Tale of Two Cities Summary and Analysis
Book II, Chapters 4-9
Chapter 4: Congratulatory
Dr. Manette, Lucie, Mr. Lorry, the solicitor for the defense, and Mr. Stryver all congratulate Darnay on his escape from death. Dr. Manette's face is clouded over by the negative emotions caused by being cross-examined about being imprisoned. The Manettes depart in a hackney-coach, and a slightly drunk Mr. Carton asks to be allowed to speak to Mr. Darnay. They dine in a tavern, and Mr. Carton proposes a toast to Miss Manette. After Darnay leaves, Mr. Carton looks at himself in a mirror and reflects that he does not like Darnay because he too much resembles what Carton himself could have been, had Carton not been so dissolute. He hates Darnay for inspiring Miss Manette to look at him with such compassion.
Chapter 5: The Jackal
Mr. Stryver is prone to alcoholism, and he is a drinking companion of Mr. Carton's--they had been fellow students in Paris. Mr. Stryver, despite all of his capacity to push himself ahead, became a much more successful lawyer when Mr. Carton began working on and helping summarize his documents for him. Thus Carton became Stryver's jackal. When Stryver talks about how pretty Miss Manette is, Carton denies it, claiming she is nothing but a blond "doll." Carton leaves Stryver's house and returns to his own, crying himself to sleep. He is haunted by the honorable glories that once were available to him but are now out of his reach.
Chapter 6: Hundreds of People
Four months after the trial, Mr. Lorry dines with the Manettes. The Manettes live in Soho, a charming part of London not yet fully urbanized. Dr. Manette has revived his medical practice out of the house and lives comfortably. He converses with Miss Pross, who is upset because, as she terms it, hundreds of people come looking for Miss Manette (whom she calls "my Ladybird") although Miss Pross thinks they do not deserve her. Mr. Lorry recognizes Miss Pross's devotion and values her more highly than wealthier women who have balances at Tellson's. He questions Miss Pross about whether Dr. Manette knows the identity of the person who caused him to be jailed for so long; she thinks he does. When Lucie and her father arrive, Miss Pross fusses over the girl, arranging her bonnet and smoothing her hair. Miss Pross had scoured the neighborhood for French expatriates to teach her cooking tricks, and she is now considered a sorceress in the kitchen. After dinner, Mr. Darnay comes to call. Dr. Manette is in good humor until he gets flustered when Darnay tells a story about the Tower of London, in which many prisoners' initials were carved. The only ones that couldn't be matched by a former prisoner were D.I.G., which the guards figured was an imperative to dig (they dug, but found only remains of a possible letter).
Mr. Carton joins the party as it moves inside out of a rainstorm. Lucy tells of her fancy that the footsteps that echo outside her house are the footsteps of people to come in and out of her life. Mr. Carton observes that this vision represents a great number of people who really will be in her life.
Chapter 7: Monseigneur in Town
Monseigneur is a powerful lord of France who holds receptions every two weeks in his hotel in Paris. It takes four men to muster the ceremony necessary to serve him his morning chocolate. His idea of general public business is to let things go their own way, and his idea of specific public business is for things to go whatever way is most profitable for him. Monseigneur found that these principles, in addition to the reduction of his finances, made it advantageous for him to ally himself with a Farmer-General by marrying his sister to one. Everyone in his court is unreal because none knows how to do a lick of work that is useful to anyone else. The Marquis de Evremonde, also known as Monseigneur, condemns him as he leaves, and then rides away in his own carriage.
Monseigneur's carriage, driving recklessly fast, runs down and kills a child. The Marquis gives Gaspard, the child's father, a gold coin, and gives Defarge another gold coin for making the philosophical observation that the child is better off dead. As the Marquis is driving away, Defarge throws the coin back at the carriage. Upper-class people continue to drive through Saint Antoine as the poor and hungry look on.
