Tale of Two Cities Summary and Analysis
Book II, Chapters 10-14
Chapter 10: Two Promises
A year later, Charles Darnay is back in England, happily working as a tutor of French. He has been in love with Lucie since he met her, and he finally asks her father for permission to make his feelings known to her. Despite Dr. Manette's hesitations, Darnay convinces him that his intentions are honorable and sincere. He does not wish to come between Lucie and her father; he wishes, if possible, to bind them closer.
There is always a touch of reserve in Dr. Manette's reception of Darnay, and this struggle is evident in his expression of dread, and although he gives his blessing to Darnay, something is not quite right. Darnay tells the doctor that he is using an assumed name and tries to tell him why he is in England and what his real name is, but the doctor stops him. He says that if Charles does marry Lucie, he should tell him these secrets on the marriage morning. When Lucie returns to the house that night, she hears him working on his shoemaking again for the first time since Paris and is very distressed. She knocks on his door and he stops.
Chapter 11: A Companion Picture
Mr. Stryver and Mr. Carton are drinking together while the latter prepares the former's legal papers. Mr. Stryver, after claiming that his own gallantry is superior to his friend's, announces that he intends to marry Lucie Manette. This causes Carton to drink his punch more rapidly although he claims to have no objections. Stryver feels that he is doing Lucie a good turn and marvels at his own economic disinterestedness in his choice. Stryver recommends that Carton find a woman with some money or property and marry her.
Chapter 12: The Fellow of Delicacy
On his way to Lucie's house in Soho to declare his intentions, Mr. Stryver passes Tellson's and decides to step inside to ask Mr. Lorry's opinion of the matter. Mr. Lorry expresses some politic confusion, and Stryver asks what could possibly be wrong with his proposal. After all, he is eligible, prosperous, and advancing. He considers that if Lucie recognized these qualities and turned him down, she would be a fool.
Despite the fact that he is at Tellson's and must act properly, Mr. Lorry grows angry at this disparagement of Lucie. Mr. Lorry suggests that because it might be painful for Stryver, the doctor, and Lucie if the former were to make an unwelcome suit, perhaps Lorry himself should go to Soho and feel out the subject. Mr. Stryver agrees.
When Mr. Lorry arrives at Stryver's house later that evening with a confirmation that a proposal would be unwelcome, he gets a strange response from the would-be suitor. Stryver pretends to have forgotten the subject. When he is reminded, he professes to be sorry for both the doctor and Mr. Lorry, insinuating that Lucie has gotten herself into trouble and is no longer fit to be engaged. Lorry is so surprised that he merely leaves.
Chapter 13: The Fellow of No Delicacy
Mr. Carton had never spoken well or made himself agreeable at the Manette household, but he used to haunt their street at night, dreaming of Lucie. One day he visits her and she asks him what the matter is. He claims that he is beyond help in his profligate ways, but he says his familiarity with the Manettes' family scene has given him the desire to be a good man again. Lucie tries to convince him that this is a possibility, but Carton declares that it is only a dream, however happy. He merely wants to open his heart to her and have her remember that he did so. Before he leaves he promises that he would do anything for her or for anyone close to her.
Chapter 14: The Honest Tradesman
Jerry Cruncher sits on his stool on Fleet Street outside Tellson's and sees Robert Cly's funeral procession approaching. A crowd belligerently follows the funeral procession because Cly was allegedly a spy, and Jerry climbs along with the mob on top of his coffin as they take over the procession. Jerry prudently leaves the mob before the police arrive.
Jerry goes home and lectures Mrs. Cruncher for praying again. He says he is going out fishing in the middle of the night, and his son follows him out to see what he is doing. He sees his father creep down to a river and open a coffin. Young Jerry runs home with the nightmarish image that the coffin is chasing him. The next morning, young Jerry asks his father what a Resurrection-Man is, and he says that he would like to be one when he grows up. This pleases his father.
Chapter 10 contains several references which would be more obvious to Dickens's contemporaries than to modern readers. When describing Darnay's character and success in London, Dickens writes that he expected "neither to walk on pavements of gold, nor to lie on beds of roses." The pavements of gold refer to the famous story of Richard Whittington, who grew up to be Lord Mayor of London three times, after having come to the city when he heard that the pavements were made of gold. Beds of roses allude to a passage in Christopher Marlowe's famous "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" (1599), in which he promises his love beds of roses. Darnay is an even more attractive character because he expects none of these pastoral or urban advantages, but instead is willing to work hard.
Psychic troubles cause the Doctor to resume his shoemaking. Trouble is foreshadowed when Darnay leaves the house; the Doctor senses that Darnay will have very troubling news. Evidently something has been a throwback to his time in prison, since the return to shoemaking shows that the Doctor is seriously disturbed by something Darnay has said. The Doctor's occasional regressions will continue to be a great cause of concern for his friends and his daughter.
