deftly, thou shifty Usher: one man already fell; and lies smashed, far down there, against the masonry! Usher Maillard falls not: deftly, unerring he walks, with outspread palm. The Swiss holds a paper through his porthole; the shifty Usher snatches it, and returns. Terms of surrender: Pardon, immunity to all! Are they accepted? — "Foi d' officier, On the word of an officer," answers half-pay Hulin, — or half-pay Elie, for men do not agree on it, — "they are!" Sinks the drawbridge, — Usher Maillard bolting it when [170/171] down; rushes-in the living deluge: the Bastille is fallen! Victoire! La Bastille est prise!*

In the shadowy "dark plate" Furniss depicts the mob as a many-headed hydra rather than a succession of characters, some even recognizable from Dickens's account. Through the archway in the rear we see three round objects — undoubtedly the severed heads of a trio of Swiss defenders — but the effect is chaotic and nightmarish rather than gruesome. The single identifiable figure, just right of centre, beating a drum would be The Vengeance, but one could hardly term this blotchy rendition a characterization in the sense that Eytinge's distorted figure offers a pointed interpretation of the inciter of mob violence. Nor should we confuse Furniss's version with the highly realistic realisations of the event published at the time, graphics such as Berthault's Fall of the Bastille: De Launay Governor of the Bastille is Arrested and Killed by the Crowd and Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel's Prise de la Bastille (14 July 1789), in both of which the artist takes the perspective of those outside, while the assault is still in progress and white smoke rises above the eight towers of the political prison. In contrast, in this dark plate we have entered the belly of the beast, Revolution, and strive to make sense of what is happening in the mezzotint-like half-light. Furniss discards heroism, idealism, and even the individual actor in the historic scene as irrelevant in the ebb and flow of historical events seen from the perspective of over a century later, through a glass darkly. Significantly he deploys all but one of the seven dark plates to that point at which the Revolution has finally broken out, and actual events engulf the characters and direct the narrative.

Furniss's Six Other Darkened Lithographs for Historical Moments in the Novel

Related Materials

Relevant Illustrations from earlier editions: 1859, 1867, 1874, and 1905.

Left: McLenan's main illustration for Book 2, Chapter 21, "In the name of all the angels or devils, work!". Right: Phiz's "The Sea Rises" (October 1859).

Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study of the grotesque mob-leader as the virago leads Saint Antoine against the defenders of the fortress, The Vengeance (1867). Centre: Barnard's Dragged, and struck at, and stifled by the bunches of grass and straw that were thrust into his face by hundreds of hands (1874); right: Dixon's closeup of the Saint Antoine mob storming the main gate, The surrender of the Bastille for Book Two, Chapter 21, "Echoing Footsteps" (1905).


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Dickens, Charles. The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens. Ed. Madeline House, Graham Storey, and Kathleen Tillotson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974. IX (1859-61).

__________. A Tale of Two Cities. All the Year Round. 30 April through 26 November 1859.

__________. A Tale of Two Cities. Illustrated by John McLenan. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. 7 May through 3 December 1859.

__________. A Tale of Two Cities. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz'). London: Chapman and Hall, 1859.

__________. A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

__________. A Tale of Two Cities. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874.

__________. A Tale of Two Cities. Illustrated by A. A. Dixon. London: Collins, 1905.

__________. A Tale of Two Cities, American Notes, and Pictures from Italy. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 13.

Mengel, Ewald. "The Poisoned Fountain: Dickens's Use of a Traditional Symbol in A Tale of Two Cities." Dickensian, 80/1 (Spring 1984): 26-32.

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Created 9 December 2013

Last modified 11 January 2020