Right: 5A. The Accomplices Book II, Chapter (for October 1859; issued 20 August in weekly numbers) opposite p. 232, Penguin. Left 5B. The Sea Rises, Book II, Chapter 22 (for October, 1859; issued 3 September in weekly numbers) opposite 254, Penguin. [Click upon thumbnails for larger images.]
Although the intimate, furtive interior scene of "The Accomplices" appears to have little in common with the riotous mob-scene "The Sea Rises," both imply that the attempt — whether individual or collective — to demolish the past is a criminal act. The shoemaker's bench in the first plate is connected with the twin towers of the Bastille, occupied by the victorious revolutionaries in the second plate. Just as the cobbler's workbench is out of place in the physicians study with its three shelves of books, ornate screen, and comfortable chair — so the implements of destruction in the second plate — bloodied swords, knives, and meat-cleavers — and the military drum seem quite incongruous in the hands of women. Each scene involves a passive object about to be destroyed as symbolic of an odious and oppressive past, the glum Foulon (just left of centre) being the human counterpart of the bench.
A re-visiting of the poses and violent action of "The Rioters with their Spoils" and "The Rioters at Work" in Phiz's plates for Dickens's first historical novel, Barnaby Rudge twenty years earlier, "The Sea Rises" reiterates the left-to-right movement of the earlier crowd scenes, "The Stoppage at the Fountain" and "The Spy's Funeral," but centuries of pent-up anger, poverty, and near-starvation have transformed some of the participants in the Bastille riot into animals, as Phiz suggests through the gaunt figure and fury-like visage of the female, centre. Here, no thoughtful and respectably dressed bourgeoisie are present; there is no moderating influence; just up-right of rear centre, barely recognizable human heads are thrust above the level of the crowd's heads. What is new here, both in terms of the earlier novel's riot scenes and the earlier crowd scenes of A Tale of Two Cities is a sense of power unleashed, of a tidal wave of humanity about to sweep away neverything before it; this crowd is not full of caricatures as the 83 plates' crowds are, and the objects of their destruction are not mere property but individuals (exemplified by the hapless Foulon) and a centuries-old oppression by institutions (represented by the Bastille).
This reconsideration of Phiz's critically under-rated and neglected plates for A Tale of Two Cities and how best to read them was stimulated in part by Elizabeth Cayzer's critical reappraisal of seven of the sixteen plates in her 0 Dickensian article. Some of her most perceptive observations occur in her analysis of "The Accomplices," in which an anxious and furtive Miss Pross and Mr. Lorry dismember the shoemaker's bench that was Dr. Manette's sole companion during his confinement in the Bastille:
Dickens suffuses his prose with irony describing them as feeling 'like accomplices in a horrible crime', with Miss Pross holding ๋the candle as if she were assisting at a murder'. The reader would be fully alert to such textual implications by now while, at the same time, comparing this picture with its companion 'The Sea Rises' which does deal with murder. Further echoes with events in Paris are exhibited in the wooden bench (compare the lamp-posts) and the saw (compare the mob's axes and other improvised tools of destruction and murder). Browne, typically, adds his own touch of irony by placing a skull on top of the bookcase, and comments on Lucie's probable anxiety over her friends' actions by the inclusion of an oval portrait-head of a young woman peering down on the scene. [Cayzer: 35-36]
The skull, a memento mori for us all, serves to connect the books and desk with Alexandre Manette, physician, the true identity that the totalitarian regime sought to erase, substituting the more plebeian and docile occupation of shoe-making, as suggested by the artefact of the bench. The skull is both an object appropriate to a doctor's study and a grim foreshadowing of the maniacal forces of destruction (unleashed in the companion plate) that threaten many of the tale's principals. The bench, screen, and books acquire additional meanings when one juxtaposes "The Accomplices" and previous pictures. The inverted cobbler's bench is the same one on which the withdrawn, ill-clad ex-prisoner sits in "The Shoemaker" (June), and resembles that on which Dr. Manette sits in the lower-right register of the monthly wrapper. Later, monthly readers will encounter that same bench in the frontispiece "In the Bastille" (December). Thus, the bench comes to represent an irrepressible past to which in "The Accomplices" the well-meaning vandals attempt to prevent their friend returning. The screen, or one very like it, connects Dr. Manette to the Darnay family grouping in "The Knock at the Door" (November), in which he holds the candle (although Dickens specifies "a lamp" in Book III, Chapter 8), suggesting that he somehow performs something of the function of Miss Pross in "The Accomplices." Both screens imply a need for acting in secret and for concealment in order to preserve (sanity in the earlier plate, life itself in the latter). Finally, the shelves of books in Dr. Manette's private library connect this scene with the scenes at Tellson's and the wine-shop. They remind us that recorded knowledge (here, presumably, medical knowledge) is power.
