Thematic Study on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities


At the beginning, Dickens  introduces 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.


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…!”


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 specter.

“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!”


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.


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.


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.



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



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.


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. .


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.  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



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.”


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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



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.


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.



Darnay travels slowly across France with a government-imposed escort.

On arriving in Paris, he’s promptly arrested under the terms of a

recent, antiemigrant decree.  Darnay’s guard, Ernest Defarge,

recognizes him as Lucie’s husband, but he resolutely withholds aid.

On the way to his cell in La Force prison, Darnay encounters a group

of imprisoned aristocrats.  Their refinement and good manners amid

filth and squalor make them seem ghostlike:  “the crowning unreality

of his long unreal ride.” Here, finally, is a touch of sympathy in

Dickens’ treatment of the French aristocracy, now on its way out.

Dickens seems genuinely to mourn the passing of aristocratic beauty,

stateliness, elegance, and wit.  Yet do you see a change in his

essential characterization of the ruling classes?  In power or out,

the aristocrats are a picture of unreality.  They don’t mesh with

life’s true conditions.

Placed in solitary confinement (“in secret”), Darnay paces off the

measurements of his cell.  His mind is full of disturbing thought

fragments–about Lucie, Dr.  Manette, and his recent strange journey.


Lucie and Dr.  Manette follow Darnay to Paris.  They burst in on a

surprised Jarvis Lorry, who knows nothing of Darnay’s presence or


We’re in the midst of the September Massacres (September 2-6, 1792)

when over a thousand prisoners in Paris were slaughtered.  The

murderers sharpen their weapons in the courtyard of Tellson’s Paris

office, at a whirring grindstone.  Try comparing these blood-soaked

“ruffians” with the wine-soaked citizens in front of Defarge’s wine

shop 17 years ago.  Don’t the smears of blood resemble those earlier

smears of wine?  Dickens has set up a deliberate correspondence

between blood and wine.  It’s one way he evokes the spirit of


Lucie, little Lucie, and Miss Pross spend the long, bloody night with

Jarvis Lorry, in his rooms above Tellson’s headquarters.  Dr.

Manette leaves with a cheering crowd.  As a former Bastille prisoner,

the doctor has automatic prestige and influence with the masses.

He’s confident that his authority will save Charles Darnay.


In the morning Jarvis Lorry finds lodgings for Lucie and Miss Pross,

leaving them Jerry Cruncher as a bodyguard.  Dr.  Manette doesn’t

return, but sends a note via Defarge that Darnay is safe.  Dr.

Manette, Defarge, his wife, and The Vengeance go together to deliver

a second note to Lucie, from Darnay himself.

The Defarges and The Vengeance cast a figurative shadow over Lucie

and her child.  The description is an alert that the Defarge trio

constitutes a threat.  As you should be coming to expect, Dickens

again divides his world into light and darkness.  Lucie, “the golden

thread,” is falling into the power of her dark opposite, Madame



The personal fortunes of Dr.  Manette and his family are contrasted

with the increasing agitation in France.  Though unable to free his

son-in-law, the doctor displays unforeseen strength.  His past

sufferings, previously the source of his weakness, now guarantee his

safety and give him endurance for supporting his dependents as

violence sweeps the country.  Dr.  Manette becomes inspecting

physician at three prisons, visiting Darnay weekly and becoming one

of the best-known men in Paris.  Any signs of past imprisonment that

now cling to him are positive; he’s “a Spirit moving among mortals.”


The chapter’s centerpiece is the wild Carmagnole, a street dance done

to a popular tune of the same name.  Pay attention to Dickens’

treatment of the Carmagnole.  If you’ve ever seen films or

reenactments of war dances, you may pick up similarities.

Charles Darnay’s imprisonment has stretched to 15 months.  Each

afternoon Lucie stands across from La Force, hoping her husband may

catch a glimpse of her.  A little wood-sawyer, whom we knew formerly

as the little mender of roads, takes suspicious notice of Lucie’s

comings and goings.  On a December afternoon, standing at her usual

post, Lucie first spots the Carmagnole and is terrified.


Darnay’s day in court comes at last.  He is freed by the Tribunal,

thanks to Dr.  Manette’s efforts and prestige, and the testimony of


“I have saved him,” announces Dr.  Manette.  Is this a judgment you

should take as final?  Look at these signs that Dickens is already

undercutting Dr.  Manette’s–and Charles Darnay’s–“triumph.”

The people carry Darnay home in a “wild dreamlike procession.” They

are Darnay’s supporters, but they don’t seem like it to him.  Darnay

half-imagines he’s in a tumbril headed for the guillotine.

Appearances aside, Darnay’s cheering crowd is fickle.  Darnay well

knows that the same people, “carried by another current, would have

rushed at him” and torn him to pieces.

In the next chapter Dickens’ hints and Lucie Darnay’s “heavy fears”

are realized.  Darnay is retaken the night of his release.  A shocked

Dr.  Manette learns that Darnay’s denouncers were the Defarges and

“one other,” to be revealed the next day.


