NOTES ON ISSUE 15: ALLUSIONS
Six tumbrils roll along the streets. Change these
back again to what they were, thou powerful enchanter, Time, and they shall
be seen to be the carriages of absolute monarchs, the equipages of feudal nobles,
the toilettes of flaring Jezebels, the churches that are not my father’s
house but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starving peasants!
Jezebel was the notorious wife of Ahab, king of Israel (of 1 Kings 16:31 and 19:1, 2 Kings 9:30-37, etc.). Thus, “a Jezebel” is, after the original, “a wicked, impudent, or abandoned woman (cf. Revelations 2:20) or … a woman who paints her face” (Oxford English Dictionary). The reference to “churches that are not my father’s house but dens of thieves” echoes Christ’s words in Mark 11:17: “And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? [B]ut ye have made it a den of thieves.” Dickens represents the abuses detailed here – abuses of feudal privileges by the nobility and clergy – as the impetus behind the revolutionary tumbrils. The nobility and the clergy were, of course, two of the “Estates” which, prior to the Revolution, oppressed the third (the “Third Estate” composed of the common people).
“If thou be changed into this shape by the will of God,” say the seers to the enchanted, in the wise Arabian stories, “then remain so!”
The Arabian Nights are full of stories of magical transformations. In the “Second Calender’s Tale,” for instance, a man who has been turned into an ape is returned to his original shape by a Princess: “‘By virtue of the Truth, and by the Most Great name of Allah, I charge thee return to thy former shape,’” she says, “And behold, I shook and became a man as before” (Burton 136). The story puts considerable emphasis on the will of God (Allah), since the Princess’ good deed ends with her death by fire:
Then she called upon Heaven for help and ceased not to implore relief from the fire; when lo! a black spark shot up from her robed feet to her thighs; then it flew to her bosom and thence to her face. When it reached her face she wept and said, “I testify that there is no god but the God and that Mohammed is the Apostle of God!” And we looked at her and saw naught but a heap of ashes by the side of the heap that had been the Ifrit [whom the Princess burned up to reverse the spell on the ape]. We mourned for her and I wished I had been in her place, so had I not seen her lovely face who had worked me such weal become ashes; but there is no gainsaying the will of Allah. (Burton 136-7)
If she had ever had the virtue in her, it had quite
gone out of her.
In Luke 6:19, a “whole multitude sought to touch him [Christ]: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all”; and in Luke 8:46, “Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.” In Madame Defarge’s case, the virtue of pity and the ability to heal (even her own wounds) is permanently disabled, if indeed it had ever had a chance to develop under the injustices of the ancien régime.
“You might, from your appearance, be the wife of Lucifer,” said Miss Pross, in her breathing.
Lucifer is the archangel who rebelled against God and fell from Heaven, generally identified with Satan or the Devil (OED). He appears in Isaiah 14:12 and is the anti-hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost, but does not – in either of these versions – have a wife. Madame Defarge, in Miss Pross’ view, would find the connection congenial.