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A TALE OF TWO CITIES: PRINTABLE STUDY NOTES
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.
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
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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