Tale of Two Cities Summary and Analysis
Book III, Chapters 8-15
Chapter 8: A Hand at Cards
Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher continue shopping, unaware that Darnay has been arrested again. They coincidentally enter the Defarges' shop looking to purchase wine. Miss Pross sees a man in the shop and screams, because she recognizes him as her brother, Solomon Pross, who is now an officer of the French Republic. Jerry Cruncher is equally shocked because he recognizes the man as John Barsad, the English spy. He is trying to think of this name aloud, when Sydney Carton passes by and supplies the name for him.
Carton asks to speak to Barsad alone and reveals that he is a turnkey in the Conciergerie. This is where Carton recognized his face. He followed him back to the wine-shop and now asks him to accompany him to Tellson's Bank for a talk. There he meets Mr. Lorry, who also recognizes him as having been a witness at Darnay's trial. Carton tries to use what he knows about Barsad (the fact that he is currently employed by the Republican government under a false name but was formerly employed by the English government-which would lead the French government to believe he is a spy) to help free Darnay. He threatens to denounce Barsad, adding that he recognizes the man with whom Barsad was talking as Roger Cly. Barsad tries to claim that Cly is dead and had a funeral back in London, but Jerry Cruncher interjects, saying that he looked in that coffin, and there was no body in it. Despite the fact that he grows defensive when asked why he knows this, Cruncher sticks by his assertion, and Barsad gives up and agrees to help Carton. Carton asks to have a final word alone with Barsad.
Chapter 9: The Game Made
Mr. Lorry asks Mr. Cruncher how he knows that Roger Cly was not in his grave. Cruncher hints at his profession and defends himself, saying that he has to make a profit somehow. Barsad leaves and Carton explains that all he could get out of him was a promise to see him before he died. He surprises Mr. Lorry with his warmth and sympathy by asking him not to worry. Mr. Lorry's duties are done in Paris, and he has permission to leave the city. Carton wistfully asks Mr. Lorry if he felt his life was wasted, which it clearly was not, and envies the fact that the seventy-eight-year-old would have someone to mourn him if he died.
Carton leaves the house and goes to look at La Force Prison. The wood-sawyer speaks to him, recommending that he see people being guillotined if he has never seen it before. Carton resists the desire to hit him, and instead finds his way to a chemist's shop where he orders some drugs. He recalls a prayer that he learned when he was younger, and he stops to help a child across the muddy street. All night he walks the streets, and without having slept he attends the trial in the morning.
When Darnay is brought in, Lucie gives him a loving look which warms both her husband's and Carton's hearts. The jury, which includes Jacques Three, is bloodthirsty. The tribunal names the three who denounced him and they include Monsieur and Madame Defarge and, surprisingly, Doctor Manette. He protests that this is impossible, but Monsieur Defarge produces the document from Doctor Manette's cell in the Bastille.
Chapter 10: The Substance of the Shadow
Dr. Manette's document, written in his cell in the Bastille and hidden in its chimney in 1767, explains why he was imprisoned. When he was a young and successful doctor, he was accosted in the street by what he perceived to be a pair of twins. They asked him to enter the carriage and showed him that they were armed. They refused to give him details about the patient.
In the narrative of the document, Manette enters the carriage and they drive him to a solitary house, where he hears the cries of a woman. She is a beautiful young woman, whose surname Dr. Manette never learns, tied up on a bed, and she is raving with brain fever. She repeats the phrase "my husband, my father, and my brother!" and counts to twelve obsessively. The other patient in the house is a young peasant, her brother, who is dying of a knife wound. He explains that the noblemen had tried to exercise their feudal "right" to have sex with their serfs, but his sister was a virtuous girl and would not let them. The lord then tied her husband to a cart like a horse and drove him to death. He died in his wife's (the first patient's) arms, sobbing once every stroke of the clock at noon, explaining her fixation on the number twelve. He then took the girl to rape her. The boy took his other sister to a safe place and then attacked the noblemen, who gave him the fatal stab wound. As he dies, the boy curses the nobleman and his family.
