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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 10

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 consciousness.


CHAPTERS 11 AND 12

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.

For readers familiar with most of Dickens' work, A Tale of Two Cities seems untypical. These readers cite the novel's rapid pace, lighter than usual detail, and sparing use of humor and dialogue as departures from Dickens' usual style. These two chapters, however, come closer to "traditional" Dickens. Their contribution to the plot is relatively small, and they depend on humorous dialogue (such as Stryver's sudden reversal at the end of Chapter 12).

Yet Stryver the man isn't especially humorous. Dickens describes him sharply, in terms of his size and obnoxious "shouldering" ability. Stryver is the new man, making social and financial strides in Victorian society; he's a "fellow of delicacy" in no one's eyes but his own.

CHAPTER 13

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.

NOTE: DICKENS' SENTIMENTALITY

Dickens has been accused of excessive sentimentality, especially when one of his young heroines is involved. Sydney Carton's address to Lucie Manette is a case in point: he praises her "pure and innocent breast," and exclaims, "God bless you for your sweet compassion!"

Dickens means us to take this chapter seriously. Faced with his intentions, you should decide whether the emotional fireworks help or hinder the novel. On one hand, you can accept Carton as a man of extremes-a self-destructive alcoholic-who can carry off extravagant speeches. On the other hand, his dramatics may impress you as a little overdone. You may also succumb to modern taste, and grow somewhat weary of Lucie's unchanging goodness.

CHAPTER 14

At last we're let in on Jerry Cruncher's secret profession. He unearths recently buried bodies and sells them to doctors for medical research.

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." (We're not told what he turned up until Book III.)

NOTE: A MOB SCENE

A London mob escorts Roger Cly's coffin to its grave. Most of the participants have no idea what they're jeering and rioting; any excuse for breaking windows and looting taverns suffices. This mob is tame compared to those you'll meet in Paris, but the scene is a prelude to the unbridled violence to come.

CHAPTER 15

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 Darnay.

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.

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