Chapter summaries book the first: a tale of two cities: chapter

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A Tale of Two Cities - Cliff Notes
Table of contents:

  1. Chapter summaries (pp.2-32)

  2. Characters (pp. 32-40)

  3. Setting (pp. 40-41)

  4. Dickens’ Style (use of detail, repetition, parallelism, theatrical elements, imagery, form and style) (pp. 41-43)

Here is Dickens' voice, introducing the story he's about to tell. No

action or characters are presented, but the scene is set: England

and France, 1775. We encounter important themes--and one of the most

unforgettable opening paragraphs in English literature.

NOTE: AN INSTANCE OF PARALLELISM "It was the best of times, it was

the worst of times...," the opening words, form a good example of

parallelism--the repetition, for emphasis, of a grammatical

structure. Here and elsewhere Dickens relies on parallelism to

balance opposing pairs, to make contrasts and comparisons. Look

closely for dual themes and characters, even (in Book the Second) for

dual chapter titles. Most elements in the story have, if not an

equal, at least an opposing element.

With a description of a brutal punishment carried out on a French

boy, Dickens leads in to two major themes: Fate and Death. Each is

personified--given human identity--a trick of style Dickens will be

using again and again. The "certain moveable framework" for which

trees have already sprung up is the guillotine; at the moment, the

sinister-sounding "tumbrils of the Revolution" are merely farm carts.

The basis for their future employment, carrying the doomed through

the streets of Paris, has already been laid by an unjust and ignorant

Dickens' tone for describing abuses is ironic, but indignant, too.

Clearly, he doesn't believe that a murdering highwayman shoots

"gallantly," but he does view the hangman as "ever worse than

useless." Few of Dickens' contemporaries despised capital punishment

as much as he did; fewer describe it so vividly. What's your

reaction to the executions detailed here? Dickens himself was both

fascinated and repelled by death, and generations of readers have

found his attitude catching.

NOTE: TOPICAL/HISTORICAL REFERENCES The two kings with "large jaws"

and their queens, one fair, one plain, are the monarchs of England

and France: George III and Charlotte Sophia; Louis XVI and Marie

Antoinette, respectively.

The references to visions, spirits, and spectres mark the beginning

of a deliberate pattern. Mrs. Southcott was a religious visionary;

the "Cock-lane ghost" was an 18th-century poltergeist. Moving ahead

to his own time, Dickens invokes the "spirits of this very year last

past," meaning those spirits raised by D. D. Home, a popular

Victorian medium.

These historic ghosts will give way to fictional ones. As you read,

look for the mist likened to "an evil spirit" (Book I, Chapter 2),

and for the "spectre" of Jarvis Lorry's nightmare (I, 3)--the image

is of Dr. Manette, raised from the "death" of solitary imprisonment.

References to the spirit world span the entire novel. The ghosts are

here for a reason.

If you've heard many ghost stories you know that they create a weird,

unreal atmosphere--exactly the effect Dickens was aiming for in A

Tale. His spirits and spectres hint at the possibility of another

world, of life beyond death. They're images that support two of the

novel's themes: unreality versus reality, and--more


Finally, a reference perhaps familiar from your history classes: the

"congress of British subjects in America" describes the Continental

Congress, which sent a petition of grievances to the British

Parliament in January 1775.

We meet Jarvis Lorry, employee of Tellson's Bank in London, traveling

by mail coach from London to Dover. This is only the first of many

fateful journeys--the story also ends with one. Dark, cold, and mist

surround the heavy mail coach. The atmosphere is gloomy,

foreshadowing more gloom to come and setting us up for the

contrasting theme of dark and light.

The atmosphere among passengers, guard, and coachman matches the

weather--all fear an assault by highwaymen, and so mistrust each

other. Their apprehension quickens at the sudden arrival of a

messenger. The messenger is Jerry Cruncher, sent from Tellson's with

instructions for Lorry: "Wait at Dover for Mam'selle." Lorry's

prompt reply, RECALLED TO LIFE, surprises Cruncher as much as his

fellow travelers.
Left alone in thickening mist and darkness, Cruncher hoarsely

exclaims that he'd be "in a Blazing bad way, if recalling to life was

to come into fashion...!" Here is Dickens' first mention of

resurrection, and first of many strong signals of Cruncher's hidden

occupation. Though the action so far seems bathed in secrecy,

Dickens doesn't write for the sake of confusing us. He's constantly

and skillfully divulging plot, themes, and moral point of view; we

have only to look out for them.

Heading back to London, Jerry Cruncher stops at alehouses on the way,

made uneasy by the night shadows and Lorry's strange message. The

mail coach meanwhile bumps on to Dover, as Lorry dozes on and off

through his own disturbing dreams. His present errand for Tellson's

strikes him as digging someone out of a grave, and it inspires

nightmare dialogues with a white-haired spectre.

"I hope you care to live?" Lorry twice asks his spectre. The answer:

"I can't say."

The rising sun jolts the bank clerk awake, dispersing the night's bad

dreams. Yet a seed has been planted in Jarvis Lorry's mind: being

recalled to life, or resurrected, may not be an entirely blessed

event. Still, the opposite of life is dismaying, as the beautiful

sunlight reminds Lorry: "Eighteen years!" he cries. "To be buried

alive for eighteen years!"

NOTE: A SHIFT IN VOICE The lead paragraph of Chapter 3 is one of a

very few times in the novel that Dickens changes his narrative voice.

What does he gain from using "I," the first-person singular?
"I" commands attention. We note there's a break in the action, and

concentrate on the meditative interjection that follows.

"I" is also a suitable persona for stepping back and commenting in

general on what's been happening. Dickens as "I" philosophizes over

the "wonderful fact" that human beings are basically mysteries to

each other. "My friend is dead," he says, meaning, imagine I've lost

a friend. Whether she's living or dead, her innermost personality

remains secret; we can't break down the barriers of our

How does this insight relate to the story? Dickens applies it

specifically to the passengers in the mail coach, all equally

mysterious to each other. Yet characters throughout the novel hide

secrets and memories, which even their loved ones can't decipher:

Dr. Manette is one such character, Charles Darnay is another. Even

Jarvis Lorry has something to reveal, as we learn in the next

At a Dover inn, having shed his heavy overcoat, Jarvis Lorry proves

to be about 60 years old. He's carefully dressed (if a little vain)

and self-controlled, though his eyes hint that a lively spirit

remains unquenched by long service to Tellson's.