Several strands of the plot meet here.  As you follow the

coincidences, keep in mind that Dickens had no shame in using them.

He felt that a well-drawn, unified atmosphere made coincidence appear

logical, even likely.

Miss Pross encounters her long-lost brother, Solomon, in a Parisian wine shop.

Sydney Carton, revealed as Lorry’s secret guest, steps from the

shadows.  He and Jerry Cruncher, both present at Darnay’s Old Bailey

trial 13 years before, identify Solomon Pross as John Barsad.  Having

overheard Barsad’s conversation in the wine shop, Carton further

places him as a “Sheep of the Prisons,” a spy.

In a conference between Barsad, Lorry, Carton, and Cruncher, Carton

suggests that Barsad has a co-spy in Paris, Roger Cly.  Barsad

protests that Cly is dead, but Cruncher backs Carton up.  He claims,

with an air of authority that Cly was never in his coffin at Saint

Pancras-in-the-Fields.  In Carton’s words, Cly has “feigned death and

come to life again,” an ironic description that puts Cly in the

category of “resurrected” characters along with Darnay and Dr.



We’ve reached the night before Charles Darnay’s second trial.  Though

Darnay is in peril, the story’s emphasis is shifting to Sydney

Carton.  While preparing to save Charles Darnay, Carton readies

himself to die.  He makes a deal with Barsad to gain access to the

prisoner, and he purchases some unnamed, potent drugs.  Prophetically

he tells Jarvis Lorry, “…my young way was never the way to age.”

During an all-night tramp through the Paris streets, Carton recalls

at three separate moments the words read over his father’s grave:  “I

am the Resurrection and the Life….”

Dickens closes the chapter with a four-star revelation:  at Darnay’s

retrial, Defarge produces a paper he found five years ago in One

Hundred and Five, North Tower.  Dead silence falls on the court, as

all wait to hear Dr.  Manette’s long-lost words.


The contents of Dr.  Manette’s journal are “the substance” of the

shadow that periodically falls on him.  We finally peer into the dark

cloud of his imprisonment.

Dr.  Manette’s journal contains some of the most theatrical writing

in the novel.  The violated peasant girl shrieking, “My husband, my

father, and my brother!” then counting to twelve, her dying brother’s

passionate curse–both episodes could be set with little alteration

on stage.

Depending on your taste, the theatrics may or may not appeal to you,

but try to appreciate Dickens’ skill in tying up plot ends.  You’ve

learned why Charles Darnay, as a member of the St.  Evremonde family,

threw his new father-in-law into amnesiac shock; you know the reason

behind Darnay’s promises to his mother to treat his peasants fairly.

In the uproar following the reading of the journal and the

pronouncing of Darnay’s death sentence, it’s easy to forget that one

secret remains:  the identity of the young sister, the only surviving

member of the ill-used peasant family.


Lorry, Lucie, and Darnay himself are sure the death sentence will be

carried out.  Lucie even faints away in the courtroom.  (Many actions

in the novel mirror previous ones:  remember that Lucie has fainted

before in a courtroom where Darnay was on trial.) Now, Carton kisses

her, murmuring, “A life you love”–words from his earlier promise.

Dr.  Manette goes off alone, hoping to reverse the jury’s decision.

Then Carton is off, with the “settled step” of a man who knows what

he’s doing.

Notice that Carton has taken the role of calling the shots.  Who is

left to act besides Carton?  Lucie is prostrated by grief, Lorry is

old, Pross and Cruncher can’t speak the language.  In Chapter 12 Dr.

Manette, the former bulwark, lapses into amnesia.  Only Carton

behaves forcefully, polishing his plan to “resurrect” Darnay.

A stop at the Defarge wine shop serves to make Carton’s likeness to

Darnay known.  It’s a precaution–Carton is planning for Darnay later

to pass as himself.  Pretending a poor command of French, Carton

learns of Madame Defarge’s intentions to denounce Lucie, her child,

and Dr.  Manette.  Smiting her chest, Madame Defarge reveals that she

is the one survivor of “that peasant family so injured by the two

Evremonde brothers.” Therese Defarge’s all-consuming purpose is

vengeance.  She’s as unreasoning and destructive as natural

phenomena.  When her husband gingerly suggests moderation, she

responds, “Tell the wind and the fire where to stop; not me!”

Carton has two more errands:  a last meeting with John Barsad in the

shadow of the prison wall, and a talk with Jarvis Lorry.  He and

Lorry are interrupted by the arrival of Dr.  Manette, piteously

crying for his shoemaker’s bench.  The doctor had drawn all his

recent strength from his power to save Charles Darnay; now, with

Darnay doomed, Dr.  Manette is a defeated man.

Carton and Lorry make preparations for escape.  To avoid denunciation

from Madame Defarge–damning testimony to be supplied by the little

woodcutter–Lucie, her father, her daughter, and Lorry must leave

France at once.  They’re to meet Carton at two o’clock in Tellson’s

courtyard, and then flee.  Carton gives the proper exit papers to

Lorry for safekeeping; then he escorts the confused doctor back to

Lucie’s house.  Looking up at her window, Carton bids farewell, a

reminder of the great love he holds in his heart.  Sydney Carton will

never see Lucie again.