Chapter 8: Monseigneur in the Country
The Marquis continues driving in his carriage through another poor village, this one made destitute by over-taxation. He stops and demands to speak with one of the villagers, asking him why he stared so intently as the Marquis drove up the hill. The man replies that there was a man under the carriage hanging from the shoe. He describes the man as white as a miller and tall as a ghost. The villager claims that when the carriage stopped, the man underneath dived headfirst over the hillside. The Marquis loses patience with the story and asks Monsieur Gabelle, the Postmaster, to put the villagers out of his sight. The Marquis sets off again but is waylaid by a woman with a petition. Her husband has died and she wishes for a piece of wood or stone to mark his grave; too many have died and become heaps of unmarked earth. He pushes away from her without replying and continues the journey to his chateau. When he arrives he asks if Monsieur Charles has yet arrived from England.
Chapter 9: The Gorgon's Head
The chateau is all stone, as if a Gorgon's head had looked at it. Monseigneur sits down to dinner after complaining that his nephew has not yet arrived. When Charles Darnay does arrive, Monseigneur observes that he has taken a long time coming from London. Darnay accuses Monseigneur of an effort to have him imprisoned in France with a letter de cachet. Monseigneur does not deny this, but he complains about the inaccessibility of such measures and the privileges that the aristocracy has lost. He considers repression to be the only effective and lasting policy; Darnay replies that their family has done wrong and will pay the consequences. Darnay renounces his property and France. Monseigneur mocks him for having not been more successful in England, then mentions the doctor and his daughter but ominously refuses to say more.
Owls howl through the night, and when the sun rises its slanting angle makes the chateau fountain seem full of blood. The villagers wake up first to start their toil, and the occupants of the chateau awake later, but when they do arise, they engage in frenzied activity. Monseigneur was murdered during the night. There is a knife through his heart, containing a piece of paper on which it is written: "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from Jacques."
In Chapter 4 we learn that in Book II ("The Golden Thread"), the golden thread most obviously refers to Lucie's hair. It also refers more abstractly to her curative power over her father. She commands the golden thread because she connects him to an earlier time that was not painful and to a present beyond his miserable period of imprisonment. Lucie is important not only for her golden nature, which has the power to redeem him, but also for the connective nature of her existence. She is the only person able to pull her father away from recollecting his time of misery.
The conversation between Carton and Darnay reintroduces the theme of doubles. Although their facial features are the same, Carton's dissolute behavior marks their difference. This behavior is observable in his unkempt, "debauched" appearance. Another set of doubles is Lucie and her father. They have many of the same facial characteristics, most notably the habit of knitting their foreheads up, but their different experiences have left the Doctor's face almost unrecognizably marked with cares, while Lucie's face is still fresh and fair. As a social crusader, Dickens was preoccupied with the way that debauched or unhealthy environments could corrupt even good people, and the presence of doubles in his novel illustrates how the same characteristics might grow in different ways in response to different environments.
Dickens reveals Darnay to be the ideal romantic hero - a man who is swayed by love, and a gallant gentleman. Lucie's memory of his actions five years ago and her worry over him are more important than her near-destruction of his life, so he acknowledges her with a polite kiss on the hand. Carton, with his rude manners, sharp tongue, and drinking habits, serves as a darker version of Darnay. Carton, like Darnay, is forced to look into a mirror and to confront this opposite version of himself. If these men are supposed to be the two sides of Dickens, Carton is the new, sinister side that writes darker books and leaves his wife, while Darnay is the former young, idealistic writer.
Chapter 5 is primarily concerned with establishing Sydney Carton's admiration for Lucie Manette and his self-loathing in the knowledge that he has done nothing in his life worthy of her admiration - or anyone's admiration, for that matter. His love for Miss Manette and his self-hatred generate motives that will be crucial later on.
Despite the presentation of Carton as debauched, Dickens exercises the sentiments of his readers to garner some sympathy for Carton. His propensity to shoot himself in the foot is traced back to primary school, where he did other boys' work rather than his own. The responsibility for his own lack of success is placed somewhat on Stryver, who was born with more advantages than Carton. The chapter ends with the pathetic image of the sun rising sadly. Carton's state is pitiable enough to draw an emotional response even from nature herself, or at least that is how it seems from Carton's perspective.
Stryver calls Carton "Memory" in this chapter. The nickname echoes the theme of time. It implies that Carton has the ability to transcend time - he can move well in the past and the present because of his power to remember things.