Jarvis Lorry passes the day walking on Dover beach. It is evidently

a smuggler's haunt, which adds to the air of secrecy. Lorry awaits

the arrival from London of Lucie Manette, a 17-year-old orphan and

ward of Tellson's. When Lucie appears, Lorry is struck by her beauty

and resemblance to the child whom, 15 years earlier, he carried

across the Channel on a similar errand for Tellson's. Suddenly

uncomfortable, he drops a formal bow, gazing into a depressingly

ornate mirror behind Lucie.

In a roundabout fashion, over protests that he is only a man of

business, the bank clerk reveals Lucie's past. After her mother

died, Lorry did indeed fetch little Lucie across the Channel. Now

word has come that Lucie's father, Dr. Manette of Beauvais, is not

dead as everyone had believed. The doctor has just been released

from 18 years of secret imprisonment in the Bastille, and now remains

in the care of an old servant in Paris. Lorry has been dispatched by

Tellson's to identify his former client, and to escort Lucie to her

"I am going to see his ghost!" exclaims Lucie. Like Jarvis Lorry she

imagines her father as a spectre. Unlike Lorry she responds by

falling into a swoon. As you'll discover, Lucie tends to faint in

moments of crisis. Dickens seems genuinely to have agreed with his

Victorian readers that a proper heroine should be beautiful, good,

and extremely sensitive. Perhaps you may think that Lucie could use

a few coarse touches of humanity, but Dickens intends her to

represent an ideal.

Miss Pross, Lucie's brawny, red-haired companion, flies to her aid.

Loyalty and eccentricity are Miss Pross' two sides. We don't

identify with her, but thanks to Dickens' wonderfully detailed

description of her bonnet "like a Grenadier wooden measure," Miss

Pross stays with us.
NOTE: A CRUEL "PRIVILEGE" Jarvis Lorry suggests that Dr. Manette

was imprisoned through a compatriot's "privilege of filling up blank

forms." Such forms, called lettres de cachet in French, were

arbitrary warrants of imprisonment. Powerful French nobles

supposedly could obtain them for use against enemies or offending

members of their own families. In Dr. Manette's case, the fear that

he was indeed jailed by noble influence, and may still be in danger,

has led to Tellson's and Lorry's policy of secrecy.

We're in Paris, at a wine shop in the poverty-stricken suburb of

Saint Antoine. A large cask of wine has broken and the people rush

into the street to gulp any drops they can catch. It's no riot,

nothing that would make the evening news these days, but it

prefigures major themes and events, including riots, that form

Dickens' portrait of the French Revolution.

The spilled wine stains hands, faces, kerchiefs, and the pavement

red. Its similarity to another red substance is spelled out by a

tall fellow in a nightcap, a "tigerish smear" about his mouth, who

dips a finger in the wine and jokingly scrawls "Blood." The joker is

Gaspard, a minor character we'll meet again. He's reproached by

Monsieur Defarge, the keeper of the wine shop, who asks: "Is

there... no other place to write such words in?" In meaningful

answer, Defarge places a hand on the tall man's heart. To the

well-built, resolute Defarge, blood is no joke.
Try to keep the images and incidents of this chapter in mind. Now,

the spilled wine turns into a harmless game, ending in drinking and

dancing. Eighteen years ahead, we'll see a much less innocent dance.

Saint Antoine residents will be stomping the frenzied Carmagnole,

with blood instead of wine staining their hands and faces.
Pay attention, too, to Dickens' way of evoking the poverty and misery

of the quarter. Today the poor are "scarecrows," clad in rags and

nightcaps, but soon they'll menace the "birds, fine of song and

feather"--the oppressing nobles. Again we're faced with gloom--even

the lit streetlamps are "a feeble grove of dim wicks." These very

lamps are destined to be used to hang men. At first glance you may

find Dickens' description a bit long and repetitive, but bear with

him. Not a detail is wasted; people and things (note those tools and

weapons "in a flourishing condition") are brought in to build

atmosphere and prepare us for what is to come.

Entering the wine shop with Defarge, we meet his wife, Madame

Defarge. She is a strong-featured woman of iron composure, busy at

her trademark activity, knitting. Also present are Jarvis Lorry and

Lucie Manette, and three wine drinkers. The drinkers and Defarge

exchange the name "Jacques," a kind of password demonstrating that

they're against the existing order. Defarge directs the three men to

an adjoining building. Then, after a brief conference, Defarge leads

Lorry and Lucie up a dark, filthy staircase to Dr. Manette's room.

Lucie trembles at meeting her father, who according to Defarge is

very confused and changed.

The trio of Jacques are busily peering into Dr. Manette's room.

Defarge waves them away, admitting that he shows his charge to those

"whom the sight is likely to do good," that is, to fellow

revolutionists. Defarge, Lorry, and Lucie step into the dark garret

where a white-haired Dr. Manette stoops over a bench, absorbed in

making shoes.

NOTE: A PERSONIFICATION Dickens strengthens our sense of the

crushing poverty of Saint Antoine by personifying "Hunger" in

paragraph 6. Given lifelike attributes, Hunger "pushes," "stares,"

"starts," and "rattles." By the time Hunger is "shred into atomies,"

we're hungry.
We've seen personification before (Woodman Fate and Farmer Death in

Chapter 1). It crops up elsewhere in this chapter--Saint Antoine is

a "he"--and throughout the novel.
Fallen into a black mist of forgetfulness, Dr. Manette can't recall

his name. Like a modern political prisoner, he responds only to a

number: "One Hundred and Five, North Tower," the location of his

prison cell. Shoemaking provided his psychological crutch in prison,

and though he's free, the doctor still pursues his trade


Dr. Manette's emotional meeting with his daughter Lucie has drawn

fire from many readers. They point to Lucie's repetitions of "weep

for it, weep for it" as sheer theatrical corniness. This scene does

read like a melodramatic play: father and daughter exchange

speeches, father tears his hair in a frenzy, daughter rocks him on

her breast "like a child." Corny by our standards? You judge. There

are readers who suggest that Dickens was lifting from a highly

respected source. Shakespeare staged a similar scene in King

Lear--the reunion between the old, mad king and his faithful daughter


Lucie, who has inherited her mother's golden hair, looks familiar to

Dr. Manette. She doesn't succeed in restoring his memory, but does

introduce the light half of Dickens' light-dark theme. Lucie's an

"angel," whose "radiant" hair is compared to "the light of freedom."

