Darnay Arrested

Darnay Arrested by Harry Furniss. 1910. Vignetted lithograph, 9 cm high x 14.5 cm wide. Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, The Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing XIII, 241. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

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Passage Illustrated

He accompanied his conductor into a guard-room, smelling of common wine and tobacco, where certain soldiers and patriots, asleep and awake, drunk and sober, and in various neutral states between sleeping and waking, drunkenness and sobriety, were standing and lying about. The light in the guard-house, half derived from the waning oil-lamps of the night, and half from the overcast day, was in a correspondingly uncertain condition. Some registers were lying open on a desk, and an officer of a coarse, dark aspect, presided over these.

"Citizen Defarge," said he to Darnay's conductor, as he took a slip of paper to write on. "Is this the emigrant Evrémonde?"

"This is the man."

"Your age, Evrémonde?"


"Married, Evrémonde?"


"Where married?"

"In England."

"Without doubt. Where is your wife, Evrémonde?"

"In England."

"Without doubt. Your are consigned, Evrémonde, to the prison of La Force."

"Just Heaven!" exclaimed Darnay. "Under what law, and for what offence?"

The officer looked up from his slip of paper for a moment.

"We have new laws, Evrémonde, and new offences, since you were here." He said it with a hard smile, and went on writing.

"I entreat you to observe that I have come here voluntarily, in response to that written appeal of a fellow-countryman which lies before you. I demand no more than the opportunity to do so without delay. Is not that my right?"

"Emigrants have no rights, Evremonde," was the stolid reply. The officer wrote until he had finished, read over to himself what he had written, sanded it, and handed it to Defarge, with the words "In secret." [Book Three, "The Track of a Storm," Chapter One, "In Secret," 238-39: the picture's original caption has been emphasized]


The caption which J. A. Hammerton has provided points to the passage in which Darnay expresses his shock and disbelief at being consigned to a prison without first being charged with specific crimes (of which he is completely ignorant, little realising that to the new regime the sins of the fathers are visited upon their sons). However, the illustration sums up the entire scene prior to the dialogue in the guardroom, whose disreputable inhabitants — heretofore disenfranchised members of the proletariate suddenly empowered by the collapse of the old, autocratic system of privilege for a few and poverty for many — are in no way are inclined to be sympathetic to one of Darnay's background. Ever the humourist, Furniss finds opportunities for comic relief in the postures and attitudes of the drunken, disorderly soldiers who witness Darnay's arrest as a returned aristocrat or "emigré," rather than a "Citizen" like Defarge.

Although the highly ethical Charles Darnay has been "drawn to the loadstone rock" to rescue the functionary of the house of St. Evrémonde, Gabelle, the rough justice that the aristocrat who has renounced his title receives at a military tribunal in Paris shows that the institutions and protocols of the new regime are no more enlightened and no less arbitrary that those of the Old Regime that led to the imprisonment of the equally ethical and innocent Doctor Manette, La Force being but a more efficient version of the Bastille.

Ironically, Darnay has set out from England on 14 August 1792, just the day after the French royal family were consigned to the Prison of the Temple (Sanders, 137) and just four days after the storming of the Tuileries and the new ghovernment enacted the forfeiture of all emigré lands. However, that Darnay as a returned emigrant must forfeit his life is not technically correct, "for this law was not brought in until 28 March 1793, when the death penalty was introduced for anyone who could not show that he had been in continued residence since 9 May 1792" (Sanders, 135).

Furniss may not have been aware of the fact that Dickens deliberately shifted Darnay's journey from "the first month of the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three" (revised in MS and cited in Sanders, 134) to precisely this date in late summer 1792 to exploit the irony of his arriving in France under such turbulent and dangerous conditions. In fact, "That night — it was the fourteenth of August" (Book Two, Chapter Twenty-four, page 231) does not occur in the manuscript, according to Sanders (133). Given the dilatory nature of international communications at this time, Darnay could not in all likelihood have heard of this perilous turn of events upon setting out, and only after his consignment to prison could he have learned of the fate of the royal family.

