We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities


by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities Volume II, Chapter Sixteen – Still Knitting Summary

  • Madame Defarge and her husband return to their shop after the procession.
  • Meanwhile, the mender of roads makes his way back into the country.
  • The country folk seem to have changed as a result of the hanging in the village. Their faces are harder; their eyes have become full of vengeance.
  • Sounds to us like a storm’s a-brewin’.
  • Okay, but let’s head back to Paris for now, shall we?
  • Madame Defarge is quizzing her husband about the news that he’s just heard from a Jacques that’s on the police force.
  • Apparently, the police have hired a new spy to ferret out revolutionaries (or Jacqueses, as we like to call them).
  • This new spy is English. His name is Barsad.
  • Madame Defarge says that he’ll need to be registered in her knitting.
  • Defarge describes the guy’s physical appearance.
  • Nodding, Madame Defarge takes it all down. She’s pretty pleased at her husband’s ability to get such good information.
  • As the two enter the empty wine shop, Madame Defarge asks her husband why he seems so down and out.
  • Defarge sighs, then says that change seems to take such a long time. Too long, perhaps.
  • Madame Defarge stares at him sternly. Then she begins to lecture him.
  • In case we haven’t mentioned it, she’s something of a force of nature.
  • She manages to slap him back into shape pretty quickly.
  • Okay, she doesn’t actually slap him. But she does point out that he’s being feeble and just a bit cowardly.
  • Sure, revolution takes a long time to prepare. But they’ll have helped bring it about—even if they’re not alive to see its effects.
  • The next morning, Madame Defarge sits at her seat.
  • She’s knitting. Of course. Beside her knitting lies a rose.
  • A man walks into the shop.
  • Madame Defarge picks up the rose and slides it into her cap.
  • As if someone’s issued a secret sign, the shop falls silent.
  • People slink out the back exits as the new customer comes up to the counter.
  • A secret sign? Really? Wonder what it could be…
  • Madame Defarge makes polite conversation with the newcomer.
  • The guy’s eyes dart everywhere, but he can’t seem to come up with anything out of the ordinary.
  • Madame Defarge thinks to herself that the man should stay around another minute longer.
  • That way, she’ll be able to knit his entire name, John Barsad, into her register.
  • Defarge walks in. He glances at his wife, then greets the new customer.
  • The new man hails him cheerfully as "Jacques."
  • Defarge looks confused. His name is Ernest, not Jacques. He would thank the visitor to use his name. It’s more than enough for him.
  • The spy (he’s a spy, in case you haven’t figured it out) is getting more and more confused.
  • He tries to draw both the Defarges into conversation about the woes of the people, but they say that they spend all their time running the wine shop.
  • There’s just no time to pay attention to the populace and its discontents.
  • The spy does manage to get one good blow in, though. He mentions Doctor Manette.
  • Defarge immediately jumps a little bit.
  • Madame Defarge quickly says that they never see nor hear from the doctor.
  • Smiling, the spy says he knows. In fact, the doctor is in England.
  • Interestingly, his daughter is about to marry a man whose original name is… well, not Darnay.
  • In fact, he’s taken his mother’s name. In French, it would be D’Aulnais.
  • Defarge gasps.
  • His wife knits ferociously.
  • When the spy asks if anything is the matter, she says that it would be better for the daughter of Doctor Manette if her husband-to-be never returned to France.
  • The spy leaves.
  • Silence descends on the house.
  • Defarge hesitates, then asks Madame Defarge if it wouldn’t be a horrible thing that the son-in-law of Doctor Manette were registered alongside the spy.
  • Apparently, she doesn’t think it would be a bad thing at all.
  • Saddened, Defarge leaves. As he goes upstairs, he thinks about what a "frightfully" grand woman his wife is.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...