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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Summary
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Darnay's day in court comes at last. He is freed by the Tribunal, thanks to Dr. Manette's efforts and prestige, and the testimony of Gabelle.

"I have saved him," announces Dr. Manette. Is this a judgment you should take as final? Look at these signs that Dickens is already undercutting Dr. Manette's-and Charles Darnay's-"triumph."

The people carry Darnay home in a "wild dreamlike procession." They are Darnay's supporters, but they don't seem like it to him. Darnay half-imagines he's in a tumbril headed for the guillotine.

Appearances aside, Darnay's cheering crowd is fickle. Darnay well knows that the same people, "carried by another current, would have rushed at him" and torn him to pieces.

In the next chapter Dickens' hints and Lucie Darnay's "heavy fears" are realized. Darnay is retaken the night of his release. A shocked Dr. Manette learns that Darnay's denouncers were the Defarges and "one other," to be revealed the next day.


Readers have remarked on Dickens' deep understanding of the atmosphere and mentality of a society ruled by fear. The night before Darnay's trial the jailer calls 23 names, yet only 20 prisoners respond. The missing three, dead, have already been forgotten. This is typical of a totalitarian society, in which the individual sheds his or her importance. Think of the mass graves that characterize modern "terrors"- those carried out by Nazis, or Latin-American death squads-and you have an idea of Dickens' meaning.

Many of Darnay's fellow prisoners have a secret attraction to death: "a wild infection of the wildly shaken public mind." This is an insight into the mentality of a prison or police-state, in which people have an irresistible urge to confess, to conform to the will of the state. (After Sydney Carton dies, you might want to return to this passage, applying it not to politics, but to his personal motives.)


Several strands of the plot meet here. As you follow the coincidences, keep in mind that Dickens had no shame in using them. He felt that a well-drawn, unified atmosphere made coincidence appear logical, even likely.

Miss Pross encounters her long-lost brother, Solomon, in a Parisian wine shop.

Sydney Carton, revealed as Lorry's secret guest, steps from the shadows. He and Jerry Cruncher, both present at Darnay's Old Bailey trial 13 years before, identify Solomon Pross as John Barsad. Having overheard Barsad's conversation in the wine shop, Carton further places him as a "Sheep of the Prisons," a spy.

In a conference between Barsad, Lorry, Carton, and Cruncher, Carton suggests that Barsad has a co-spy in Paris, Roger Cly. Barsad protests that Cly is dead, but Cruncher backs Carton up. He claims, with an air of authority that Cly was never in his coffin at Saint Pancras-in-the-Fields. In Carton's words, Cly has "feigned death and come to life again," an ironic description that puts Cly in the category of "resurrected" characters along with Darnay and Dr. Manette.


We've reached the night before Charles Darnay's second trial. Though Darnay is in peril, the story's emphasis is shifting to Sydney Carton. While preparing to save Charles Darnay, Carton readies himself to die. He makes a deal with Barsad to gain access to the prisoner, and he purchases some unnamed, potent drugs. Prophetically he tells Jarvis Lorry, " young way was never the way to age."

During an all-night tramp through the Paris streets, Carton recalls at three separate moments the words read over his father's grave: "I am the Resurrection and the Life...."

Dickens closes the chapter with a four-star revelation: at Darnay's retrial, Defarge produces a paper he found five years ago in One Hundred and Five, North Tower. Dead silence falls on the court, as all wait to hear Dr. Manette's long-lost words.

Imagine you're one of the original readers of A Tale of Two Cities, making weekly trips to the newsstand for the latest installment. At this point in the story you're hooked. The novel's last few chapters are remarkably compressed, filled to bursting with emotion and events. They're true page-turners.


The contents of Dr. Manette's journal are "the substance" of the shadow that periodically falls on him. We finally peer into the dark cloud of his imprisonment.

Dr. Manette's journal contains some of the most theatrical writing in the novel. The violated peasant girl shrieking, "My husband, my father, and my brother!" then counting to twelve, her dying brother's passionate curse-both episodes could be set with little alteration on stage.

Depending on your taste, the theatrics may or may not appeal to you, but try to appreciate Dickens' skill in tying up plot ends. You've learned why Charles Darnay, as a member of the St. Evremonde family, threw his new father-in-law into amnesiac shock; you know the reason behind Darnay's promises to his mother to treat his peasants fairly.

In the uproar following the reading of the journal and the pronouncing of Darnay's death sentence, it's easy to forget that one secret remains: the identity of the young sister, the only surviving member of the ill-used peasant family.

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