After Defarge and Lorry leave to make traveling arrangements, she

watches with her father until "a light gleamed through the chinks in

the wall."
Only Madame Defarge, silently knitting, observes Lucie, Dr. Manette,

and Lorry leaving Paris. It is a second night journey for Jarvis

Lorry, who is reminded of his old inquiry to the spectre: "I hope

you care to be recalled to life?" Lorry hears the echo of his old

answer, "I can't say," and Book I ends on a note of uncertainty.

Lorry wonders, and the reader wonders, too, if the doctor will ever

regain his faculties.
NOTE: By entitling Book I "Recalled to Life," and repeating Jarvis

Lorry's dialogue with the spectre, Dickens has made one issue clear:

Dr. Manette, the buried man dug out alive, is a symbol of

resurrection. This issue raises rather than resolves other points.

By now you're probably asking yourself if resurrection is necessarily

a good thing. Can the past be blocked out, and a person long buried

truly return to life? Dickens wants us to speculate on these

matters, which he explores more fully in Books II and III.

The year is 1780. Dickens gives us a view of Tellson's Bank and

reintroduces the Bank's odd-job man, Jerry Cruncher, whose first

appearance was on horseback, delivering a message to Jarvis Lorry.
Tellson's is small, dark, and ugly. It has always been so and,

Dickens satirically suggests, its partners would disinherit their

sons before renovating. A description of the bank's inconvenience

and location--beside Temple Bar, where the heads of executed traitors

are displayed--leads to a denunciation of the death penalty, "a

recipe much in vogue."

We watch Jerry Cruncher waking up in his small apartment. Already

bad humored, Cruncher catches his wife praying--or "flopping," as he

calls it--and heaves a muddy boot at her. Cruncher believes Mrs.

Cruncher's continual flopping is interfering with his profits as an

honest tradesman. This "trade," yet unnamed, occupies Cruncher late

at night. It has given him a permanent chest cold, and deposits iron

rust on his fingers.
Cruncher and his son, young Jerry--a spiky-haired miniature of his

father--proceed to Tellson's, where Cruncher is at once called on to

deliver a message. Young Jerry holds down the fort, a backless chair

outside the bank, wondering why his father's fingers are always

NOTE: AN IRONIC METAPHOR Dickens describes Jerry Cruncher's baptism

as "the youthful occasion of his renouncing by proxy the works of

darkness." This description may stop you a moment, since the Jerry

portrayed so far seems markedly antireligious. He hounds his wife

for "flopping," and by night engages in a secret, possibly

disreputable, trade. In truth, Cruncher seems quite comfortable with

"the works of darkness," a tip-off that Dickens' metaphor is

ironic--it implies the opposite of what is said.

Jerry Cruncher is sent to the Old Bailey (the court) to be on hand in

case Jarvis Lorry, there attending a trial, needs a messenger.

The morning's case is treason, a crime carrying the awful punishment

of quartering, that is, being tortured and then literally chopped

into quarters. Fascinated by the almost certain doom of the

defendant, spectators jam the courtroom. Cruncher squeezes through

them in order to signal Lorry, seated among "gentlemen in

wigs"--judges and lawyers. Near Lorry sits the prisoner's lawyer,

and "one wigged gentleman who looked at the ceiling." This mysterious

fellow with his studiedly casual air is Sydney Carton, who plays a

decisive role in the next chapter's action.
The jailers lead in the accused, Charles Darnay. Young, handsome,

gentlemanly looking, Darnay attracts all eyes; the ghoulish crowd

mentally hangs, beheads, and quarters him. Darnay is charged with

traveling between England and France for the purpose of informing

Louis XVI ("the French Lewis") about the strength of British troops

earmarked for North America. (Remember, it's 1780. The American

Revolution against England is in full swing, aided by the French. If

Darnay was in fact reporting British troop movements to the French,

wouldn't he indeed qualify as a spy?)
Darnay faces the judge bravely, flinching only when he catches his

reflection in the mirror above his head. In the midst of a nervous

gesture he notices Dr. Manette and Lucie sitting on the judge's

bench. His stare sets the spectators whispering about this

white-haired man and lovely young lady. "Who are they?"
An answering whisper seems to contradict Lucie Manette's look of

"engrossing terror and compassion." She and her father are identified

as witnesses against the handsome prisoner.
By now you'll have noticed that Dickens ends each chapter with a hook

or teaser, something to pull readers in. A Tale of Two Cities was

published in weekly installments, and Dickens' sales depended on his

ability to sustain suspense.

At the end of this chapter, when the prosecutor rises to "hammer the

nails into the scaffold," we realize that it's Charles Darnay's

scaffold. Most readers, both fearing and fascinated by the prospect

of death, will keep turning the pages.

The account of Charles Darnay's trial is written in several styles,

reflecting Dickens' attitude toward each character and toward legal

proceedings in general. A one-time law clerk, he loved to deflate

puffed-up terminology and traditions.

The opening speech made by the Attorney-General (the prosecutor) is

pompous and long winded, typically bureaucratic. According to the

Attorney-General, his two leading witnesses are men of shining

character and patriotism. Are we to believe this? The

Attorney-General's exaggerated tone tells us to take his speech with

a grain of salt.