The doctor is disturbed by this story and even more worried when he sees that the girl has recently become pregnant. The noblemen ask him to keep everything he has seen and heard a secret, but they grow alarmed when he refuses to accept their payment for his medical services. The girl dies, and the noblemen seem unconcerned. The doctor is returned to his lodgings. Knowing full well that any letter he writes will be ineffective because of noble influence on the court, he finishes a letter to the Minister, and the wife of the Marquis St. EvrÃ©monde calls on him, clarifying the mystery of the nobleman's last name. She is the wife of the man who raped the peasant and wants to do penance by finding her living sister and doing well by her, but she doesn't know where to find her. Neither does Dr. Manette, so the Marquess leaves with her son, Charles Darnay, musing that he will eventually have to pay for the sins of the family if she cannot expiate them herself. The same night, a man demands to see Dr. Manette, captures him, and the two brothers burn the protesting letter that he had written in front of his face. He is thrown in the Bastille on their authority, and Dr. Manette denounces them and their family members.
The crowd and jury's reaction to this testimony is immediate. Charles Darnay is sentenced to death within twenty-four hours.
Chapter 11: Dusk
Lucie embraces her husband for what she thinks is the last time after he is condemned. Dr. Manette tries to kneel to both of them to apologize, but he is stopped by Darnay, who apologizes again for what his family did to the Doctor. Darnay is taken away and Lucie faints. Carton carries her to the carriage and orders that she not be revived so that she may suffer minimally. He kisses her before he leaves, whispering the words, "A life you love." Doctor Manette goes out to try to use his influence to save Darnay again, but everyone doubts he will be successful. Carton agrees with the rest that there is no hope.
Chapter 12: Darkness
Carton walks to the Defarges' wine-shop and asks for a drink in a poor accent. This accent is faked, because Carton was a student in France and can speak like a Frenchman, but it allows him to eavesdrop on the Defarges. They are discussing the Darnay case, and Madame Defarge says that the Revolution should stop at nothing but extermination, while her husband seems more moderate. Carton also learns that Madame Defarge was the sister whisked away to safety away from the EvrÃ©monde brothers by the brother who Dr. Manette saw die of a stab wound, so she has a strong personal vendetta against Darnay.
Carton rejoins Mr. Lorry and Dr. Manette, who is showing signs of his old affliction and is asking for his shoemaking tools. Carton asks Mr. Lorry to blindly follow his directions, which Mr. Lorry agrees to do. Carton finds a certificate allowing him to leave the city in Doctor Manette's jacket and exclaims "Thank God!" He gives it to Mr. Lorry, and explains to him Madame Defarge's intention to denounce the whole family using the testimony of the wood-sawyer, who will swear they were signaling to the prisoners. He urges Mr. Lorry to ready Lucie and her daughter to leave the city the next day at two p.m. and to leave as soon as Carton appears to get in the carriage. Carton leaves but lingers in the courtyard, saying a goodbye to Lucie's window.
Chapter 13: Fifty-Two
Fifty men and women of all ages and walks of life wait to die at the Conciergerie, and Charles Darnay tries to resign himself to death. He writes a letter to Lucie apologizing for keeping his French identity secret from her and explaining that he did not know of his family's connection to Doctor Manette's imprisonment until the document was read out. He also writes letters to Doctor Manette and Mr. Lorry, but not to Carton.
Let into the prison by John Barsad, Carton visits Darnay an hour before his execution. He convinces Darnay to swap clothes with him and drugs him to put him to sleep. John Barsad enters the cell to drag Darnay to safety, and Carton remains in the cell to die in his place. A gaoler takes him to a waiting room, where various other prisoners mistake him for Darnay and greet him. A young woman accused of plotting recognizes that it is not Darnay but keeps his secret and asks to hold his "brave hand" on the way to the guillotine.
