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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Summary
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The slaughter of old Foulon, a notorious oppressor of the masses, and of his son-in-law are depicted graphically.


What is Dickens' attitude toward the mob he so vividly creates? Consider several possibilities.

The "day's bad work" revolts him. Dickens characterizes Foulon as an old man, begging pathetically for his life. The Revolutionary women who desert their children and aged parents to snatch up weapons, are worse, even, than the men. The Vengeance (the complimentary name bestowed on the plump wife of a starved grocer) seems especially unsympathetic.

The mob enthralls Dickens. He writes vigorously because he's involved, and he puts himself in the place of the shrieking women and stern men. The mob is a projection of Dickens' dark side, his feelings of political and social powerlessness.

Dickens deplores the mob's action, yet he sympathizes with their plight. The chapter's final scenes paint a picture of wailing, hungry children waiting for their parents' return from the slaughter. The men and women do their meager shopping, as usual. There is human fellowship, and there are lovers who, with "such a world around them and before them, loved and hoped."


The burning of the Marquis' great chateau-done by outsiders but supported by all the villagers-marks a shift in Dickens' imagery. The Revolutionary "sea" has changed to rising fire. As the chateau flares, molten lead and iron boil in the fountain's marble basin. The water has been consumed.

Notice how the fire obliterates all traces of Charles Darnay's dead uncle: a stone face that resembles his is obscured, "as if it were the face of the cruel Marquis, burning at the stake." The villagers believe that the stone faces on the chateau have changed twice. After the Marquis was stabbed, they were faces of pain; when Gaspard died, they bore "avenging looks." The obliteration of these stone faces marks the end of the Marquis' influence. In a way, the fire is his second death-it shows that the Marquis' soldiers and functionaries have finally lost their power to protect his interests.

Also notice Dickens' care, during this fiery night, to add plot details. He tells us that Gabelle, the chief functionary, has been collecting few taxes these days, and no rent at all. Even so, the angry villagers surround Gabelle's house, hoping for vengeance. The tax collector is fortunate to survive the night.


August 1792. Three years have passed since the storming of the Bastille. France has overthrown its monarchy and many nobles-collectively referred to as "Monseigneur"- have fled the country. These emigrants gather regularly at Tellson's Bank in London to mourn their past glory and curse the new order in France. One day a letter arrives at the bank for "Monsieur heretofore the Marquis St. Evremonde," that is, for Charles Darnay. St. Evremonde is Darnay's true name. He confided it to Dr. Manette on his wedding morning, and to no one else.

The mysterious letter has come from Gabelle, the tax collector. Following Darnay's instructions, Gabelle had eased the burden on the villagers; he has been arrested nonetheless and sent to L'Abbaye prison in Paris, charged with the crime of working for an emigrant. At once, Darnay resolves to go to Gabelle's aid. If you found yourself in Darnay's place, would you make such a trip? Readers have taken three conflicting perspectives on Darnay's decision.

Darnay's return to strife-filled France is sheer foolishness, akin to jogging through a minefield. Darnay is so confident his good intentions will protect him that he doesn't check out the current situation in France, or consider that the people might feel hostile toward any aristocrat, even a reformed one.

Courage, duty, and pride combine to send Darnay back to his homeland. He has a duty to free Gabelle, and to dispose of his property once and for all. What's more, his pride is touched by the insults of Stryver and the collected emigrants at Tellson's. Finally, as a much younger man than Jarvis Lorry, who is about to journey to Paris for Tellson's, Darnay feels that he, too, should be brave enough to handle the French situation.

Darnay is a tool of fate. France is his destiny; he's drawn to the violence there as if to a lodestone rock, or magnet. Lucie's fantasy of thundering footsteps is about to be realized.

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