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

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BOOK TWO: The Golden Thread



A week after the storming of the Bastille, Defarge enters the wine shop. He tells the others that Foulon, an aristocrat who faked his own death to protect himself, is still alive. Some villagers have found him hiding in the country and have brought him in for trial. As the drums start beating in the street, Madame Defarge grabs her knife. Outside, a fierce woman called The Vengeance utters terrific shrieks and flails her arms. She rushes from house to house, arousing all the women and whipping them into a fury for the blood of Foulon. As the crowd rushes to the Hall of Justice, the Defarges, the Vengeance, and Jacques Three are right in front. The mob, unable to wait for the trial to end, rushes in to the building and drags Foulon out. They hang him from a lamppost outside the Hall of Justice and stuff his mouth full of grass, for he had suggested that this was an appropriate food for the peasants. The patriots, as the revolutionaries now call themselves, then decapitate him and display Foulon’s head for all to see.


This chapter describes the savage turn that the Revolution takes. The patriots are in a frenzy for revenge and retribution against the aristocracy, as illustrated by the brutal murder of Foulon. Madame Defarge, as a key symbol of the revolutionaries, has changed from a silent, impassive observer into a diabolic avenger. She is now accompanied by a shrieking woman called The Vengeance. These two women represent the senseless violence caused by a mob; it is not a pretty picture of the Victorian female and a total contrast to the perfectly depicted Lucie.

The theme of resurrection, of coming back to life, surfaces again. Foulon, like the police spy Roger Cly, had faked death and arranged his own funeral to protect himself from the wrath of the Revolution. The discovery that he is alive incites the patriots to a fury that knows no bounds. Dickens, who normally sympathizes with the plight of the downtrodden, does not side with the rioting mob that inflicts senseless violence.

The irony of the Revolution is underlined at the end of the chapter. After the revolutionaries have been on their bloody rampage, they go back home to their same existence. Nothing has really changed, for poverty and hunger are still rampant among the masses. The only change that has really taken place is that one oppressor has been replaced by another. According to Dickens, the belief that a revolution causes a better and more just society remains an illusion.



The road-mender's village sees a great deal of change, with frequent visits from the patriots; but the villagers remain poor and hungry. One night a patriot meets with the road-mender. Later, the two of them, joined by two others, travel out of the village and burn down the Evremonde chateau.

A village mob assembles and watches the burning image in grim satisfaction; the town officials, such as Gabelle the tax collector, stand by helpless against this mob. The assembled villagers imprison Gabelle and threaten his life since he was a faithful friend of the Evremondes. Since daylight approaches fast, the mob disperses, and Gabelle’s life is spared.


In Chapters 21 through 23, Dickens presents a revolutionary mob in a series of uprisings. After the storming of the Bastille, the mood of the patriots for vengeance and retribution increases. Led by bloodthirsty women, like Madame Defarge and The Vengeance, they lose sight of the goals of the revolution and become a band of howling demons. Now that they have power they feel they are unstoppable, but much of their destruction is quite senseless. The burning down of the hated Evremonde chateau only gives a grim satisfaction, for it does not alleviate their plight of poverty and hunger.

The historical events related to the Revolution are not allowed to overshadow the continuation of the main plot. The imprisonment of Gabelle will be instrumental in luring Darnay back to France, like a magnet.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: Drawn to the Loadstone Rock


For three years, the violent storm continues around the Bastille with the mob growing more unruly. Many of the aristocrats escape from France; those that do not escape are captured and killed by the guillotine. The king has been suspended from his office, and the government is in chaos and paralysis. The only real law is the will of the general public, which is lawless.

Many of the expatriate French aristocrats flee to London. They begin to gather at Tellson's Bank in order to transact business and hear the latest news of events in their own country. One day in August of 1792, Darnay is in the bank trying, in vain, to dissuade Mr. Lorry from going over to Paris to safeguard the bank’s French interests. While Darnay is in the bank, a letter arrives that is addressed to him by his proper name, Marquis St. Evremonde. Since no one in London outside the immediate family knows of Darnay’s true identity, inquiries are made as to the whereabouts of this marquis. None of the French noblemen in the bank seem to know who this person is. Darnay volunteers to deliver the letter himself.

When Darnay leaves the bank, he opens the letter. It is from Gabelle, the old, faithful servant of the Evremondes. He has been imprisoned and is going to be tried for treason against the people. He begs Darnay to come and save him, since the only crime he committed was to follow Darnay's orders. Darnay is deeply moved by the letter and realizes that he has not done all that he intended about the abandonment of his estate and social rank. He realizes that he should have been present in person and supervised the plans for relieving the tenants of their heavy debts. He had given Gabelle written instructions to spare the people and give them what little there was to give. Darnay himself had neither oppressed nor imprisoned anyone.

Darnay decides to go back to Paris to save Gabelle and to try undo some of the wrongs done by his family. He is also stirred by the fact that Mr. Lorry is bravely going to Paris merely to look after the interests of the bank. He has no sense of the danger that Paris poses for him and naively believes that his good intentions will be gratefully acknowledged by the Revolutionists. Darnay leaves for France without informing anyone about his departure, but he immediately sends a letter of explanation to his family.


Three years have passed since the outbreak of the revolution. Dickens contrasts the turbulent years in France with the tranquil years in London where little Lucie is growing up peacefully. Dickens then turns his attention to the plot and Darnay's decision to return to France. Destiny is drawing him to the place where there is no hope for him, for his name is knitted into Madame Defarge’s register.

At age thirty-seven, Darnay seems restless. When he hears about Mr. Lorry’s trip to Paris, he tries unsuccessfully to dissuade him from going; at the same time, he almost envies Mr. Lorry's youthful attitude. The letter from Gabelle stirs Darnay’s emotions. The servant’s pleas make Darnay realize that he has not fulfilled his promise to his mother to make amends for the wrongs perpetrated by his family. He foolishly decides to go to France, and leaves without consulting anyone. As a result of his decision at the end of Book Two, Darnay will throw all the major characters of the novel, including himself, into the middle of the reign of terror. The idyllic, domestic life at Soho, pictured at the beginning of this chapter, is now brutally disturbed.

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