A coach holding Doctor Manette, Lucie, little Lucie, Mr. Lorry and an unconscious Charles Darnay disguised as Sydney Carton (and holding his papers) pass safely out of Paris. They are stopped and fear that they are caught, but it is merely a man inquiring the number guillotined that day. When they respond that it was fifty-two, he responds positively, saying that he loves the guillotine.
Chapter 14: The Knitting Done
The Vengeance, Madame Defarge, and Jacques Three hold a secret meeting in the wood-sawyer's shed. Defarge criticizes her husband for having pity on the Doctor, whereas she wishes to guillotine the whole family including the child. She wishes to have the wood-sawyer denounce the family by saying that all of them have stood outside the La Force prison and signaled without her husband's knowledge so that he could not undermine their plans. Madame Defarge sets out to visit Lucie, whose husband she assumes has recently been guillotined; Lucie will undoubtedly be in a state of mind to condemn the Republic, providing Madame Defarge with further evidence.
She arrives at the Manettes' apartment armed with a pistol and a dagger. Mr. Cruncher and Miss Pross are still occupying the apartment and have intended to leave that afternoon. They are both greatly excited and distressed by the day's events, and Mr. Cruncher vows to allow his wife to play and not to work as a resurrection-man again. Mr. Cruncher leaves to ready the horses, so only Miss Pross remains to confront Madame Defarge. They argue and engage in a scuffle in which Miss Pross accidentally kills Madame Defarge with her own gun and is permanently deafened by the noise it makes. She runs out of the apartment and escapes Paris with Jerry Cruncher.
Chapter 15: The Footsteps Die Out Forever
The tumbrils continue to rumble along the streets of Paris, and because time never reverses itself, the changes wrought by the Revolution cannot be undone. Carton rides in one of the tumbrils, ignoring everyone but the girl whose hand he holds. The Vengeance looks for Madame Defarge at the guillotine in vain. Carton holds the girl's hand to the end, and she thanks him for his support.
Carton goes to the guillotine with a peaceful, philosophical face. If he could have spoken prophetically he would have foreseen the future of the people whom he knows. He would have seen Barsad, Cly, Defarge, the Vengeance, the Jury, and the Judge all dying on the guillotine which they helped raise. He would see a peaceful life for Lucie and Charles Darnay back in England, with each generation of her family, including a son named after him, blessing his name and visiting his grave. He dies with the conclusion that "It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
Chapter 8 is the first in which the threads of the story are drawn together towards a possible conclusion. The fashion in nineteenth-century novels was to introduce a large number of characters in different walks of life and, in the case of A Tale of Two Cities, in different countries, then to introduce a crisis, and finally to interconnect all of the characters to create a solution. One of the reasons that this novel is considered a masterpiece is that no chapter, no detail is wasted. Even a character like Solomon Pross, who was introduced long ago as a comical alternative to Darnay as a groom for Lucie, now becomes crucial to the resolution of the novel.
Chapter 8 also reinforces the importance of the individuality of faces. Carton repeats again and again, with great satisfaction, that Barsad has a quite remarkable face, a fact which allowed him to recognize him at the Conciergerie. This individuality is only broken down by the extraordinary resemblance of Carton to Darnay, but the uniqueness of this resemblance is what renders believable the idea that they are interchangeable. Other than this pair, and the small exception of the family expressions shared by Lucie and her father, the faces in the novel are exceptional. This runs counter to the ideal of equality of the French revolution, and Dickens seems to undermine the conformity of dressing the same to dance the Carmagnole by making Barsad's features recognizable even though he wears revolutionary garb.
Cly and Barsad have returned to the plot, and they have become very vital to it. Here the evil spies have held their own form of a resurrection, resulting from a false death and a false rebirth. In this manner, both Cly and Barsad can adapt themselves to any situation, and side with whatever group is in power. Because they are so desperate to do anything for a little money, their hiding in darkness is more dangerous than the revolutionaries' power.
