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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Summary
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES

BOOK THE SECOND

CHAPTER 7

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. Historians consider the Farmer-General system one of the abuses that helped cause the French Revolution; it makes sense that Dickens, laying groundwork for the strife to come, mentions it.

Can you list Monseigneur's character traits? For many readers, such individual traits are missing. They find Monseigneur the personification of an entire class, a symbol for the ruling nobility. Thinking along the same lines, other readers believe that Monsieur the Marquis, introduced as he leaves Monseigneur's rooms in disfavor, personifies the French rural gentry. Let's check this interpretation of the Marquis against his actual behavior.


The 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 wheels.

Now, consider. Does the Marquis' extra bit of callousness strike you as one more mark of the privileged classes? Or does he emerge as an individual, if cruel, personality?

NOTE: THE FOUNTAIN RUNS ITS COURSE

Gaspard's baby is killed near the communal fountain of Saint Antoine. In the upcoming chapter two more fountains flow-one in the Marquis' village, and the other at his country house. Dickens' use of water imagery follows a pattern. The Saint Antoine and village fountains are, first of all, centers of neighborhood activity and sources of life-sustaining water. But, already, the Saint Antoine fountain suggests fate: "The water of the fountain ran, the swift river ran,... all things ran their course."

Later the water swells into a sea (II, 22) and metamorphoses into fire (II, 23). Flood and fire, both natural disasters, become apt metaphors for the raging destructiveness of the Revolutionary mobs.

CHAPTER 8

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."

NOTE: A PUN

Monsieur Gabelle's name contains a pun: the gabelle was the despised salt-tax, a leading cause of the Revolution. Again, notice how Dickens takes every opportunity to prepare you for the Revolution in 1789.

CHAPTER 9

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.

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