John Barsad, the first witness, is called. He releases "his noble

bosom of its burden" but can't escape a cross-examination from

Darnay's lawyer. Dickens' masterly use of satire raises serious

doubts about the nobility of Barsad's bosom. A few sharp questions

from Darnay's lawyer (soon introduced as Stryver) do the trick.
Barsad soon emerges as a debtor and card cheat who has forced his

friendship on Charles Darnay. Though he vigorously denies it, Barsad

appears to be a government spy, paid to entrap others. Given

Dickens' unfavorable portrait of Barsad, how do you think the author

felt about government spying?
Stryver also damages the credibility of Roger Cly, the state's second

witness. Cly, Darnay's servant, is shown to be a thief and a pal of

Barsad. Stryver suggests that the two men conspired to plant

incriminating papers on the defendant.

Next on the witness stand is Jarvis Lorry, who admits to meeting

Darnay in November 1775 on a packet-ship returning from France. On

board with Lorry were Dr. Manette and Lucie, who are both called as


Lucie's testimony betrays her affection for Charles Darnay but

doesn't help his cause. She reveals that he was traveling under an

assumed name, and engaged in "delicate" business with two Frenchmen

who got off the ship before it left shore.

As for Dr. Manette, he remembers nothing of the journey. We see him

now as a vigorous man, restored to his faculties. Yet the doctor's

mind remains blank from the time he was making shoes in prison to the

moment he recovered and found himself living in London.

A "singular circumstance" arises as the state tries to prove that

Charles Darnay rode in the same mail coach as Jarvis Lorry, sharing

the journey that opened the novel. The state claims that Darnay

disembarked before Dover and backtracked to a military garrison to

gather information on the British army. Just as a witness identifies

Darnay as the right man, a note passes between the seemingly

nonchalant Carton and Stryver, shivering this part of the case "to

useless timber." Carton has noticed that he and Darnay are doubles,

almost perfect look-alikes. Faced with two such similar men in the

same courtroom, the witness can't make a positive identification.

In his final argument Stryver again emphasizes how Darnay was framed

by Barsad and Cly. The lawyer points out that Darnay often crosses

to France on family matters he can't disclose. Notice the skillful

way that Dickens, while unraveling the mystery of Charles Darnay's

imprisonment, spins yet another thread of suspense. What are

Darnay's family matters? Why is he forbidden "even for his life" to

reveal them? In a novel as meticulously plotted as this one, you can

look forward to learning the secret of Darnay's family.

The Attorney-General finishes his closing argument and the jury

begins deliberations. Sydney Carton gazes carelessly at the ceiling,

but, somehow, the sight of Lucie Manette fainting doesn't escape him.

He orders an officer to carry her out, and assures Darnay, awaiting

his verdict in the prisoners' dock, that Lucie feels better. This

first encounter between Carton and Darnay, men so alike they could be

twins, isn't exactly brotherly. What do you make of Carton's manner,

"so careless as to be almost insolent"? On the one hand, Carton

looks so disrespectable that even Jerry Cruncher--who's no

gentleman--distrusts him. On the other hand, Carton's quick action

at spotting the mutual likeness and alerting Stryver has just ruined

the strongest part of the state's case. Carton is a man of

contrasts, well-suited to a story of contrasts; you'll have many more

opportunities to judge his character.

The verdict comes back: acquitted! Lorry scrawls the single word on

a piece of paper and hands it, for swift delivery, to Jerry Cruncher.

"If you had sent the message, 'Recalled to life,' again," mutters

Cruncher, "I should have known what you meant, this time." Cruncher's

response ties Charles Darnay into the theme of resurrection, first

stated by Dr. Manette's release from the Bastille. Darnay, too, has

been "recalled to life," largely through the agency of Sydney Carton.
Dr. Manette, Lucie, Stryver, and Lorry gather around to congratulate

Charles Darnay, giving us a closeup view of characters only glimpsed

in the courtroom. Dr. Manette, though "intellectual" and "upright,"

still displays symptoms of his prison ordeal. Only Lucie can charm

away his dark moods. Dickens likens her to a "golden thread" uniting

her father to the time before and after his misery. Indeed, "The

Golden Thread" title of Book II signifies tranquility and domestic

peace. It soothes Dr. Manette's "black brooding," and yet, as Book

II progresses, will be threatened by other dark forces. As the story

continues, watch for explicit contrasts between light and dark.

A swift, on-target sketch of the lawyer Stryver--he's "stout, loud,

red, bluff, and free from any drawback of delicacy"--is followed by

an uncomfortable exchange between Lorry and Carton. The heart of the

chapter, though, is the second meeting between the doubles.

NOTE: You can read Carton's evident hostility toward Darnay as

jealousy, self-pity, drunkenness, or a combination of the three. Yet

keep in mind that no one but Stryver knows of Carton's role in saving

Darnay's life; Carton himself doesn't mention it. Carton's actions,

good and bad, ultimately lead to his great sacrifice at the end of

the novel. You'll be constantly reevaluating your feelings toward

Carton. He's an outsider, a drunk, a man who pities himself, yet he

has a firm grip on our sympathy.

When Darnay leaves him, Carton, half-drunk, goes to a mirror and

studies his reflection. This is the third time Dickens has lingered

on a mirror. One hung in the courtroom above Charles Darnay, another

stood behind Lucie Manette at the Dover inn. Mirrors have multiple

meanings in A Tale; they may express unreality, self-division,

ghosts, the past, death, and dreams. (The mirror above Darnay in the

Old Bailey had stored up reflections of "crowds of the wicked and the

wretched," all of them dead.)

On one level, the mirror Carton stares into, distractedly, shows his

close resemblance to Darnay. The two men are such "mirror images"

that Darnay, previously left alone with his "double of coarse

deportment," felt himself in a dream. Yet the mirror also shows

Carton what he might have been, and occasionally is: a man like

Darnay. In this way it expresses Carton's sense of the two different

sides of his nature.
We zero in on the relationship between Stryver and Carton, learning

that the apparently lazy Carton is the secret behind Stryver's legal

success. It is Carton the "jackal" who extracts the essence from

stacks of legal documents and prepares it for Stryver.