As all of these illustrators have recognized, however, it is not what is historically accurate but what is artistically effective that counts in these scenes marking Darnay's inauspicious return to the land of his birth, now an armed camp under the rule savage "patriots" out to right a thousand years of wrongs committed by a greedy and appetitive aristocracy. In order to point out that the new regime is as bad as the old in terms of its abuses of civil rights and in particular of legal protocols surrounding the detention and arrest of citizens, Dickens may well have ignored (rather than been ignorant of) historical fact. Darnay's arrest and detention "in secret" are certainly reminiscent of the fate of the kindly Doctor Manette two decades earlier. To point out the essential injustice of the Samaritan Darnay's treatment by such extralegal authorities as a military official, Phiz has crowded the kangaroo court with a host of cartoon-like ragamuffins, most of whom are too ridiculous or disinterested to pose much of a threat to the man in the riding-coat. In Phiz's 1859 steel engraving Before the Prison Tribunal, the illustrator makes the sideshow of the Jacobin and regular soldier arguing as important as Darnay's defending himself, although only thirteen of the figures among the crowded guardroom are explicitly not uniformed soldiers, and only six wear the Phrygian cap of the revolutionary rather than the more elaborate headgear of the regular army. At least half of the frowzy patriots in Phiz's scene are not attending in the least to Darnay's arrest, notably the figure immediately to the right of "Evrémonde," who is probably Ernest Defarge himself, although not denoted by a Phrygian cap or any other sign of having been a leader in the recent violent insurrection.

In contrast to Phiz's panoramic treatment of the scene, Fred Barnard in the 1870s Household Edition wood-engraving Some registers were lying open on a desk and an officer of coarse dark aspect presided over these (see below), like Furniss in the present illustration, has moved in for the closeup, depicting with startling clarity the officer who cat-like stares at the noble Darnay as if he were a mouse to be pounced upon at any moment. The swarthy man in the Jacobin hat who stands between these figures, carefully scrutinizing Darnay, must be Defarge. But whereas Phiz had given a clear indication of the disreputable nature of those present (including two comatose figures, extreme left), Barnard merely shows a regular soldier and a Jacobin quarrelling over custody of a drinking cup in the background (upper centre); rather, the artist of the 1874 edition draws the viewer's eye towards the gigantic blunderbuss that represents the imminent peril into which Darnay has placed himself by arriving at the French capital at this impropitious time. According to the logic of Barnard's composition, the focal figure is not Darnay, but the captivated officer.

Now, let us consider how Furniss has stage-managed this same scene. Whereas the previous illustrators emphasized the darkness of the ill-illuminated scene (there being no obvious source of light in Barnard's, and twin, fitfully-burning oil-lamps in Phiz's), the interview occurs directly under a large oil-lamp (upper centre), and the drunken louts observing the arrest are all clearly visible. The distorted visages of the majority of the men in the guardroom imply that they are Darwinian throwbacks — in particular, the officer conducting the interview has a face reminiscent of a bear. The tallest, most genetically-advanced figure in the room is Darnay himself, whose open palm betokens his open, honest nature. Whereas Furniss has thrust Defarge into the background, apprehensively studying the returned exile, the illustrator has foregrounded three heavily armed men: two regular soldiers, carrying pikes and wearing large cavalry sabres at their hips, who carefully watch the prisoner; meanwhile (far right), in wooden clogs and Phrygian cap, a tall, lean Jacobin of surly aspect and brawny forearms, smokes a diminutive pipe as he overhears the dialogue of the officer and the aristocrat, but looks downward and out of the scene altogether. He, too, wears an enormous sabre, but is armed with a long musket surmounted by a bayonet, perhaps appropriated from a royalist soldier during the insurrection. The large desk (centre) is balanced the the roistering inebriates (extreme left), so that the artist implies that the bureaucracy and the law are under the administration of the careless, the cruel, the indifferent, and the mentally incompetent. The viewer's restless eye plays over all of these varied elements — none of which occur in Dixon's rather spartan treatment of the arraignment scene, which contains but six figures, and is dominated by the respectably garbed Darnay (left of centre), carrying a riding-crop to imply his journey by horseback, the only fully realized, full-length figure — but returns to that phlegmatic Jacobin (right), whose determined gaze and casual posture imply a glancing into the less than hopeful future of this manly aristocrat which such bad timing.

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

Above: "Before the Prison Tribunal" by Hablot Knight Browne in the sixth monthly number (November 1859).

Left: John McLenan's 24 September 1859 depiction of the scene at Beauvais when Darnay realises that he is no longer safe in his native land, "You are a cursed emigrant," cried a farrier. Right: A. A. Dixon's version of the arrest of the emigré in "You are consigned to La Force" (1905).

Above: Fred Barnard's Household Edition illustration depicting Darnay's arraignment immediately after arriving in Paris in Book Three, Chapter One, "Some registers were lying open on a desk and an officer of coarse dark aspect presided over these" (1874).


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Created 20 December 2013

Last modified 11 January 2020