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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Summary
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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.


Saint Antoine has come into its own as a personification, a character in the story. In the last chapter the arrival of Defarge and the mender of roads lights a "kind of fire in the breast" of the suburb; here, when Barsad leaves the wine shop, "the Saint took courage to lounge in."

The notion of a lifelike "saint" welds the citizens of Saint Antoine into one, a collective force. An appropriate effect, since these people will soon be acting as part of a single, unreasoning entity: a mob.


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.


Can we isolate what's causing the doctor's amnesia? Partly, separation from Lucie-ever since their meeting in Paris father and daughter have been constantly together. But our most telling clue to Dr. Manette's behavior is the closed-door meeting he held with Charles Darnay just before the wedding. Recall that Darnay promised to reveal his true name, and reason for living in England, on his wedding morning. There's a connection between Charles Darnay's family, and Dr. Manette's long period of darkness in the Bastille.


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. Dickens' description of the process makes the faithful friends look like ritual murderers. Indeed, Miss Pross and Lorry almost feel like accomplices in crime.

With this sinister description of innocence that looks like guilt, Dickens may be telling us that it's often hard to tell reality and unreality apart. Things aren't what they seem. On the other hand, Dickens may simply be adding to the thickening atmosphere of impending violence.


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.


The first half of the chapter, set in London, may remind you of the passage-of-time sequences in old movies: you can almost see the pages dropping off the calendar. 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.

Notice that the echoing footsteps of II, 6- "Hundreds of People"- are back. In the first half of the chapter some are harmless, including the tread of Lucie's child. But as the chapter shifts orientation toward Paris, the footsteps grow menacing, and then "headlong, mad, and dangerous."

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 thoroughly. We don't learn what, if anything, he discovers.

The running-water imagery Dickens introduced earlier has been expanded. The Bastille attackers are a "sea of black and threatening waters... whose forces were yet unknown." More water follows, as the endless waves of rioting Parisians spill into the next chapter.


The taking of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 kicked off the long-simmering French Revolution. Conquering the hated fortress-prison was a heady victory for the people, and July 14, Bastille Day, remains a national holiday in France, the equivalent of our July 4.

Dickens' account of the battle, and of the massacre of old Foulon in the next chapter, owe much to Thomas Carlyle's description in The French Revolution (see Sources).

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