Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Court scene

Last year I read The Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, for the second time.  I'd first read it many years ago, I think when my kids were small, but maybe it was even before they were born.  I remembered finding the last hundred pages terrifically exciting and suspenseful, and though I didn't have quite that rush this time around, there's no doubt that apart from a few passages, this book whips along at a fair pace.  This time around I found the villainous Madame Defarge almost too bad to be true - her motivation for being such a stinker wasn't quite clear to me (though maybe I missed that in my reading).  However, she certainly hovers over the book like a malevolent presence, and it's a great relief when she finally gets her comeuppance.  The book has fewer characters than many of Dickens' books; there aren't those bodies who turn up seemingly irrelevantly in most of his stories.  Here everyone has a job to do, even the minor characters like Roger Cly.  Here's an extract I made note of when I was reading the book (the joys of being able to do this on Kindle!).  It shows the Prosecutor querying Cly in court, and Dickens whizzes through the question and answers at a great rate by leaving out everything extraneous.  Nevertheless we still learn a great deal from what is written:
Had he ever been a spy himself? No, he scorned the base insinuation. What did he live upon? His property. Where was his property? He didn't precisely remember where it was. What was it? No business of anybody's. Had he inherited it? Yes, he had. From whom? Distant relation. Very distant? Rather. Ever been in prison? Certainly not. Never in a debtors' prison? Didn't see what that had to do with it. Never in a debtors' prison?--Come, once again. Never? Yes. How many times? Two or three times. Not five or six? Perhaps. Of what profession? Gentleman. Ever been kicked? Might have been. Frequently? No. Ever kicked downstairs? Decidedly not; once received a kick on the top of a staircase, and fell downstairs of his own accord. Kicked on that occasion for cheating at dice? Something to that effect was said by the intoxicated liar who committed the assault, but it was not true. Swear it was not true? Positively. Ever live by cheating at play? Never. Ever live by play? Not more than other gentlemen do. Ever borrow money of the prisoner? Yes. Ever pay him? No. Was not this intimacy with the prisoner, in reality a very slight one, forced upon the prisoner in coaches, inns, and packets? No. Sure he saw the prisoner with these lists? Certain. Knew no more about the lists? No. Had not procured them himself, for instance? No. Expect to get anything by this evidence? No. Not in regular government pay and employment, to lay traps? Oh dear no. Or to do anything? Oh dear no. Swear that? Over and over again. No motives but motives of sheer patriotism? None whatever. The virtuous servant, Roger Cly, swore his way through the case at a great rate. He had taken service with the prisoner, in good faith and simplicity, four years ago. He had asked the prisoner, aboard the Calais packet, if he wanted a handy fellow, and the prisoner had engaged him. He had not asked the prisoner to take the handy fellow as an act of charity--never thought of such a thing. He began to have suspicions of the prisoner, and to keep an eye upon him, soon afterwards. In arranging his clothes, while travelling, he had seen similar lists to these in the prisoner's pockets, over and over again. He had taken these lists from the drawer of the prisoner's desk. He had not put them there first. He had seen the prisoner show these identical lists to French gentlemen at Calais, and similar lists to French gentlemen, both at Calais and Boulogne. He loved his country, and couldn't bear it, and had given information. He had never been suspected of stealing a silver tea-pot; he had been maligned respecting a mustard-pot, but it turned out to be only a plated one. He had known the last witness seven or eight years; that was merely a coincidence. He didn't call it a particularly curious coincidence; most coincidences were curious. Neither did he call it a curious coincidence that true patriotism was _his_ only motive too. He was a true Briton, and hoped there were many like him.

The drawing above, from an early edition of Tale of Two Cities, shows Roger Cly's funeral.  The crowd is accompanied by the body snatcher, Jerry Cruncher.   

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