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A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities


by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities Volume III, Chapter Ten – The Substance of the Shadow Summary

This chapter is all Doctor Manette’s letter (which is read to the court):

  • It’s 1767. Doctor Manette writes in his prison cell.
  • He’s decided to recount the reason that he’s been unjustly imprisoned for so long.
  • To do so, he starts his history ten years earlier, in 1757.
  • It’s late at night. The doctor is out walking near his residence by the medical college.
  • Suddenly, a carriage races by. The driver calls Dr. Manette’s name and the carriage screeches to a halt.
  • Inside the carriage, two men sit in the dark.
  • We’re sensing that this will lead to no good. No good at all.
  • The men ask if he’s Doctor Manette. He says that he is.
  • They inform him that he needs to come with them to see to some patients.
  • Doctor Manette has misgivings, but he gets in the carriage.
  • Soon the carriage arrives at a country house. As they go in the gate, one of the men strikes the gate-keeper with his glove.
  • That’s a big hint: he’s not a very nice guy.
  • Doctor Manette notices the same thing.
  • Inside the house, he finds a patient who appears to be suffering from brain fever.
  • She’s a beautiful young woman who seems to be about twenty years old.
  • Her hands are bound to the bed.
  • Oh, and she appears to be delirious.
  • As the doctor approaches her, she moans, "My husband, my father, and my brother!" and then counts to twelve and whispers, "Hush!"
  • Puzzled, Doctor Manette listens as she repeats the same phrases over and over.
  • When he asks the brothers how long this has lasted, they say she’s been screaming since last night.
  • They bring out a case of medicines for the doctor to use.
  • After taking one look at the medicines, the doctor realizes that they’re all narcotics and poisons.
  • The younger brother (the two men, apparently, are brothers) asks if he doubts their worth.
  • Calmly, Doctor Manette gives the young woman a small amount of a narcotic.
  • She continues to scream for her husband, father, and brother. Eventually she starts shaking so violently that he has to restrain her.
  • After a few hours, the elder brother says that there’s actually another patient in the house, as well.
  • Surprised, the doctor follows the brothers out into the barn.
  • A young man lies in the hay. He’s been stabbed.
  • Hmm… and no one thought that the doctor should see him until now?
  • Astonished, Doctor Manette asks to see the wound.
  • The young man refuses. He’s dying. He doesn’t want to be treated.
  • As Doctor Manette looks at the man, he realizes that he’s been stabbed with a sword.
  • Only nobles carry swords.
  • The boy says that he may be poor, but he has pride.
  • Suddenly they can all hear the young girl screaming again. The boy asks if Doctor Manette has seen her.
  • He tells the doctor that the girl is his sister. She married a young man she loved.
  • The nobles (that would be our two brothers) wanted the girl. They harnessed her husband to a dog cart and drove him all day, but he wouldn’t give his wife to them.
  • Needless to say, they killed him.
  • The young nobleman rode away with the young boy’s sister. When he ran in to tell his father, the old man’s heart broke. He died.
  • Desperate to save his family, the young boy took his other (little) sister away from the country where they lived.
  • He returned to seek revenge for the rape and kidnapping of his sister.
  • The nobleman met him and tried to whip him, but the young boy forced him to fight. The noble struck the boy through with his sword.
  • Even though the young boy is clearly dying now, he asks Doctor Manette to raise him so that he can look at the two noble brothers who’ve wrecked his family.
  • The younger brother has run away. The elder, however, stands watching.
  • Gasping for breath, the young boy curses the nobles and all of their family. Then he dies.
  • Doctor Manette returns to the young woman. After sitting with her for days, he slowly realizes that she’s pregnant.
  • At that point, he realizes that she’s given up any desire to live at all.
  • When the Marquis asks Doctor Manette how his patient is doing, he says that she’s almost dead.
  • The Marquis says something slighting about the amazing strength of the poor.
  • Doctor Manette replies that there’s often great strength in despair.
  • That’s when the nobles realize that they can’t trust Manette.
  • Once the girl dies, the Marquis offers Doctor Manette gold. He turns it down.
  • Back at home, Doctor Manette gets a letter saying that a lady is waiting to meet him.
  • It’s the wife of the Marquis. Somehow, she’s learned about the fate of the young woman and her family.
  • She’s devastated at the ruin caused by her husband. She wants her son to have a different life than his father.
  • Asking to help the family, the woman begs Doctor Manette to tell her where the other sister of the family was taken.
  • He doesn’t know. The woman rides away. She’s decided to leave her husband and take her child with her.
  • Troubled by all of this, Doctor Manette writes a letter to the Minister of State explaining the situation.
  • That night, Doctor Manette’s servant, Ernest Defarge, comes into the house to say that a man is standing at the gate.
  • Shocked, Doctor Manette realizes that the man isn’t at the gate. He’s right behind Ernest!
  • The man, of course, is from the Marquis.
  • He takes Doctor Manette to an "urgent" medical case. On the road, the carriage stops.
  • Two brothers emerge from the shadows and identify Doctor Manette. The elder holds Doctor Manette’s letter.
  • He burns the letter in front of Doctor Manette’s eyes, and then the carriage drives to the prison.
  • Since then, he’s been locked in a living grave.
  • When the court finishes reading Doctor Manette’s letter, they immediately vote to hang Charles Evrémonde. The crowd roars in approval.

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