Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

‘Recalled to life’?

A tale of two whistleblowers

In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Dr. Alexandre Manette, delivered by carriage to the chalet of the Marquis St. Evremonde, finds two patients awaiting him. One is a beautiful young woman, whom the Evremonde twins have raped, lying bound on a bed in a state of extreme fever and repeatedly first crying, “My husband, my father, and my brother!” then counting to twelve, then finally saying “Hush!” before repeating the sequence. The other, in a hayloft above the stables, is her brother, who has fought for her honor and been run through with a sword by one of the twins; after telling the doctor his tale, he then pronounces a terrible curse upon the twins, and all of their “bad race,” and dies.

From left: Lucie Manette, Jarvis Lorry, Alexandre Manette

A tearful reunion: Lucie Manette, Jarvis Lorry and Dr. Alexandre Manette on the occasion of the doctor’s “recall to life.”
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After a week, the young woman also dies, and the twins offer Manette a rouleau of gold by way of payment and hush-money, which he refuses and departs. The next morning, he finds the gold at his door, but proceeds to write a private letter to a high government official describing what he had seen. He does this without real hope that any action will be taken, but makes the attempt anyway to clear his conscience.

For his trouble, Dr. Manette is imprisoned, at 105 North Tower, the Bastille, in solitary confinement, for the next nineteen years.

Over this time, Dr. Manette — a rising and brilliant surgeon when he was jailed — spends his days pacing his small cell and counting his paces. He later seeks relief by learning to make shoes, and immerses his scattered and shattered wits in this occupation (into which he would, for years thereafter, relapse under strain) until he is finally released, and finds that his wife — never having been informed of his fate — has died, and that his newborn daughter, Lucie, has been sent to England.

This episode forms the crucial prologue on which the novel turns, for it is on the evidence of Dr. Manette's journal — written with a rusty iron point using an ink composed of soot, charcoal and his own blood, and then concealed in the wall of his cell’s chimney — that the French revolutionary tribunal pronounces death upon the innocent nephew of one of the twins and proscription upon all his descendants. To save this nephew, the protagonist, Sidney Carton, ultimately performs an act of self-sacrifice that brings redemption to Dickens’ tale of injustice, despair, vengeance and woe.

Today in reality, as eleven score and one years ago in fiction, the fate of the whistleblower has not essentially changed. He who dares disclose the monstrous enormities of the powerful and privileged will find himself not merely imprisoned, but held in conditions amounting to psychological torture, that no one shall venture another such disclosure.

Dr. Manette was betrayed by the official, his letter placed in the hands of the twins, and himself in their power. Bradley Manning, on the other hand, was betrayed by a seeming friend, Adrian Lamo, who sought by his perfidy to gain fame and the favor of the powerful. There is, according to Dante, a place for such beings: The ninth and lowest circle of hell is reserved for them.

Originally published as a review of a salon.com article on the treatment of Bradley Manning.

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