Discovering Dickens - A Community Reading Project

 Discovering Dickens

 A Tale of Two Cities

 Maps and Illustrations



 Biographical Context

 Historical Context

 Archived Novels







Accordingly, Mr. Stryver inaugurated the Long Vacation with a formal proposal to take Miss Manette to Vauxhall Gardens; that failing, to Ranelagh….

Mr. Stryver hopes to woo Lucie by taking her to one or another of two public resorts. Vauxhall Gardens, extremely popular in the 18th century, remained open until 1859 (Baedeker 382) – the very year A Tale of Two Cities appeared. Harrison’s New and Universal History, Description and Survey of … London (1776) gives us a description of the resort’s attractions at about the time of Stryver’s proposed visit:

VAUXHALL GARDENS … are very spacious and handsome. The principal gravel walk is planted on each side with very lofty trees, which form a fine vista; it leads from the great gate, and is terminated by a landscape of the country, a beautiful lawn of meadow ground, and a grand Gothic obelisk.

On the right hand of this walk, a little after entering the gardens, is a square, which, from the number of trees planted in it, is called the Grove. In the center of this grove is a magnificent orchestra of Gothic construction, ornamented with carvings, niches, &c. the dome of which is surmounted with a plume of feathers, the crest of the Prince of Wales. At the back part of this orchestra is a very fine organ, and at the foot of it are seats and desks for the musicians, placed in a semi-circular form, with a vacancy left in the front for the musical performers.

In most of the pavilions are pictures, painted from the designs of Mr. Hayman and Mr. Hogarth, on subjects admirably adapted to the places. But there are in the grand pavilion four pictures of Hayman’s own hand, from the historical plays of Shakespear[e], which are universally admired.

At some distance are several noble vistas of very tall trees, where the spaces between each are filled up with very neat hedges; and within are planted a variety of flowers and sweet smelling shrubs.

Some of the walks terminate in views of ruins, others in a prospect of the adjacent country; and some of them are adorned with painted representations of triumphal arches. Here are also several statues, particularly one in fine white marble of the great artist Mr. Handel in the character of Orpheus singing to his lyre, executed by the ingenious Mr. Roubiliac.

The entertainments of this place are opened by a concert of instrumental musick at six o’clock; and several songs are performed by the most able hands, with sonatas or concertos between each, till the close of the entertainment, which is generally about ten o’clock.

As a provision against rainy weather, there is a very handsome rotunda, in which is an orchestra, with an organ; so that a wet evening does not prevent the customary entertainments of the place.

This rotunda is 70 feet in diameter; in the center of which hangs a magnificent chandelier, containing 72 lamps in three rows. In the roof, which is arched and elliptic, are two small cupolas in a particular taste, each of which is ornamented with paintings: in the one are the figures of Apollo, Pan, and the Muses; and in the other Neptune, with the sea nymphs. Adjoining to the walls are ten three quarter columns, between which are four large beautiful paintings by Hayman….

When it grows dark, the garden near the orchestra is illuminated, almost in an instant, with about 1500 glass lamps, which glitter among the trees, and render it exceedingly light and brilliant: and of late years a very curious piece of machinery has been exhibited, soon after the lighting of the lamps, on the inside of one of the hedges near the entrance into the vistas. By removing a curtain is shewn a very beautiful landscape, illuminated by concealed lights, in which the principal objects are, a cascade or water-fall, and a miller’s house. The water is seen flowing down a declivity, and turning the wheel of the mill; and the liveliness of the representation, with the imitation of the noise of the water, have a very pleasant effect both on the eye and ear of the spectator.

Decent people are admitted into these gardens, on paying one shilling each person; and to add to the amusements of the place, every thing is provided in the most elegant manner for the entertainment of those who chuse to refresh themselves during the course of the evening. (512)

This illustration, from Thornton’s New, Complete, and Universal History ... of London (1784), gives us a “View of Vaux-Hall Gardens” as it appeared in the 1780s. The obelisk – at the end of an avenue of trees at the left of the illustration – is visible in the distance; also, on the right, we see the dome of the outdoor orchestra, which plays to a group of ladies and gentlemen seated below.

Ranelagh, in Chelsea (west of London proper, on the north bank of the Thames), was a popular resort during the reigns of George II and George III (1727-1820). It was

famous beyond any other place in London as the center of the wildest and showiest gaiety. Banquets, masquerades, fêtes, etc., were celebrated here in the most extravagant style. Kings and ambassadors, statesmen and literati, court beauties, ladies of fashion, and the demi-monde met and mingled at … Ranelagh…. This haunt of pleasure-seekers was closed in 1805, and every trace of it has long been obliterated. (Baedeker 368)

Thornton’s New, Complete, and Universal History … of London (1784) describes the resort as follows:

In this village [Chelsea] is also a celebrated place of public entertainment, called Ranelagh Gardens, where great numbers of the nobility and gentry spend their summer evenings. These gardens are delightfully situated, and are kept in the most regular and decent order; but the thing which chiefly attracts the attention is the amphitheatre. This is a circular building, the external diameter of which is 185 feet: round the whole is an arcade, and over that a gallery with a balustrade, which also runs round, except where the entrances break the continuity. The internal diameter is one hundred and fifty feet, and the architecture of the inside corresponds with that of the outside. In the center of the area, where the orchestra was at first designed, is a chimney having four faces, which in cold weather makes the place exceeding[ly] warm. The orchestra fills up the place of one of the entrances, and in it is an organ, with a good band of music, which is hired for the season. The entertainment consists of vocal and instrumental music by the best performers. The price of admittance is half a crown, for which, exclusive of the musical entertainments, the company are accommodated with tea and coffee. (477)

Thornton’s History furnishes this illustration of Ranelagh Gardens, which includes the amphitheatre described above.

…and bit the feather of a pen.

In the 18th century, the pens generally used were quill pens, which were made of feathers. By the time Dickens was writing A Tale of Two Cities, quills had been mostly superseded by steel pens (described by the Dictionary of Daily Wants [1859] as procurable “at the lowest possible price” and requiring “little or no care” [768]), but some people still used quills. The Dictionary of Daily Wants gives the following instructions for the preparation of quills:

QUILLS, TO PREPARE. – Immerse the quill, when plucked from the wing, in water almost boiling; leave it there till it becomes sufficiently soft; compress it, turning it on its axis with the back or blade of a knife. The immersion and compression must be continued till the quill is clear. When cold, and the membrane and greasy covering are entirely removed, it is immersed a last time to render it cylindrical, which is done by whirling it between the thumb and forefinger; it is then dried in a gentle temperature. (820)

Mr. Lorry’s pen, the feather of which he bites under Stryver’s interrogation, would have been prepared in this fashion.

…Mr. Stryver … carried his delicacy into Devonshire…

Mr. Stryver’s delicacy goes to a county in the southwest of England: Devonshire is bordered by the Bristol Channel to the north and the English Channel to the south, lying between the counties of Cornwall (to the southwest) and Somersetshire and Dorsetshire (to the east).

…and found Lucie at her work, alone.

Lucie’s work consists of sewing or needlepoint; the word itself (“work”) is a shortened or generalized form for various kinds of sewing, such as “drawn-work, fancy work, lace-work, open-work, etc.” (OED). Such work, putting periods of domestic leisure to use, was appropriate for young women in the 18th and 19th centuries.


Bibliographical information

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