What motivates Carton to do another man's hack work, to serve as his

jackal? At this point our only answer is that Carton has always been

this way. Have you known students who do homework for others while

neglecting their own assignments? This has been Carton's practice

ever since he was a schoolboy.
Darnay's release is a triumph for Stryver. Carton, however, responds

with such gloom that Stryver remarks on it, and then offers a toast

to Lucie Manette, "the pretty witness."
"A golden-haired doll," answers Carton. This may remind you of a

small boy trying to deny a crush. Some readers have latched on to

the words "golden-haired doll" as a telling assessment of Lucie's

personality. Do you think Carton really means what he says--or, as

Stryver hints, is he only trying to conceal his dawning interest in

The chapter ends with Carton descending from Stryver's lodgings into

a cold, overcast dawn. For a moment the jackal sees "a mirage of

honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance." But the vision

evaporates, and once home Carton rests his head on a pillow "wet with

wasted tears." Our impression of Carton is evolving, from a

ne'er-do-well to a struggling man: unsure, unhappy, divided against


This chapter sets up a contrast between domestic tranquility and

impending fate. Dickens' notion of the ideal home is here

represented by the Manette's quiet corner house in Soho. Lucie has

enlivened her surroundings with a French flair for interior

decoration and skill at attracting company. Frequent visitors

include Jarvis Lorry, now a faithful family friend; Sydney Carton;

and Charles Darnay, who was released four months ago. The ideal home

is also represented by Miss Pross, Lucie's eccentric, devoted

servant. Steadfastly British (at the end of Chapter 3 she refused to

cross the Channel), Miss Pross' only visible flaw is an unstinting

loyalty to her black-sheep brother, Solomon. He has speculated away

all his sister's money, and vanished.

But fate--a force larger than life--intrudes into the place that

Lucie and her father have carved out for themselves.

The chapter title "Hundreds of People" refers on one level to echoes

from the street adjoining the Manettes' house. "Hundreds" is also

Miss Pross' estimate--a jealous exaggeration--of the many visitors

for her "Ladybird," Lucie. For Lucie herself, the echoes from the

street are ominous, heralds of "all the footsteps that are coming

by-and-by into our lives."

The thunder and lightning of the late-night storm strike a menacing

note into the peaceful Sunday gathering of the Manettes, Lorry,

Darnay, and Carton.
Charles Darnay's reference to a message written by a prisoner in the

Tower of London, and later found crumbled to dust, turns Dr. Manette

pale. We know that the doctor keeps his shoemaking tools handy in

his bedroom--their presence signifies how easily his mind can slip

back into "its old prison," the past.
The closing paragraph is obvious foreshadowing. The next chapter

shifts us to France, giving an idea of where the "great crowd of

people with its rush and roar," will come from.
The key words in this chapter, which takes us across the Channel, are

"reality" and "unreality."

Unreality is the note pervading the reception of Monseigneur, "one of

the great lords in power at the Court." Monseigneur's rooms are

gorgeous, but "not a sound business" when compared with the nearby

slums. Monseigneur's guests consist of ignorant military officers,

loose-living priests, and Unbelieving Philosophers. In short,

they're fakes, people of high position but few credentials.

The most solid citizen in attendance, the person who does exactly

what his title announces, is the Farmer-General. He has bought the

right to collect taxes for Monseigneur, a position granting unlimited

license to steal from the peasantry. Historians consider the

Farmer-General system one of the abuses that helped cause the French

Revolution; it makes sense that Dickens, laying groundwork for the

strife to come, mentions it.
Can you list Monseigneur's character traits? For many readers, such

individual traits are missing. They find Monseigneur the

personification of an entire class, a symbol for the ruling nobility.

Thinking along the same lines, other readers believe that Monsieur

the Marquis, introduced as he leaves Monseigneur's rooms in disfavor,

personifies the French rural gentry. Let's check this interpretation

of the Marquis against his actual behavior.
The Marquis orders his coach driven recklessly through the streets of

Paris, an abuse of power consistent with his social position. A

child is run over and killed, and, with typically aristocratic scorn,

the Marquis tosses a gold coin to the grieving father. He is

Gaspard, the tall man we last saw smearing the word BLOOD on a Saint

Antoine wall.

When Defarge offers practical consolation to Gaspard, the Marquis

tosses Defarge a second coin, which is at once tossed back. "You

dogs!" says the Marquis, assuring the crowd that he'd like nothing

better than to crush the thrower of the coin beneath his coach

Now, consider. Does the Marquis' extra bit of callousness strike you

as one more mark of the privileged classes? Or does he emerge as an

individual, if cruel, personality?
NOTE: THE FOUNTAIN RUNS ITS COURSE Gaspard's baby is killed near the

communal fountain of Saint Antoine. In the upcoming chapter two more

fountains flow--one in the Marquis' village, and the other at his

country house. Dickens' use of water imagery follows a pattern. The

Saint Antoine and village fountains are, first of all, centers of

neighborhood activity and sources of life-sustaining water. But,

already, the Saint Antoine fountain suggests fate: "The water of the

fountain ran, the swift river ran,... all things ran their course."

Later the water swells into a sea (II, 22) and metamorphoses into

fire (II, 23). Flood and fire, both natural disasters, become apt

metaphors for the raging destructiveness of the Revolutionary mobs.
This "Monseigneur" is Monsieur the Marquis, driving through worn-out

country to his worn-out village. Near the fountain the Marquis

recognizes a grizzled mender of roads who earlier had been gaping at

his carriage. The Marquis has the little man brought forward. In a

polite voice the mender of roads describes seeing a man--"white as a

spectre, tall as a spectre"--hanging from the drag of the carriage

(the drag was used to slow the vehicle as it went downhill). Angered

at not being told of this sooner, the Marquis orders Gabelle, his

postmaster and tax collector, to keep an eye on the mender of roads.
The Marquis next rejects a desperate petition from a peasant woman

and drives on to his high-roofed chateau. There he awaits a visitor

from England, a "Monsieur Charles."
NOTE: A PUN Monsieur Gabelle's name contains a pun: the gabelle was

the despised salt-tax, a leading cause of the Revolution. Again,

notice how Dickens takes every opportunity to prepare you for the

Revolution in 1789.

