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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Summary
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Heading back to London, Jerry Cruncher stops at alehouses on the way, made uneasy by the night shadows and Lorry's strange message. The mail coach meanwhile bumps on to Dover, as Lorry dozes on and off through his own disturbing dreams. His present errand for Tellson's strikes him as digging someone out of a grave, and it inspires nightmare dialogues with a white-haired spectre.

"I hope you care to live?" Lorry twice asks his spectre. The answer: "I can't say."

The rising sun jolts the bank clerk awake, dispersing the night's bad dreams. Yet a seed has been planted in Jarvis Lorry's mind: being recalled to life, or resurrected, may not be an entirely blessed event. Still, the opposite of life is dismaying, as the beautiful sunlight reminds Lorry: "Eighteen years!" he cries. "To be buried alive for eighteen years!"


The lead paragraph of Chapter 3 is one of a very few times in the novel that Dickens changes his narrative voice. What does he gain from using "I," the first-person singular?

"I" commands attention. We note there's a break in the action, and concentrate on the meditative interjection that follows.

"I" is also a suitable persona for stepping back and commenting in general on what's been happening. Dickens as "I" philosophizes over the "wonderful fact" that human beings are basically mysteries to each other. "My friend is dead," he says, meaning, imagine I've lost a friend. Whether she's living or dead, her innermost personality remains secret; we can't break down the barriers of our individuality.

How does this insight relate to the story? Dickens applies it specifically to the passengers in the mail coach, all equally mysterious to each other. Yet characters throughout the novel hide secrets and memories, which even their loved ones can't decipher: Dr. Manette is one such character, Charles Darnay is another. Even Jarvis Lorry has something to reveal, as we learn in the next chapter.


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 father.

"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.


Jarvis Lorry suggests that Dr. Manette was imprisoned through a compatriot's "privilege of filling up blank forms." Such forms, called lettres de cachet in French, were arbitrary warrants of imprisonment. Powerful French nobles supposedly could obtain them for use against enemies or offending members of their own families. In Dr. Manette's case, the fear that he was indeed jailed by noble influence, and may still be in danger, has led to Tellson's and Lorry's policy of secrecy.

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