What is the Widow describing when she says to the Marquis: "They are so many, they increase so fast, there is so much want.”(pg. 105, lines 22-23)

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This passage is from Book the Second, Chapter 8 in which the carriage of the Marquis d'Evremonde has run over and killed a small boy.  After the Marquis callously tosses a gold coin in payment for the boy's life, the father runs under the carriage and clings to the chain.  However, he has to let go and roll down the hill when the carriage begins it ascent to the chateau of the Marquis.

At the steepest point of the hill there is a small burial-ground with a rustic cross of Christ upon it.  Before it kneels a woman who turns as the carriage nears her.  She "presents herself at the carriage-door,"  petitioning the Marquis.  Impatiently he asks her what she wants: 

 'What of your husband, the forester?  Always the same with you people.  He cannot pay something?' 

The woman replies, "He has paid all, Monseigneur.  He is dead.''  The Monseigneur, with disgust, asks, "Well!  He is quiet!  Can I restore him to you?"  Hoping for some kindness, the widow asks, "Monseigneur, there are so many little heaps of poor grass?"  (In other words, "Do you not realize that so many are dying of starvation?")

'Monseigneur, hear me!  Monseigneur, hear my petition!  My husband died of want; so many die of want; so many more will die of want.'

The Monseigneur as much as asks "So, what?"  He tells her he cannot feed them all.  The widow pleads for a stone or morsel of wood with which to mark her husband's poor grave because there are

'so many [who are dying], they increase so fast, there is so much want.  Monseigneur!  Monseigneur!'

She is pushed aside and the carriage and the Monseigneur--ucaring--"escorted by the Furies" ascends the great hill to his chateau. This scene is another portrayal of the cold arrogance and callousness of the Marquis.  In fact, he is disgusted by the peasants; afterall, they should keep their children out of his way and not bother him personally at all.  The Marquis is much like the gorgon head that protrudes from his castle, made of stone, unfeeling, unconcerned with the starvation and want of the peasants.  Of course, the allusion to the Furies suggests that the Marquis is horrible and cruel to all.

The man who informs the Marquis of the other who hid under the carriage wears a blue cap. This blue-capped man has been previously mentioned in chapter I of Book the First as the Farmer, Death, so Dickens is foreshadowing what is to come.


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