The description of the Manettes' Soho home, which opens Chapter 6, is in strong opposition to the description of the Defarges' dwelling in Paris. All of the misery, filth, and want which are apparent in Paris are nowhere to be seen in this charming rural suburb. If Doctor Manette has something in common with the French underclass, this is not it. Nature is allowed to function uninterrupted here, and its fruits are seen in beautiful hawthorn and peach trees. Class struggle is clearly not a possibility in this part of London, or at least it is not an issue for the Manettes.
"Hundreds of People," the humorous title of Chapter 6, is derived from Miss Pross's exaggeration of the number of Lucie's admirers. Miss Pross has great concern for her "Ladybird." This concern seems excessive, especially since Lucie has just three suitors at the most. This chapter develops more fully the character of Miss Pross, who up to this point has only been seen in a forceful and somewhat masculine light. Her character is referred to as "a Sorceress, or Cinderella's godmother," alluding to her transformative power over food.
The running joke of the chapter is that Mr. Lorry continuously recalls Miss Pross's phrase, "hundreds of people." Throughout the evening he notes that they still have not turned up; only Carton and Darnay are visiting. The phrase is somewhat justified, however, in that Lucie fancies that the people walking outside will eventually walk into her life - this would indeed include hundreds of people.
The main theme of Chapter 7 is the uselessness and absurdity of the pre-Revolutionary French upper class. Although they consider the world to be in order so long as everyone is dressed correctly as for a fancy ball, their position is unsustainable because none of them performs any useful jobs. The military men know nothing about war, the religious men are lascivious, and the doctors cure only imaginary diseases.
The corruption of the upper class is conveyed through the ironic religious language used to describe Monseigneur. His personal room is called the "Holiest of Holies," a direct translation from the Latin sanctum sanctorum and ultimately from the Hebrew Bible, referring to the especially sacred inner chamber of a temple. As for his philosophy of personal gain: "the text of his order (altered from the original by only a pronoun, which is not much) ran: 'The earth and the fullness thereof are mine, saith Monseigneur.'" The altered pronoun is the substitution of "Monseigneur," for "Lord," the irony being that Monseigneur does not consider the exchange a very considerable alteration. The substitution is a pun in French, because "Monseigneur" literally translates as "my Lord," so the biblical address ("my Lord" referring to God) and the feudal address ("my Lord" as a reference to an aristocrat or a superior) are perhaps not as distant as the two beings themselves really are. The line between religion and political hierarchy is further blurred by the extent to which his servants kowtow to Monseigneur. Their excessive adulation seems to violate the first commandment, that "thou shalt have no other gods but me." Monseigneur's contempt for religion is further demonstrated by his valuation of the nun's veil as the "cheapest garment she could wear," having no appreciation for her intentional humility, when he resolves to sell her into marriage for more.
Monseigneur is the French counterpart to Miss Pross' benevolent magic. He literally weaves a spell over the nobles, who obey his every whim. He is portrayed as the leader of a pagan sect, who is spirited away by little sprites. His followers engage in all sorts of pagan practices, from Convulsionists, who have fits, to those who follow "Truth" and ignore faith completely.
A Farmer-General was a type of French tax collector whose job was to "farm" the taxes of a particular district at his discretion. Such collectors were notorious for ripping off their struggling neighbors by collecting even steeper taxes than what they were required to send to the monarch, then pocketing the difference. The Farmer-General is an extremely wealthy man described as carrying "an appropriate cane with a golden apple on top of it." The cane is appropriate in the sense that the Farmer-General is not really a farmer, but merely collects money. His harvest is made of gold.
It is important to note that the child is crushed near the fountain in the center of the square. The themes of water and fountains become important throughout the novel as well. The fountain that sees the child's death does not have the power to cleanse and purify. From this death, all fountains will become places of death. In lieu of the purifying fountains, the mob itself will resemble a large sea. In turn, this new water will replace these fountains with fountains of blood.