It's important to understand the action of Chapter 9 in order to

follow plot twists ahead. What happens is basically simple: Charles

Darnay (by now we've guessed he's the Marquis' nephew) arrives at the

chateau, a large stone building with carved faces decorating it. He

and his uncle share an elegant dinner while renewing old hostilities.

The Marquis argues that repression is the only lasting philosophy,

and swears to uphold the honor of his family through cruelty.

Charles deplores his family's past wickedness, and renounces France

and the chateau, which will be his after the Marquis dies. The men

part for the night.

Dawn arrives with a great commotion. Another "stone face" has been

added to the many stone faces that already adorn the great house:

the Marquis is dead, stabbed in the heart. A note is attached to the

killer's knife: "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from JACQUES."

A straightforward and electrifying series of events, but you might

pay attention to several details for future reference.

Charles Darnay's father and the current Marquis were brothers--again,

on instance of doubles. Darnay is certain that his father's time was

a wicked one.
Darnay is bound by his mother's dying words to administer the family

estate, and to do so mercifully. The death of his father had left

Darnay and his uncle joint inheritors.
The Marquis asks Darnay if he knows any other French refugees in

England, particularly "a Doctor with a daughter." "Yes," answers

Darnay, and on the Marquis' face we see an evil smile.
The Marquis has fallen out of favor at court. If he were better

connected, he might well attempt to imprison his nephew secretly with

a lettre de cachet. You'll remember that the lettre is the same

"little instrument of correction" that sent Dr. Manette to the

Bastille. The Marquis seems quite familiar with its uses.
A year has passed since the assassination of Charles Darnay's uncle.

His great stone chateau seems, to Darnay, "the mere mist of a dream."

Now employed successfully as a tutor of French language and

literature, Darnay decides to tell Dr. Manette of his deep love for

Lucie. Darnay asks one favor: that the doctor put in a good word

for him, if, and only if, Lucie reveals she loves Darnay.

Noticeably shaken, Dr. Manette finally promises Lucie to Darnay only

on the condition he is "essential to her perfect happiness." In a

mysterious but significant speech, the doctor states that anything

held against the man Lucie loves, "any fancies... any

apprehensions," will be dissolved for her sake.
Darnay tries to reveal his true name and explain why he's in England.

Dr. Manette stops him short, extracting the second of "Two

Promises": Darnay swears not to tell his secrets until the morning

he marries Lucie.

Arriving home from errands, Lucie hears a "low hammering sound" from

her father's bedroom--the sound of shoemaking. The encounter with

Charles Darnay has had the worst possible effect on Dr. Manette,

throwing him into amnesia. Lucie is terribly worried, but by walking

and talking with her father is able to restore his normal


In the midst of gathering momentum, these two chapters provide a

pause. Do you know people who consider their friendship a valuable

prize? Then perhaps you'll smile at Stryver's belief that his wish

to marry Lucie does her great honor.

For readers familiar with most of Dickens' work, A Tale of Two Cities

seems untypical. These readers cite the novel's rapid pace, lighter

than usual detail, and sparing use of humor and dialogue as

departures from Dickens' usual style. These two chapters, however,

come closer to "traditional" Dickens. Their contribution to the plot

is relatively small, and they depend on humorous dialogue (such as

Stryver's sudden reversal at the end of Chapter 12).
Yet Stryver the man isn't especially humorous. Dickens describes him

sharply, in terms of his size and obnoxious "shouldering" ability.

Stryver is the new man, making social and financial strides in

Victorian society; he's a "fellow of delicacy" in no one's eyes but

his own.
Stryver is out of town for the summer, and Sydney Carton's spirits

have sunk to an all-time low.

One day in August he calls on Lucie Manette to reveal his secret: he

loves her, but realizes she can never love him in return. Carton

admits that Lucie's pity and understanding have had a good effect on

him. Still he can never change his "self-wasting" ways.

Agitated and weeping, Lucie promises not to tell anyone of Carton's

declaration, the "last confidence" of his life.

As he leaves, Carton foresees Lucie married and with a child. He

swears he would do anything, even give his life, to keep a life Lucie

loved beside her.
NOTE: DICKENS' SENTIMENTALITY Dickens has been accused of excessive

sentimentality, especially when one of his young heroines is

involved. Sydney Carton's address to Lucie Manette is a case in

point: he praises her "pure and innocent breast," and exclaims, "God

bless you for your sweet compassion!"
Dickens means us to take this chapter seriously. Faced with his

intentions, you should decide whether the emotional fireworks help or

hinder the novel. On one hand, you can accept Carton as a man of

extremes--a self-destructive alcoholic--who can carry off extravagant

speeches. On the other hand, his dramatics may impress you as a

little overdone. You may also succumb to modern taste, and grow

somewhat weary of Lucie's unchanging goodness.
At last we're let in on Jerry Cruncher's secret profession. He

unearths recently buried bodies and sells them to doctors for medical

Leaving their post outside Tellson's, Cruncher and son join a funeral

procession. The crowd has turned out to jeer, for the dead man,

Roger Cly, was an unpopular spy at the Old Bailey. (You met Cly at

Darnay's trial--he was the faithless servant.) Cly has one proper

mourner, who flees the growing mob. The uncontrolled crowd riots on

to Cly's graveside, gradually dispersing. Observing that Cly was "a

young 'un and a straight made 'un," Jerry Cruncher visits a surgeon

on his way back to Tellson's.

That night Cruncher and two companions trudge to the graveyard, with

young Jerry following secretly at a distance. Through young Jerry's

fearful eyes we watch the men dig up Cly's grave and apply a large

corkscrewlike device to the coffin. Young Jerry has seen enough;

thoroughly terrified, he races home.
The next morning Cruncher is out of sorts. He beats his wife,

accusing her of praying against his "honest trade." Cruncher has

turned no profits on the night's "fishing expedition." (We're not

told what he turned up until Book III.)

