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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: LITERATURE SUMMARY / NOTES

BOOK TWO: The Golden Thread

CHAPTER EIGHT: The Marquis in the Country

Summary

The Marquis makes his way from Paris through the countryside towards the Evremonde family estate. The crops on the way look dried and withered, just like the peasants. When the carriage stops at a poor village, many peasants are at the fountain washing leaves or anything else that can be eaten. The Marquis gazes with contempt at the faces around the fountain. Soon a dusty road-mender joins the group. The Marquis sends for him and asks what he was staring at when the carriage passed him down the road. The man tells him that someone was hanging underneath the carriage; he says the man was tall, covered with dust, and as white as a ghost. The Marquis is satisfied and drives on. The carriage passes a graveyard where a grief stricken woman begs him for a tombstone for the grave of her dead husband. The Marquis ignores her request and pushes her away. The carriage finally arrives at the estate after dark.

Notes


The countryside around the Evremonde castle is impoverished. The crops are pitiful and the peasants are starving. They wash leaves in the village fountain to have for dinner. The Marquis has no sympathy for the poor villagers.

The road-mender, who remains nameless throughout the book, is a minor character with a significant role. In this introduction to him, he tells the Marquis that someone was earlier hanging underneath the carriage, looking almost like a ghost (or death). This is an important piece of information, although it is not explained in this chapter. No incident in this novel is without relevance, for Dickens has a meticulous art in plotting his narrative.

Death is mentioned a second time in the novel when Evremonde passes by a graveyard. A woman, grieving for her deceased husband, begs the Marquis for a tombstone to mark his grave. The calloused man simply pushes her away. He is indifferent to the misery and the poverty around him and ironically acts like he is immune to death.


CHAPTER NINE: The Gorgon's Head

Summary

The chateau of the Evremondes is a large, heavy mass of building, with a large courtyard before it. Two stone staircases meet in a stone terrace before the principal door. There are also stone balustrades, stone heads, and stone faces everywhere. The Marquis, led by a torchbearer, makes his way to his private chambers, which are equipped with all manners of luxuries. It is a sharp contrast to the picture of poverty in the last chapter.

A supper is laid out for two, but Evremonde begins eating alone. He is interrupted midway through the meal by the arrival of his nephew, Charles Darnay. The Marquis receives him courteously though they do not shake hands. Charles Darnay is really an Evremonde, and Darnay is an anglicized version of his mother's maiden name. Fed up with the attitude of the aristocracy in France and disgusted with the callous and unscrupulous attitude of his uncle, Darnay has renounced his ties to the family and moved to England. He hates the French social system and wants to undo the repression caused by the aristocrats. He works toward the betterment of all, honoring the last request of his mother. Darnay assures the Marquis, however, that the family name will not suffer as a result of his activities, for he has changed his name. The Marquis bids farewell to his nephew in his most courtly manner. Nothing disturbs the polished elegance of his aristocratic breeding.

As he prepares to sleep, Evremonde thinks of the scene at the Paris fountain. He remembers the tall man, Gaspard, howling over the dead child. He also thinks of the road-mender's tale of the tall man hanging under the carriage. Not suspicious by nature, the Marquis makes no connection between these events. The next morning, however, the Marquis of Evremonde is found dead in his bed. Driven into his heart is a common knife with a note from one of the revolutionaries who call themselves Jacques. The note simply says, "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from Jacques."

Notes

Dickens’ wonderful descriptive ability is seen in this chapter as he paints a word picture of Gothic architecture. He compares the Evremonde chateau to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, emphasizing that between the two lies a great region of poverty. The cathedral with its stone gargoyles is a symbol of love and charity, but the stone castle with its unreal stone carvings is a symbol of selfishness, greed, and callousness. There is a sinister atmosphere that clings to the castle, and everything human in it seems to have turned into stone as though surveyed by the Gorgon. After the Marquis' murder, this stone-hearted man is described like a stone statue.

Animal imagery abounds throughout the chapter. The chateau is covered with animal carvings. The poor people are referred to as dogs and pigs, and the Marquis takes the form of a tigerish wizard. As he denies charity or humanity to the poor, he turns into a beast.

For the first time in the novel, Darnay’s background is revealed, and the reader is made to understand why he travels so frequently between England and France. He has been born into the wealthy French aristocracy, a member of the Evremonde clan. It is his uncle who has killed the child in Paris, with never a regret or sadness. It is this kind of aristocratic callousness that has caused Darnay to renounce his family ties and give up the family fortune. He is opposed to the reckless behavior of the rich and their inhumane treatment of the poor. His kindness has obviously been taught to him by his deceased mother; her last request was that her son do something to help the common people. Fortunately, Darnay is a total contrast to his despicable Uncle Evremonde.

The murder of the Marquis is extremely significant. It is the first open step in the novel towards the revolution. It symbolizes that the common people are no longer going to tolerate the callous and inhumane treatment inflicted by the aristocracy. The murder is obvious a direct retribution for the murder of the child, and the murder note is signed "Jacques," the common name adopted by all revolutionaries. The murder is also extremely important to the plot, for Darnay will be drawn into the vortex of the revolution because of this incident.


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