Fortunately, Carton acts as a deus ex machina (a god-like intervention), arriving on the scene and instantly working to save Darnay's life. As we can see, he is a changed man. He longer hides from the world in liquor; instead, he uses it to find all sorts of information about the world. He no longer tolerates being spoken at; he loudly and forcefully orders Barsad around. Finally, he no longer speaks as a wastrel, but as a man with a purpose. He uses the last vestiges of his old life to provide information for his purpose through likening his questioning to the rake's game of cards.
Dickens has used the trope of replacement of religion with revolutionary principles in other chapters, but in Chapter 9 in particular he sets the misuse of ideology against the proper use of it. The tribunal is, in effect, a free-for-all, and the shouting of the crowd's opinion is not silenced by officials. When Doctor Manette claims that it is impossible that he would denounce his own son-in-law, the president of the tribunal is scandalized, arguing that "if the Republic should demand of you the sacrifice of your child herself, you would have no duty but to sacrifice her." This demand echoes God's demand of Abraham in Genesis 22 to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham is willing, but he is spared from killing his own son at the last minute by an angel. The president of the Tribunal, when he demands this sort of impossible sacrifice, claims that revolutionary ideals are as important as, if not more important than, religious faith.
The other use of religion in Chapter 9 is embodied by Carton, a dissolute man who is raised up by his ability to assist Lucie. To him, Lucie is almost some sort of deity; when he arrives in the courthouse he notes, "Mr. Lorry was there and Doctor Manette was there. She was there sitting beside her father." She is so important in his consciousness that he does not even need to name her, only using a pronoun as one might think of a divinity.
The prayer which he repeats to himself as he wanders the streets ("I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.") is from the Gospel of John 11:25-26, and it is the beginning of the Burial Service in the Book of Common Prayer, a traditional Christian prayer book. This passage comes directly before Jesus resurrects the dead Lazarus. Carton is simultaneously preparing for his own death by saying a burial prayer over himself and alluding to his own power to resurrect Darnay.
The title of Chapter 10 refers to the shadow that the Manettes felt the Defarges casting over their family. The document that Defarge stole from the Bastille is the substance of the threat, which he is able to maintain against the family. This is the crisis of the novel, where the worst card, Manette's own denunciation, is played. After this point, the resolution plays itself out, and the characters face only minor new challenges.
Chapter 10 also touches on the nerves that caused the French Revolution more thoroughly than any other part of the novel. Cruelty to the peasant class was illustrated by Monseigneur's behavior in previous chapters, but nowhere is the brute anger that caused the revolution literalized more than in the rape of a peasant girl by a cruel aristocrat who thought that it was his right. Every interaction of one of the St. Evremonde brothers with the peasant siblings embodies their belief in the nonhuman nature of the lower classes. For instance, they call the boy a "crazed young common dog" for having the presumption to attack a nobleman with a sword. (In eighteenth-century France, sword-fights were a highly aristocratic affair with rules of behavior on either side.) The Evremondes consider it shameful to their family to have fought with a commoner. As the girl lies dying, her rapist comments on the "strength there is in these common bodies," with a detachment like he would display watching a strong animal die.
It is curious that Dickens includes this strong justification for the rage of the peasant class after he has roundly condemned the uncontrolled force of the mob. He portrays France as a consistently unworkable society; the abuses of the ancien regime were too brutal to allow a hierarchical society to continue, yet the excesses of the mob worked only in terms of revenge rather than in terms of reconstituting a sustainable society.
In Chapter 11, what Lucie thinks are her final words to her husband reinforce her pious and virtuous nature. She is still described as a golden angel, "with her hands touching one another in the attitude of prayer and with the radiant look on her face." She says to him: "we shall meet again, where the weary are at rest!" This sentiment is drawn directly from a passage in Job, where he curses the day of his birth and calls for his own death: "There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest" (Job 3:17). This association of Darnay and Lucie's troubles with Job's experience hints that the conflict is the result of circumstances out of their control and that, like Job, they may ultimately be rewarded for their patience and resignation.
