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Free Study Guide: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - Free BookNotes

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A TALE OF TWO CITIES: LITERARY ANALYSIS

BOOK TWO: The Golden Thread

CHAPTER SIX: Hundreds of People

Summary

Dr. Manette lives on a quiet street corner near Soho square. One Sunday, four months after Darnay’s trial Mr. Lorry goes to dine with him. The doctor, restored to health and sanity, now earns good money by treating patients and conducting ingenious experiments. Mr. Lorry observes that the Doctor has the shoemaker's bench and tray of tools. He wonders aloud why the Doctor would want to keep such a painful reminder. He is interrupted by Miss Pross, the nurse, who feels that it is perfectly fine for him to do so.

Miss Pross is upset because hundreds of suitors come to visit Lucie every day. She is a very jealous woman, prone to exaggeration. She is also absolutely and selflessly devoted to Lucie Manette. When Mr. Darnay arrives after lunch, Miss Pross is visibly upset and goes into the house. The Manettes, however, receive him warmly. Darnay tells them a story he had heard while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Some workmen had apparently come upon an old dungeon, unused for a long time, with names of prisoners carved upon the walls. Upon digging below a corner stone, on which some unfortunate prisoner had carved the word dig, they found the ashes of a paper along with the ashes of a leather bag.

All this talk of dungeons and prisoners unnerves Dr. Manette. It starts to rain, and they go indoors from the courtyard. Inside, Miss Pross, who is still upset, serves tea, just as Mr. Carton walks in. He keeps to himself and appears moody. Lucie, while looking out of the window, gets a premonition that the footsteps outside the house signify people who are going to enter their lives someday. Mr. Carton adds his own premonition by remarking that he too sees a huge crowd coming toward the whole group in a menacing way.

Notes

Dickens paints an idyllic scene of the Manette household in Soho. It is a place where friends can gather, far away from the turmoil of politics. It is a stark contrast to the Defarge residence earlier described. The center of this place is Lucie, who is the "golden thread" binding then all together with her love. The suitors visiting the Manettes are not hundreds in number, simply Darnay, Stryver, and Carton. Miss Pross, the devoted nurse, exaggerates the figure as she complains to Mr. Lorry.


The idyllic mood in the courtyard is interrupted by rain, just as the mood of the story begins to shift. Darnay's story about something buried in the prison has a disturbing effect on Dr. Manette, for it seems to revive painful memories. Once inside, tea is served by an upset Miss Pross, who grows more irritated upon the arrival of Carton. The premonitions of Lucie and Carton are negative and hint at disastrous things to come.


CHAPTER SEVEN: The Marquis in Paris

Summary

Monseigneur, the Marquis, is an influential member of the ruling oligarch, known for his selfishness. He sits in his Parisian suite drinking chocolate served by four men. Various members of high society congregate in his reception rooms. Their fancy dress and false conversations are reflective of their pretentious natures. Known for their disinterest and uselessness, they are engaged in occupations about which they know little and which interest them little.

Monseigneur makes a brief public appearance during which he scorns one of the petitioners; it is Marquis St. Evremonde, a man of about sixty. He is handsomely dressed and has a haughty manner. His pale face is clearly defined like a fine mask. Evremonde is infuriated at the slight and curses Monseigneur to the devil.

The Marquis takes his carriage through the streets of Paris with his coachman driving recklessly, unchecked by his master. There have been many complaints about the rash driving by the aristocracy that has endangered and maimed many a commoner, but Evremonde does not care. When his carriage swoops around a corner, one of the wheels comes to a sickening jolt. There is a loud cry from a number of voices, and the horses rear and force the carriage to halt. The frightened valet gets down hurriedly, while the Marquis calmly asks what the matter is. A child has been killed by the carriage, and a thin man, Gaspard, is bent over the body, howling loudly. After a while he gets up and rushes to the Marquis, arms in the air, yelling, "Killed" and "Dead." The people gather around without hostility or anger.

The Marquis scornfully tosses a gold coin on to the street and announces that the people should take better care of their children and themselves. He is more worried about his horses than the dead child. Gaspard cries out again, but is stopped by the quick arrival of another man, for whom the others make way. Gaspard breaks down and sobs on the man’s shoulder while pointing to the lifeless bundle lying near the fountain. The man tells Gaspard to be brave. He then says that it is probably better that the child has died without pain rather than living in misery. This man knows that the poor never have so much as an hour of happiness. The Marquis calls him a philosopher and asks him his name. The man identifies himself as Defarge, a wine merchant. The Marquis throws a gold coin at him and again asks his coachman about his horses since he is ready to leave.

Suddenly a coin flies into the Marquis’ carriage. The Marquis demands to know who has thrown it, looking at the spot where Defarge had stood a moment before. Gaspard, the wretched father, is still groveling on the pavement. Standing next to him is a dark, stout woman, who is knitting. Since no one will answer him, the Marquis curses them all and says that he would gladly ride over any of them, especially the rascal that threw the coin. The common people are so cowed by the aristocracy that no one dares to speak or even raise a hand or eye. They know from personal experience that aristocratic men often inflict great harm. Mrs. Defarge is the only woman in the group that seems to have any stamina to stand up to the Marquis. As she knits, she looks the Marquis squarely and steadily in the face. The Marquis' contemptuous stare passes over her; he then motions for the driver to go on. Very shortly, other carriages, carrying members of high society, follow the Marquis, nonchalantly passing the spot of tragedy.

Notes

In this chapter, the ostentation of the rich contrasts sharply with the utter misery and deprivation of the poor. There is an air of unreality and emptiness in the way the aristocracy spends its time, either at receptions or at the opera house. Ironically, the stark reality of the majority of the population never seems to enter the consciousness of the wealthy. The description of the Monseigneur's rooms in Paris and the reception he holds seem almost like a fairy tale in contrast to the reality of how most people live. The Monseigneur himself is an ogre, and the petitioner, Evremonde, is likened to a tigerish sorcerer about to transform himself. Evremonde also takes the role of a wicked uncle of folklore, who takes away his nephew's fortune. In this novel, however, it is the nephew, Darnay, who renounces his inheritance.

The reckless and inhumane way that Evremonde’s carriage travels through the streets of Paris is a comment on the manner in which the aristocracy rules the nation. The poor are totally disregarded, as evidenced in the death of the child; Evremonde is more concerned about his horses than the common people. To clear his conscience of the death, he flippantly tosses a gold coin to the grieving father.

Gaspard, the man who wrote blood on the wall in an earlier chapter, is the father of the dead child. He is greatly grieved over the “murder”, and his hatred of the aristocracy is simply fanned. Defarge appears on the scene to see what is going on. He comforts the grieving father and issues revolutionary words about the plight of the poor. Defarge's sardonic advice is missed by the Marquis. In fact, the Marquis is so impressed by his words, that he tosses Defarge a gold coin. It is the sinister figure of Madame Defarge, the dark, stout woman who is always knitting, who bravely throws the coin back at him. She is also the only person who looks this hated man in the eye.

This is a very important chapter, for it is filled with irony and significant events. The callous and ruthless behavior of Evremonde towards the unfortunate father and the rest of the gathered crowd is representative of the oppressive attitude of the aristocracy towards the poor and downtrodden. It is ironic that the father of the dead child is Gaspard, who has already been pictured as an outspoken revolutionary. It is significant that Defarge arrives on the scene to prove that he is still an effective leader, the mouthpiece of revolutionary thought. It is also significant that Madame Defarge throws the coin back at Evremonde, indicating the common people are tired of the oppression and ready to fight back. Dickens’ sympathy is obviously against the nobility and with the suffering masses.


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