A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
Don't Cross Pross
Sporting wild red hair and a fierce countenance, Miss Pross seems ready to leap into battle for her "Ladybird" (that would be Lucie) at any time. Miss Pross takes care of Lucie while Doctor Manette is in prison; when he returns to England, she sets up shop in their home in Soho.
A good dose of light-hearted fun in a novel that quickly becomes very, very serious, Miss Pross never wavers in her devotion to Lucie, King, and Country. In fact we suspect that she’d even rank her allegiances in exactly that order. As she firmly states to Lucie:
"[...] the short and the long of it is, that I am a subject of His Most Gracious Majesty King George the Third"; Miss Pross curtseyed at the word, "and as such, my maxim is, Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks, On him our hopes we fix, God save the King!" (3.7.84)
Even the uproar of the revolution can’t shake Miss Pross’s devotion. When Lucie flees with her family at the end of the novel, Miss Pross becomes the woman who meets up with Madame Defarge in her stead. We suspect that this is a deliberate move: Dickens emphasizes time and again the ways that Miss Pross has devoted her entire life to Lucie. It’s fitting, then, that she should serve as Lucie’s proxy in a battle to the death. Facing off with Madame Defarge in the Manettes’s deserted Parisian house, Miss Pross declares:
"I am a Briton, […] I am desperate. I don't care an English Twopence for myself. I know that the longer I keep you here, the greater hope there is for my Ladybird. I'll not leave a handful of that dark hair upon your head, if you lay a finger on me!" (3.14.84)
Of course, she actually manages to whomp Madame Defarge pretty soundly. By the end of their struggle, Miss Pross is deaf and Madame Defarge is dead.
The Spinster Issue
We’ve got to wonder, however, why exactly the novel seems to appreciate Miss Pross so much. OK, we recognize why she’s so lovable. We even see why such selfless devotion can be beneficial in times of conflict. But why is it OK for a single woman to devote her life to another family’s well-being?
Perhaps her love for Lucie really is stronger than any other bond in Miss Pross’s life. That’s all well and good. The novel seems to suggest, however, that the best thing an unmarried woman can do is attach herself to the coattails of a young wife. In other words, the novel values Miss Pross’s devotion not because she cares for Lucie, but also because she’s helping to ensure the future of the traditional family. It’s okay if Miss Pross suffers injuries in her battle to defend the Manettes because she never has to worry about raising their children. We love Miss Pross—but we’re slightly worried that her character is just a little bit too expendable.