Chapter 11 also makes heavy use of foreshadowing the resolution of the novel. After Darnay leaves the scene, Carton immediately becomes the forceful protagonist, carrying Lucie to her carriage and setting her up in her home. Little Lucie, with the insight of a child, says that she is sure that Carton can do something to help her mother. Carton is the last to lament that nothing can be done for Darnay, suggesting that he thinks quite the opposite.
In Chapter 12, Dickens provides Madame Defarge, his villain, with ample justification for her angry actions, though he subtly criticizes their performative nature. As Carton eavesdrops on her in the shop, she bares her secret to her friends, and her disclosure causes her readers "to derive a horrible enjoyment from the deadly nature of her wrath." The wrongs committed against the French lower classes, as demonstrated by the actions of the St. Evremonde family, were very real, and the impetus to class struggle has been justified. It is the escalation of the terror to a performance, with all its unreal inhumanity and extended suffering, that alarms Dickens.
The important part of the aristocrat Foulon's death in Book II, Chapter 22, is not the fact that he is a human being who is dying, but the ritualistic stuffing of grass in his mouth. Madame Defarge claps for this death as she would clap for a play. In the same way, her audience appreciates her pain not as a human emotion but as an abstract dramatic phenomenon. The performative nature of the French Revolution was recorded by many onlookers, who noted that women like Madame Defarge would attend executions at the guillotine and chat with their friends and knit as if they were at a show.
Although critics often complain that the characters do not undergo significant development in the novel, Carton shows a transformation which is completed in Chapter 13. At the beginning of the novel he was a dissolute man, interested only in alcohol. His love for Lucie, although unrequited, has had the power to lift him closer to his potential. At first he dislikes Darnay because he sees a man of identical features who has been virtuous and has made of his life what Carton could have made of his, but did not. This bitterness wears off as Carton becomes a better and better man through his association with the Manettes, resulting in a character so good that it may be mistaken for Darnay's. The successful interchange of the two men in this chapter symbolizes the completion of Carton's moral development, and this is the second time that he resurrects Darnay back to life. In this Carton becomes a Christ figure, taking the sins of the Evremondes upon himself out of love for Lucie.
Chapter 14 is dominated by the fall of Madame Defarge, the tragic villain. Dickens's attitude toward Madame Defarge continues to exemplify his stance on the French Revolution. Her rage is justified, but it has always exceeded its proper bounds. Dickens describes Madame Defarge as she crosses the streets towards the Manettes' house as a tigress circling in on her prey. Moreover, "If she ever had virtue in her, it had quite gone out of her." Here Dickens echoes the biblical verse in which a crowd all move to touch Jesus and he says, "Somebody hath touched me for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me." Madame Defarge's virtue of mercy and the ability to pity others have been forever stunted by the cold hand of experience, the injustices that she suffered under aristocratic French rule.
The title of the final chapter refers back to Lucie's presentiment that the footsteps which echoed through her home in London are the signals of people coming to intrude in her family life. This came true with the interference of the events of the French Revolution in her home. This title signifies not only that the family has escaped from Paris, but also from any other trials, and it suggests that they will live in uninterrupted happiness from now on.
The thematic emphasis of this chapter is on the irrevocable passage of time. Dickens describes Time as a "powerful enchanter" who never undoes the work he has done. The personification of time momentarily brings the reader out of the personal details of the characters in the story and back to the distant, fable-like tone of the first chapter of the novel. However, in his death, Carton gains the ability to transcend time. He is able to look into the future and see what happens to his loved ones. Carton will achieve a resurrection of sorts through the birth of Lucie and Darnay's son and grandson. Although it will be the far-reaching future, even those alive then will refer to themselves in terms of the past - they pass on the story of Carton's sacrifice. In this way, Carton lives up to his nickname of Memory, becoming a tangible memory through his reborn persona.
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