Charles Darnay prepares for the death he believes is coming, his

journey to “the boundless everlasting sea.” Notice how Dickens’

depiction of water has evolved.  In the city and village fountains

water flowed as a source of life.  Later it overflowed, a symbol of

the destructive mob.  Now, for Darnay, water again means life,

everlasting life.

In the letters he writes to loved ones, Darnay never thinks to

include Carton.

Darnay’s fear for Sydney Carton is intuitive.  About to die, Carton is indeed on his

way to the spirit world.  Powered by “supernatural” strength and

will, Carton orders Darnay to exchange clothes with him and copy a

letter he dictates to Lucie:  “If it had been otherwise…” (if,

presumably, Carton had married Lucie), “I should but have had so much

the more to answer for.” By now Darnay’s handwriting is trailing off:

Carton has been inconspicuously drugging his double.  Barsad comes to

carry Darnay’s unconscious form to his family and waiting carriage.

When the jailer calls Darnay, Carton responds in his place.

Following the jailer to a large, dark room, he encounters a young

seamstress who had been imprisoned with Darnay in La Force.  Carton’s

heart softens toward the innocent girl, and he comforts her.  The act

adds another dimension of nobility to his sacrifice.  The seamstress

realizes Carton is dying for another man, and asks to hold his “brave




Fearing her husband may try to warn Dr.  Manette, Madame Defarge

plans to denounce Lucie and her father that very night.

Armed with concealed pistol and dagger, Madame Defarge sets off for

Lucie’s house.  She hopes to catch her prey “in a state of mind to

impeach the justice of the Republic.” In effect, any mourning Lucie

displayed for her husband would “impeach” the Republic’s justice, and

dig her own grave.

As Madame Defarge draws nearer, Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher make

their own preparations for escaping France.  Cruncher repents of his

sins–body snatching and wife beating–but Miss Pross is too

preoccupied to understand him.  She and Cruncher are to follow

Lucie’s party in a light carriage.  For the sake of good strategy,

Miss Pross arranges to meet Cruncher and their carriage at 3 o’clock

at the cathedral door.  He leaves–and Miss Pross faces Madame

Defarge alone.

“Ladybird”; Madame Defarge fights from her consuming hatred of the

St.  Evremondes and their class.

LIFE VERSUS DEATH:  Madame Defarge’s unannounced entrance causes Miss

Pross to drop a basin of water.  The spilled water, a life-force,

flows to meet Madame Defarge’s feet, which have marched through “much

staining blood.” The meeting of water with blood signals the

confrontation between life and death that follows.

BRITAIN VERSUS FRANCE:  The two women are very determined, but direct

opposites.  Each believes the other’s nationality to be a weakness.

“You shall not get the better of me,” announces Miss Pross.  “I am an

Englishwoman.” Earlier in the story Miss Pross’ self-proclaimed

Britishness has comic overtones.  Here it is deadly serious.

The struggle results in Madame Defarge’s death by her own pistol.

Miss Pross meets Jerry on schedule, and they make their escape.  What

is the price of Miss Pross’ victory?  She’s rendered deaf forever.

We’re left to speculate on what her deafness means.  For some

readers, it’s a sober statement of the realities of life:  neither

love nor patriotism can ever triumph completely.


How do you respond to the death of Sydney Carton?  Many readers find

an undeniable sadness and impact.  Carton’s final journey in the

rumbling death-cart is a kind of twist on the novel’s opening journey

where Jarvis Lorry recalled a man to life.  Carton, too, has recalled

someone to life–Charles Darnay–but at the cost of riding to his own


For the first time, Madame Defarge’s chair at the guillotine is

empty, and her knitting lies untouched.  Madame Defarge’s death has

ensured the safe escape of the Darnay family and friends, but it

cannot help Carton now.  Just before he dies, making the ultimate

sacrifice for Lucie, the words of the burial service pass once more

through his mind:  “I am the Resurrection and the Life….” Sacrifice

and resurrection:  Carton’s death interweaves these two great themes

of the novel.

Let the power of Carton’s act–and Dickens’ skill in depicting

it–sink in.  Then, consider whether the novel’s ending is truly

hopeful, or if it has pessimistic overtones.  The last few pages can

be read from both points of view.

Chances are you’ve heard the novel’s famous closing words, “It is a

far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done….” These

words end Sydney Carton’s final prophetic vision in which all wrongs

are set right.  The vision is proof of a hopeful ending, proof that

Carton doesn’t die in vain.  In it the current oppressors die on

their own guillotine; a beautiful France rises out of the ashes; Dr.

Manette recovers his sanity; and Lucie Darnay’s son, named for

Carton, becomes an honored man who brings his own child to see the

place of Carton’s sacrifice.  Through the act of fulfilling his old

promise to Lucie, Carton demonstrates that individual love can

triumph over a chaotic society–and the march of history.

But note how Dickens qualifies Carton’s vision with the word “if.” If

Carton’s thoughts had been prophetic, they would have been the

hopeful ones recorded.