NOTE: A MOB SCENE A London mob escorts Roger Cly's coffin to its

grave. Most of the participants have no idea what they're jeering

and rioting; any excuse for breaking windows and looting taverns

suffices. This mob is tame compared to those you'll meet in Paris,

but the scene is a prelude to the unbridled violence to come.
This is a dramatic chapter of murder and sworn revenge. The scene

has shifted to Saint Antoine and the Defarge wine shop, where secret

activity is in the air. Defarge arrives with a little mender of

roads, introducing him to the shop patrons as "Jacques," the code

word for a revolutionary sympathizer.
Defarge leads the little man up to the very garret that once housed

Dr. Manette. There, before an audience of Jacques One, Two, and

Three (the same men who earlier surveyed the doctor through chinks in

the door), the little mender of roads vividly recounts the story of

Gaspard. The killer of Monsieur the Marquis, Charles Darnay's uncle,

has been put to death. Soldiers drove him to the prison on the crag,

then hung him on a forty-foot gallows above the town fountain.

Gaspard hangs there still, frightening away the people, and casting a

shadow that seems to strike across the earth.
Defarge and his fellow Jacques confer. Defarge announces that "the

chateau and all the race" are "registered, as doomed to destruction."

The keeper of the register? None other than Madame Defarge, who

knits a record of all those condemned to die for their crimes. Into

Madame Defarge's register now go the descendants of the dead Marquis.

Think of the implication: the only descendant you've met is Charles

His duty carried out, the provincial mender of roads makes a day trip

with the Defarges to the great royal palace at Versailles. The

Defarges' purpose is political indoctrination. They teach the mender

of roads to recognize the rich and powerful he'll one day destroy.

A spy infiltrates the Defarges' wine shop. John Barsad is now

working for the French monarchy. As Barsad enters, Madame Defarge

pins a rose in her headdress, warning off the people of Saint

Antoine. Barsad praises the house cognac, trying to sound out the

Defarges on Gaspard's death. How has Saint Antoine reacted? Madame

and Monsieur Defarge answer the spy's questions politely but coldly.

All the while Madame is knitting the name Barsad into her register of

the doomed.

Barsad does score one telling point. When he mentions that Lucie

Manette is about to marry Charles Darnay, nephew of the murdered

Marquis, Defarge starts noticeably.
After Barsad leaves, Defarge expresses surprise that Lucie is about

to marry a man marked for death. He hopes destiny will keep Darnay

out of France. For her part, Madame Defarge feels no sympathy.

"Still Knitting" reveals her as stronger and more unshakable than

ever, untiringly patient for her day of justice. At nightfall she

moves among the women of Saint Antoine--each one knitting--spreading

her "missionary" creed of vengefulness.
NOTE: LIFE OF A "SAINT" Saint Antoine has come into its own as a

personification, a character in the story. In the last chapter the

arrival of Defarge and the mender of roads lights a "kind of fire in

the breast" of the suburb; here, when Barsad leaves the wine shop,

"the Saint took courage to lounge in."
The notion of a lifelike "saint" welds the citizens of Saint Antoine

into one, a collective force. An appropriate effect, since these

people will soon be acting as part of a single, unreasoning entity:

a mob.

The marriage between Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay has deep

consequences for Dr. Manette.

The night before the wedding Dr. Manette seems reconciled to losing

his daughter. Not that he's losing her entirely; she and Charles

Darnay will be living in the Soho house. The doctor and Lucie sit

beneath their old plane tree, where for the first time since Darnay's

trial he talks of his imprisonment. Lucie is troubled, but her

father assures her he's recalling his old captivity only as a way of

"thanking God for my great happiness."
The actual wedding day brings a complete turnaround. As soon as the

couple drive off on their honeymoon, Dr. Manette lapses into

amnesia. He doggedly begins making shoes. Jarvis Lorry and Miss

Pross try without success to bring him back around, and the ninth

evening Lorry despairingly observes that the shoemaker's hands have

never been so skillful.

NOTE: Can we isolate what's causing the doctor's amnesia? Partly,

separation from Lucie--ever since their meeting in Paris father and

daughter have been constantly together. But our most telling clue to

Dr. Manette's behavior is the closed-door meeting he held with

Charles Darnay just before the wedding. Recall that Darnay promised

to reveal his true name, and reason for living in England, on his

wedding morning. There's a connection between Charles Darnay's

family, and Dr. Manette's long period of darkness in the Bastille.

On the tenth morning after Lucie's wedding, the doctor regains his

memory. Jarvis Lorry awakes to find his patient normally dressed and

reading, yet all is not normal. The doctor thinks that only a day

has passed, and his hands, stained from shoemaking, trouble him.

With the confidentiality and tact developed from his years as a "man

of business," Lorry approaches the doctor about what should be done.

Lorry is careful to refer to Dr. Manette in the third person. As

you may remember, he used the same third-person tactic back in 1775,

explaining the doctor's sudden "resurrection" to Lucie.
Believing his worst symptoms have been conquered, Dr. Manette

reluctantly allows his shoemaker's bench to be destroyed. Lorry and

Miss Pross wait until the doctor has left to join the honeymooners,

then they hack the bench to pieces and burn it. Dickens' description

of the process makes the faithful friends look like ritual murderers.

Indeed, Miss Pross and Lorry almost feel like accomplices in crime.

With this sinister description of innocence that looks like guilt,

Dickens may be telling us that it's often hard to tell reality and

unreality apart. Things aren't what they seem. On the other hand,

Dickens may simply be adding to the thickening atmosphere of

impending violence.
On a visit to the newlyweds, Sydney Carton takes Charles Darnay aside

and asks two favors: that Darnay forget the night of his Old Bailey

trial, when Carton was drunk and rude; and that Carton be allowed to

come and go in the Darnay household.

Darnay agrees to both requests. Later he refers to Carton as

"careless and reckless." This sparks an impassioned declaration from

Lucie that Carton is capable of great things.
Whose assessment of Carton are we to accept? Dickens endorses

Lucie's motive, if not her conclusion, when he echoes earlier praise

for her "sweet compassion." As for Carton, the jury is still

out--he's emerging as a complicated figure.

