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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Summary
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The chapter titles, "Dusk" and "Darkness," refer not only to the time of day, but to the apparently darkening situation.

Lorry, Lucie, and Darnay himself are sure the death sentence will be carried out. Lucie even faints away in the courtroom. (Many actions in the novel mirror previous ones: remember that Lucie has fainted before in a courtroom where Darnay was on trial.) Now, Carton kisses her, murmuring, "A life you love"- words from his earlier promise. Dr. Manette goes off alone, hoping to reverse the jury's decision. Then Carton is off, with the "settled step" of a man who knows what he's doing.

Notice that Carton has taken the role of calling the shots. Who is left to act besides Carton? Lucie is prostrated by grief, Lorry is old, Pross and Cruncher can't speak the language. In Chapter 12 Dr. Manette, the former bulwark, lapses into amnesia. Only Carton behaves forcefully, polishing his plan to "resurrect" Darnay.

A stop at the Defarge wine shop serves to make Carton's likeness to Darnay known. It's a precaution-Carton is planning for Darnay later to pass as himself. Pretending a poor command of French, Carton learns of Madame Defarge's intentions to denounce Lucie, her child, and Dr. Manette. Smiting her chest, Madame Defarge reveals that she is the one survivor of "that peasant family so injured by the two Evremonde brothers." Therese Defarge's all-consuming purpose is vengeance. She's as unreasoning and destructive as natural phenomena. When her husband gingerly suggests moderation, she responds, "Tell the wind and the fire where to stop; not me!"

Carton has two more errands: a last meeting with John Barsad in the shadow of the prison wall, and a talk with Jarvis Lorry. He and Lorry are interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Manette, piteously crying for his shoemaker's bench. The doctor had drawn all his recent strength from his power to save Charles Darnay; now, with Darnay doomed, Dr. Manette is a defeated man.

Carton and Lorry make preparations for escape. To avoid denunciation from Madame Defarge-damning testimony to be supplied by the little woodcutter-Lucie, her father, her daughter, and Lorry must leave France at once. They're to meet Carton at two o'clock in Tellson's courtyard, and then flee. Carton gives the proper exit papers to Lorry for safekeeping; then he escorts the confused doctor back to Lucie's house. Looking up at her window, Carton bids farewell, a reminder of the great love he holds in his heart. Sydney Carton will never see Lucie again.


Charles Darnay prepares for the death he believes is coming, his journey to "the boundless everlasting sea." Notice how Dickens' depiction of water has evolved. In the city and village fountains water flowed as a source of life. Later it overflowed, a symbol of the destructive mob. Now, for Darnay, water again means life, everlasting life.

In the letters he writes to loved ones, Darnay never thinks to include Carton. Now that you know Carton will save Darnay's life, what do you think of the omission? It's irony, used by Dickens to heighten his ending. Darnay is amazed at Carton's sudden appearance, two hours before his scheduled execution. Darnay notices a great change in Carton-"something bright and remarkable in his look"- and fears he's seeing an "apparition."

Have you ever had an intuition that something, good or bad, was about to happen to a friend or member of your family? Darnay's fear for Sydney Carton is intuitive. About to die, Carton is indeed on his way to the spirit world. Powered by "supernatural" strength and will, Carton orders Darnay to exchange clothes with him and copy a letter he dictates to Lucie: "If it had been otherwise..." (if, presumably, Carton had married Lucie), "I should but have had so much the more to answer for." By now Darnay's handwriting is trailing off: Carton has been inconspicuously drugging his double. Barsad comes to carry Darnay's unconscious form to his family and waiting carriage.

When the jailer calls Darnay, Carton responds in his place. Following the jailer to a large, dark room, he encounters a young seamstress who had been imprisoned with Darnay in La Force. Carton's heart softens toward the innocent girl, and he comforts her. The act adds another dimension of nobility to his sacrifice. The seamstress realizes Carton is dying for another man, and asks to hold his "brave hand."


To show the narrow escape of Lucie and her party, Dickens shifts from third to first person: "We strike into the skirting mud"; "we are for getting out and running...." The change of voice draws readers into the action. You almost feel right in the carriage. Only one leading character
is excluded from the escaping coach and the fellowship implied by "we": Sydney Carton, the perpetual outsider.

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