To clarify why Browne has established these visual resonances in "The Accomplices" and to what extent these originate with Dickens himself, one must turn once again to the printed text. The details of light (Browne is probably wise in his choice of candle over lamp or rush-light), "chopper, saw, chisel, and hammer" (Book II, Chapter : p. 235), as well as the "mysterious and guilty manner" of the pair are all there, but everything else in the plate is the artist's invention. The room, we note, is specifically Dr. Manette's, and not just a parlour or drawing-room; thus, the vacant chair that bears witness to the clandestine dismemberment is Dr. Manette's, a metonymy for the usual occupant himself, a man of taste, discernment, and learning, a counterpoint to his other identity, prisoner and automaton. The power of books, of records, for good or ill is thus implied; while Dr. Manette's own document will serve to condemn his son-in-law to the guillotine, the whole text of the story that intertwines the lives of the Defarges, the Evrémondes, and the Manettes memorializes Sydney Carton and his self-sacrifice, intended to preserve and redeem.
In contrast to the behind-the-scenes, close-up study of the destruction of the shoemaker's bench and implements intended to preserve the physician's sanity, "The Sea Rises" is a public panorama of anarchic natural forces that will sweep away innocent and guilty alike. In its composition, it is akin to earlier plates "The Stoppage at the Fountain" and "The Spy's Funeral" with its violent motion from right to left (accentuated in all three crowd scenes by fine, dense horizontal lines running through the lower half of the plate, suggestive of Shakespeare's "tide in the affairs of men" that, once set in motion, proves unstoppable) and its swirling figures all gripped by powerful emotion. However, the female masks of grief and compassion in "The Stoppage at the Fountain" have been replaced by haggard, jeering masks of sadistic delight, and the benign male drummer of "The Spy's Funeral" has been transformed into an ebullient female waving a bloodied meat-cleaver as she urges her fellows to commit further acts of bloodshed under the shadow of that implacable symbol of the ancien régime, the Bastille (stormed earlier in the same monthly instalment, in Chapter 2). It is likely that this is Phiz's realization of the Vengeance, "The short, rather plump wife of a starved grocer" (Book II, Chapter 22, p. 25) who Dickens indicates carries a drum that she keeps behind her shop counter. Our eyes are drawn to a glum face in the midst of the maelstrom, Foulon, then is deftly drawn forward to a woman who calmly regards him (although we cannot see her face, she is almost certainly intended to be Madame Defarge, distinguished by her cap while the other furies are characterized by "streaming hair," 252). Already the crowd is approaching the fatal lamp standard (extreme left). Present participles ("panting, bleeding, yet always entreating and beseeching for mercy" on p. 254) in the printed text imply a highly active, groveling Foulon, not the rigid, passive figure in uniform in Phiz's plate. Nevertheless, Phiz achieves focus by Foulon's impassivity and the still figure of Madame Defarge who, as in the printed text, "silently and composedly" (254) regards her prey as he approaches the lamp-post, pulled on by a musket-carrying male who may be Defarge, for he is described as carrying such a weapon when he enters Dr. Manette's cell in the chapter previous to "The Sea Still Rises" (Book II, Chapter 22). Finally, the lightly sketched-in face of Foulon (left of center)reminds us of another lightly sketched-in face, that of the Marquis (right of center) in "The Stoppage at the Fountain" — perhaps Phiz's way of suggesting that both men, like the system that they represent, are now less substantial than the oppressed masses who are rising against them.
Last modified 12 August 2015