Discovering Dickens - A Community Reading Project

 Discovering Dickens

 A Tale of Two Cities

 Maps and Illustrations



 Biographical Context

 Historical Context

 Archived Novels





Printable View

Mr. Cruncher sat watching the two streams, like the heathen rustic who has for several centuries been on duty watching one stream – saving that Jerry had no expectation of their ever running dry.

It has been suggested that the “heathen rustic” Mr. Cruncher resembles is Charon, the boatman who ferries souls across the river Styx (Sanders 104). Charon, however, is a god, and though he is heathen from a Christian point of view, and rustic to the extent that he labors in obscurity, he does not so much “watch” the Styx as carry the dead across it; also, boating for all eternity, he probably does not harbor any expectation of the Styx running dry. Sanders, in his Companion to A Tale of Two Cities, suggests instead that the “heathen rustic” is a statue of a river god, perhaps the Marforio in Rome, which Dickens could have seen in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on his trip to Italy in 1844 (105). Marforio, probably either a personification of a river or a representation of Neptune, is mounted above a small fountain, and dates from the 1st or 2nd century A.D. The statue has lodged in the Palazzo dei Conservatori since 1644; a picture of it can be viewed at the Capitoline Museum website,

Time was, when a poet sat upon a stool in a public place, and mused in the sight of men.

The poet alluded to here is Dante (1265-1321). Dickens refers to Dante’s habit of setting up a stool in public in both Pictures from Italy – “And here … is ‘the Stone of DANTE,’ where (so the story runs) he was used to bring his stool, and sit in contemplation” – and Little Dorrit, where Dante is known to the ill-educated Sparkler as “an eccentric man in the nature of an Old File, who used to put leaves round his head, and sit upon a stool for some unaccountable purpose, outside the Cathedral at Florence” (qtd. in Sanders 104). The “unaccountable purpose” may have been that of viewing the construction of the cathedral, which was begun in 1296 (The Florence of Dante).

Bibliographical information

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