Discovering Dickens - A Community Reading Project

 Discovering Dickens

 A Tale of Two Cities

 Maps and Illustrations



 Biographical Context

 Historical Context

 Archived Novels






Printable View

…not more than one or two long golden hairs, which he had, in some old day, wound off upon his finger.

The golden hairs wound around the old doctor’s finger may allude to the poem “A Relic” (1633) by John Donne:

When my grave is broke up again
Some second guest to entertain,
(For graves have learned that woman head,
To be to more than one a bed),
And he that digs it, spies
A bracelet of bright hair about the bone,
Will he not let us alone,
And think that there a loving couple lies,
Who thought that this device might be some way
To make their souls, at the last busy day,
Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?
If this fall in a time, or land,
Where mis-devotion doth command,
Then he that digs us up will bring
Us to the Bishop and the King,
To make us relics; then
Thou shalt be Mary Magdalen, and I
A something else thereby;
All women shall adore us, and some men;
And since at such times, miracles are sought,
I would have that age by this paper taught
What miracles we harmless lovers wrought.

First, we loved well and faithfully,
Yet knew not what we loved, nor why,
Difference of sex no more we knew,
Than our guardian angels do;
Coming and going, we
Perchance might kiss, but not between those meals;
Our hands ne’er touched the seals
Which nature, injured by late law, sets free:
These miracles we did: but now, alas,
All measures and all language I should pass,
Should I tell what a miracle she was.

The theme of fidelity and the disinterment of the hand braceleted by “bright hair” (the narrator of the Donne poem is the disinterred body, and Doctor Manette has been “recalled to life”) make the allusion appropriate to A Tale of Two Cities. Though the Donne poem is narrated by one of a pair of dead lovers, other literary allusions to “The Relic,” such as Stephen Spender’s “To My Daughter,” also invoke the poem in a filial context. (Spender’s poem runs in part, “Bright clasp of her whole hand around my finger, / My daughter, as we walk together now. / All my life I’ll feel a ring invisibly / Circle this bone with shining....”)

Samples of a people that had undergone a terrible grinding and re-grinding in the mill, and certainly not in the fabulous mill which ground old people young, shivered in every corner.

The story of the mill that grinds “old people young” seems to have been a favorite of Dickens’. He makes reference to it not only here, but also in an 1850 article called “A Paper-Mill,” which appeared in his periodical Household Words (“It is like the Mill of the child’s story, that ground old people young” [264]).  The magic mill also appears in Dickens’ last, unfinished novel, Edwin Drood:  “‘It is not, Miss,’ said the Billickin, with a sarcastic smile, ‘that I possess the Mill I have heard of, in which old single ladies could be ground up young (what a gift it would be to some of us!), but that I limit myself to you totally’” (200).

The story of the mill seems to derive from a popular rhyme of the industrial age – “The spinning jennies whirl along, / Performing strange things, I’ve been told, sir / For twisting fresh and making young / All maids who own they’re grown too old, sir” (qtd. in Pasco 619-20).

Bibliographical information

Copyright © 2002 Stanford University. All rights reserved. Stanford, CA 94305, (650)723-2300. Terms of Use