The first half of the chapter, set in London, may remind you of the

passage-of-time sequences in old movies: you can almost see the

pages dropping off the calendar. Lucie establishes a calm, happy

home for her husband, father, and daughter, little Lucie. A son

dies--not tragically, but with a radiant smile. Sydney Carton drops

in six times a year, and little Lucie establishes a "strange

sympathy" with him. Stryver the lawyer marries a rich widow, and is

rejected in attempts to have her three dull sons tutored by Darnay.

In all, Dickens advances the action about seven years, to an evening

in mid-July 1789. Jarvis Lorry is visiting the Darnays, very

concerned about unrest in Paris.
Notice that the echoing footsteps of II, 6--"Hundreds of People"--are

back. In the first half of the chapter some are harmless, including

the tread of Lucie's child. But as the chapter shifts orientation

toward Paris, the footsteps grow menacing, and then "headlong, mad,

and dangerous."
July 14, 1789: Saint Antoine and Paris rise in rebellion at last.

Led by Defarge, thousands storm the Bastille, the hated symbol of

government oppression. Seven dazed prisoners are released, seven

officials' heads are paraded on pikes. One of the heads, belonging

to the governor of the prison, has been hacked off by Madame Defarge.
In the tumult Defarge orders one old jailer to lead him and

revenge-hungry Jacques Three to One Hundred and Five, North Tower,

Dr. Manette's old cell. The wine keeper searches the cell

thoroughly. We don't learn what, if anything, he discovers.

The running-water imagery Dickens introduced earlier has been

expanded. The Bastille attackers are a "sea of black and threatening

waters... whose forces were yet unknown." More water follows, as the

endless waves of rioting Parisians spill into the next chapter.

NOTE: REVOLUTION! The taking of the Bastille on July 14, 1789

kicked off the long-simmering French Revolution. Conquering the

hated fortress-prison was a heady victory for the people, and July

14, Bastille Day, remains a national holiday in France, the

equivalent of our July 4.
Dickens' account of the battle, and of the massacre of old Foulon in

the next chapter, owe much to Thomas Carlyle's description in The

French Revolution (see Sources).
The slaughter of old Foulon, a notorious oppressor of the masses, and

of his son-in-law are depicted graphically.

NOTE: What is Dickens' attitude toward the mob he so vividly

creates? Consider several possibilities.

The "day's bad work" revolts him. Dickens characterizes Foulon as an

old man, begging pathetically for his life. The Revolutionary women

who desert their children and aged parents to snatch up weapons, are

worse, even, than the men. The Vengeance (the complimentary name

bestowed on the plump wife of a starved grocer) seems especially


The mob enthralls Dickens. He writes vigorously because he's

involved, and he puts himself in the place of the shrieking women and

stern men. The mob is a projection of Dickens' dark side, his

feelings of political and social powerlessness.

Dickens deplores the mob's action, yet he sympathizes with their

plight. The chapter's final scenes paint a picture of wailing,

hungry children waiting for their parents' return from the slaughter.

The men and women do their meager shopping, as usual. There is human

fellowship, and there are lovers who, with "such a world around them

and before them, loved and hoped."

The burning of the Marquis' great chateau--done by outsiders but

supported by all the villagers--marks a shift in Dickens' imagery.

The Revolutionary "sea" has changed to rising fire. As the chateau

flares, molten lead and iron boil in the fountain's marble basin.

The water has been consumed.
Notice how the fire obliterates all traces of Charles Darnay's dead

uncle: a stone face that resembles his is obscured, "as if it were

the face of the cruel Marquis, burning at the stake." The villagers

believe that the stone faces on the chateau have changed twice.

After the Marquis was stabbed, they were faces of pain; when Gaspard

died, they bore "avenging looks." The obliteration of these stone

faces marks the end of the Marquis' influence. In a way, the fire is

his second death--it shows that the Marquis' soldiers and

functionaries have finally lost their power to protect his interests.
Also notice Dickens' care, during this fiery night, to add plot

details. He tells us that Gabelle, the chief functionary, has been

collecting few taxes these days, and no rent at all. Even so, the

angry villagers surround Gabelle's house, hoping for vengeance. The

tax collector is fortunate to survive the night.
August 1792. Three years have passed since the storming of the

Bastille. France has overthrown its monarchy and many

nobles--collectively referred to as "Monseigneur"--have fled the

country. These emigrants gather regularly at Tellson's Bank in

London to mourn their past glory and curse the new order in France.

One day a letter arrives at the bank for "Monsieur heretofore the

Marquis St. Evremonde," that is, for Charles Darnay. St. Evremonde

is Darnay's true name. He confided it to Dr. Manette on his wedding

morning, and to no one else.
The mysterious letter has come from Gabelle, the tax collector.

Following Darnay's instructions, Gabelle had eased the burden on the

villagers; he has been arrested nonetheless and sent to L'Abbaye

prison in Paris, charged with the crime of working for an emigrant.

At once, Darnay resolves to go to Gabelle's aid. If you found

yourself in Darnay's place, would you make such a trip? Readers have

taken three conflicting perspectives on Darnay's decision.
Darnay's return to strife-filled France is sheer foolishness, akin to

jogging through a minefield. Darnay is so confident his good

intentions will protect him that he doesn't check out the current

situation in France, or consider that the people might feel hostile

toward any aristocrat, even a reformed one.
Courage, duty, and pride combine to send Darnay back to his homeland.

He has a duty to free Gabelle, and to dispose of his property once

and for all. What's more, his pride is touched by the insults of

Stryver and the collected emigrants at Tellson's. Finally, as a much

younger man than Jarvis Lorry, who is about to journey to Paris for

Tellson's, Darnay feels that he, too, should be brave enough to

handle the French situation.
Darnay is a tool of fate. France is his destiny; he's drawn to the

violence there as if to a lodestone rock, or magnet. Lucie's fantasy

of thundering footsteps is about to be realized.

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