At first it appears that Lucie has an easy choice of the three suitors that Dr. Manette mentions. She can choose between the handsome Darnay, the boorish Stryver, or the drunken, rude Carton. Yet Dickens makes the story interesting through his introduction of tension between Darnay and Dr. Manette. Dickens makes it clear that something has occurred between Darnay and Dr. Manette in the past, possibly something that has to do with Manette's imprisonment.
The humor in Chapter 11 comes from Stryver's prideful presumption that Lucie will willingly and eagerly accept him as a husband. Gender roles in the nineteenth century were such that Lucie could not and would not express direct interest in a man whom she loved or desired, but she could reject the suit of a man who was not agreeable to her. Stryver's dwelling on the subject of marrying for love rather than money illustrates the fact that many marriages were made for economic convenience rather than love. Although Stryver congratulates himself on sidestepping his economic interests, he recommends an economically prudent marriage to Carton. Ironically, he will fall back on this type of union himself, marrying a rich widow with three sons when he finds that his attraction to Lucie is not mutual.
The title of Chapter 12 is, like others, ironic. Mr. Stryver is far from delicate; he commits a number of indelicate actions. His very deportment lacks tact, as he throws his overly large body around the street and then around the interior of Tellson's--with no regard for the safety of others. His entire conversation with Mr. Lorry is indiscreet, and he puts Mr. Lorry in the very awkward position of turning Stryver down on Lucie's behalf. Still, it is fortunate that Mr. Lorry is able to intervene to present a worse situation later. Although marriage tended to be dominated by economics at the time, it is indelicate of Stryver to mention Lucie's reasons for accepting him as materialistic. Mr. Lorry is forced to remind Stryver that he needs Lucie's acceptance to go ahead, stressing that "the young lady goes before all." But Stryver looks at the matter backwards the whole way through. When he is planning his intended wedding, he is merely debating when to "make her happiness known to her" and when to "give her his hand." This is a humorous reversal of the usual assumption that a woman gives her hand in marriage, not the other way around.
Stryver's second and more seriously indelicate action is his allusion to Lucie's virtue. His pride is hurt by the fact that she is not inclined to accept him, and he protects his hurt feelings by suggesting that Lucie has acted improperly or even foolishly, as though she has demonstrated that after all she is ineligible for his attentions. This is a very serious charge; in the nineteenth century, a woman's virtue was priceless while a stain on her reputation was irreversible. It is good that Stryver does not voice this idea to anyone other than Mr. Lorry, who is too bewildered to be outraged, because it could have done serious damage to Lucie.
The humor in the title of Chapter 13 is that a fellow of no delicacy can be better than the fellow of false delicacy. Carton has no delicacy because he honestly tells his feelings to Lucie while knowing they are not returned. However, something productive comes of this interchange, in that Lucie is made aware of his true character and Carton is uplifted by her compassion. This represents the most ideal way to approach Lucie. Although he wavers in the novel between intense feeling and caustic flippancy, in this chapter Carton ironically reveals himself to be the fellow with the most delicacy.
Gender roles function in this chapter in precisely the formula of a sentimental novel. The sentimental novel, which excites the readers' compassionate feelings, often includes the successful efforts of good women to reform men who are morally corrupt. In this genre, women are seen as moral beacons whose influence is necessary to produce a more ethical society.
Chapter 14 foreshadows the mobs engaging in class struggle by showing how quickly a mob can form, and it recalls the mob thirstily drinking the spilled wine. Mob members show their collective power by threatening to throw those officially in charge of the funeral procession into the river. This power reversal echoes later mob scenes in France but, crucially, Dickens shows that the mobs do not get completely out of control in England. The very suggestion that someone will call the guards is enough to disperse the crowd, whereas in revolutionary France the mob might be more likely to kill the guards at the risk of their own lives. Cruncher, for his part, is involved in the mob scene for a very particular reason: he has a professional interest in funerals and dead bodies because he is a "Resurrection-Man." This position helps explain his previous uneasiness at the idea that anyone really could be raised from the dead.
The opening section of Chapter 14 makes a connection between Jerry Cruncher and Dante Alighieri, the 13th-century Italian author of the Divine Comedy. "Time was when a poet sat upon a stool in a public place and mused at the sight of men" refers to the fact that Dante supposedly sat upon a stool to contemplate. There is a poetic connection, too, in that both were concerned with what happens after death, although Dante was concerned about the soul's experience in the afterlife while Cruncher is concerned with how he can profit from a dead body.
Jerry also shows his fondness for euphemisms, a fact that is reflected in the title of the chapter. His digging bodies from the ground makes him "an honest tradesman," and the profession is known as "resurrection-man;" his wife is berated for "flopping," Jerry's word for praying. In this way Jerry tries to invert normal values. He gives impolite terms to respectable events (flopping for praying) and polite terms for questionable work in a comic reach for respectability.
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