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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Summary
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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. Dickens likens her to a "golden thread" uniting her father to the time before and after his misery. Indeed, "The Golden Thread" title of Book II signifies tranquility and domestic peace. It soothes Dr. Manette's "black brooding," and yet, as Book II progresses, will be threatened by other dark forces. As the story continues, watch for explicit contrasts between light and dark.

A swift, on-target sketch of the lawyer Stryver-he's "stout, loud, red, bluff, and free from any drawback of delicacy"- is followed by an uncomfortable exchange between Lorry and Carton. The heart of the chapter, though, is the second meeting between the doubles.


You can read Carton's evident hostility toward Darnay as jealousy, self-pity, drunkenness, or a combination of the three. Yet keep in mind that no one but Stryver knows of Carton's role in saving Darnay's life; Carton himself doesn't mention it. Carton's actions, good and bad, ultimately lead to his great sacrifice at the end of the novel. You'll be constantly reevaluating your feelings toward Carton. He's an outsider, a drunk, a man who pities himself, yet he has a firm grip on our sympathy.

When Darnay leaves him, Carton, half-drunk, goes to a mirror and studies his reflection. This is the third time Dickens has lingered on a mirror. One hung in the courtroom above Charles Darnay, another stood behind Lucie Manette at the Dover inn. Mirrors have multiple meanings in A Tale; they may express unreality, self-division, ghosts, the past, death, and dreams. (The mirror above Darnay in the Old Bailey had stored up reflections of "crowds of the wicked and the wretched," all of them dead.)

On one level, the mirror Carton stares into, distractedly, shows his close resemblance to Darnay. The two men are such "mirror images" that Darnay, previously left alone with his "double of coarse deportment," felt himself in a dream. Yet the mirror also shows Carton what he might have been, and occasionally is: a man like Darnay. In this way it expresses Carton's sense of the two different sides of his nature.


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 Lucie?

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 himself.


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.

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