In Chapter 8, en route from Paris to his country house, the Marquis is put into direct contact with the poor people whom he wants nothing to do with. Consistent with the negative images of the French aristocracy in this novel, the Marquis is brutally contemptuous of the plight of the lower class. He is willing to stop his carriage not in response to poverty and want, but only when he thinks that the class hierarchy is being breached. The trouble is that a lower-class man is staring at the carriage instead of showing respect. The Marquis shows his contempt for the villagers by calling them "pig" and "dolt."
Dickens uses an illusion to classical mythology to illustrate how frightful the appearance of the coach was to the lower classes. He describes the "cracking of his postilions' whip which twined snakelike about their heads in the evening air, as if he came attended by the Furies..." The Furies were ancient Greek goddesses usually represented with snakes twined in their hair, sent to avenge wrong and punish crime. The irony is, of course, that the Marquis's assumed role is to perpetuate, rather than to avenge, wrong, although the Marquis probably would claim that the poor morally deserve their poverty. The religious undertones of his power are reinforced by the image of him being waited on by goddesses.
Although Dickens consistently writes in English, the French language is extremely important to those chapters that he sets in France. For example, the Postmaster's name, Gabelle, who is also "some other taxing functionary," is a direct reflection of his occupation. "Gabelle" was formerly the general name for taxation, but it became associated right before the Revolution with a particularly oppressive salt tax. Hence, the Gabelle's name evokes the most infamously unjust pre-Revolutionary tax. Dickens peppers his text with other French words, such as "flambeau," to describe the lighting of the chateau. Most noticeably, the names of the French aristocracy are given either in French or in direct translation. For example, Monsieur the Marquis, which does not make sense in English, is a direct translation of Monsieur le Marquis.
The dramatic cliffhanger in Chapter 8 is that Monsieur Charles of England almost certainly refers to Charles Darnay. Is possible that Charles is associated with this terrible man?
The title of Chapter 9 refers again to Greek mythology. A Gorgon was a woman with hair made of snakes and whose gaze turned the beholder into stone. The most famous Gorgon was Medusa. The identification of a Gorgon's gaze with Monseigneur's house is apt, highlighting the viciousness of the ancient regime (the name for the "old rule" of the monarch and aristocrats in feudal France).
The murder of Monseigneur is the first event in the great class struggle that erupts in the text. Details of the furnishings of the chateau also hint at the character of the family who own it, and they give further justification (beyond Monseigneur's personal brutality) for his murder. His furniture, "diversified by many objects that were illustrations of old pages in the history of France," is mainly in the style of Louis XIV, the so called "sun-god" who ruled France from 1643 to 1715. The style is highly decorative, and at the time in which the novel is set, it is somewhat out of date. This opulence, in combination with even older furnishings, not only displays Monseigneur's wealth but also illustrates that his disregard of the common people is not particular to him; his fortune has been entrenched in his family for many generations and has its roots in feudalism.
The irony in the description of the chateau as solid, stony, and rooted in history is that Dickens portends that it will be destroyed in the French Revolution. (See the passage, "If a picture of the chateau as it was to be a very few years hence... [Monseigneur] might have been at a loss to claim this own from the ghastly, fire-charred, plunder-wrecked ruins.") Because Dickens did not witness the French Revolution firsthand, his primary reference on the period was Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution, as he acknowledges in his preface. Carlyle's book includes a chapter on the destruction of aristocrats' chateaux in the period following the storming of the Bastille.
The passage foreseeing the destruction of the chateau also serves to foreshadow the actual vulnerability of the seemingly impregnable Monseigneur himself. Further foreshadowing of Monseigneur's death can be traced to the hooting of the owls on the night of his death. This is an allusion to Shakespeare's Macbeth on the night when King Duncan is killed. Macbeth says, "I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?" and Lady Macbeth replies, "I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry" (II.ii.14-15). Popular superstition in the 19th century held that an owl screaming was a harbinger of death.
Darnay serves as another mirror for his uncle in this chapter. We learn that his father and the Marquis were actually twins, mirror images of each other. In that time, both brothers reflected the corrupt habits of the nobility off each other. Darnay is the flipped image of his uncle. Instead of being a corrupt nobleman, he wants to renounce his title completely; instead of repressing the people, he wants to help them.
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- Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapters 1-4
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- Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters 1-3
- Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters 4-9
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- The French Revolution
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