There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever. (1.1.2)
The two countries don’t seem that different, do they? Both seem pretty stable and, well, calm. That’s the underlying tension in this novel: if the two countries aren’t that different, why couldn’t a revolution start in England?
Any one of these partners would have disinherited his son on the question of rebuilding Tellson's. In this respect the House was much on a par with the Country; which did very often disinherit its sons for suggesting improvements in laws and customs that had long been highly objectionable, but were only the more respectable. (2.1.2)
Tellson’s is the sort of quintessentially English bank that produces fine, upstanding citizens like Mr. Lorry. If there’s any hope for England as a country, then, it’s probably got to do with the fact that Mr. Lorry isn’t always a complete businessman.
"What I have been thinking as we came along, and what I am still thinking now, as I look into your kind strong face which gives me so much support, is this:—If the Republic really does good to the poor, and they come to be less hungry, and in all ways to suffer less, she may live a long time: she may even live to be old." (3.15.35)
The words of a young woman about to be beheaded testify to the good that still remains in the people of France. The fact that she’s able to imagine a future based upon the injustice of her own death becomes a sort of sublime hope for a time that will eventually see an end to violence.
Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day's wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. (3.15.1)
Dickens carries the metaphor likening wine to blood through the entire course of the novel. Are the "devouring and insatiate Monsters" here superhuman forces or the grasping, drunk crowd in Saint Antoine at the beginning of the novel?
The ministers of Sainte Guillotine are robed and ready. Crash!—A head is held up, and the knitting-women who scarcely lifted their eyes to look at it a moment ago when it could think and speak, count One. (3.15.23)
The mass execution of the innocent and the guilty becomes a spectacle. As readers, we anticipate and dread the counting of heads that eventually adds up to Carton’s death.
"I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out." (3.15.46)
Sydney’s last thoughts become a vision of more than just new life for Lucie and her family: they offer up home for a new political future for France, as well.
"My dear friend, I have a charmed life in this city. I have been a Bastille prisoner. There is no patriot in Paris—in Paris? In France—who, knowing me to have been a prisoner in the Bastille, would touch me, except to overwhelm me with embraces, or carry me in triumph." (3.2.23)
Doctor Manette’s lack of agency changes overnight. He becomes a strange sort of celebrity in the first days of the Republic, when the prisoners of the old regime become the heroes of the new.
It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibly prevented the hair from turning grey, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine, looked through the little window and sneezed into the sack. It was the sign of the regeneration of the human race. It superseded the Cross. (3.4.11)
The guillotine becomes more than a national symbol, it becomes a national religion. The ability of a people to make mass death into a running joke testifies to the corruption of even the best ideals.
What private solicitude could rear itself against the deluge of the Year One of Liberty—the deluge rising from below, not falling from above, and with the windows of Heaven shut, not opened! (3.4.8)
The rallying cry of "Liberty" becomes blind to the struggles and the rights of individuals. As everyone tells Doctor Manette, individual sacrifices for the good of the Republic should be welcomed—even if those sacrifices include the unfair execution of family members.
"In short," said Sydney, "this is a desperate time, when desperate games are played for desperate stakes." (3.8.73)
As the new Republic quickly descends into chaos, Sydney’s back-door dealings become the only way to change the political situation of the time.
"How goes the Republic?"
"You mean the Guillotine. Not ill. Sixty-three to-day. We shall mount to a hundred soon." (3.9.67)
The conversations of the crowd explain the sudden corruption of revolutionary zeal better than any of the main characters ever do. Once the Republic becomes synonymous with the guillotine, things can’t really be headed in a very good direction.
Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures—the creatures of this chronicle among the rest—along the roads that lay before them. (1.1.6)
Dickens is famous for his ability to create an entire world within his novels. This passage shows the sorts of telescoping of perspective (first showing the masses of people, then the small ones on which the novel will turn) that allow him to concentrate on both individual lives and the big picture.
Samples of a people that had undergone a terrible grinding and regrinding in the mill, and certainly not in the fabulous mill which ground old people young, shivered at every corner, passed in and out at every doorway, looked from every window, fluttered in every vestige of a garment that the wind shook. The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old [ ...] (1.5.6)
Society becomes an impersonal, mechanized force which the poor of France cannot control. They’re no longer citizens of the nation: they’re grist for the mill that churns up the poor.
I am like one who died young. All my life might have been. (2.13.17)
Why is Sydney Carton so sure that he can never deserve Lucie? Perhaps this quote offers an explanation: he’s convinced that his lower-class background makes him unfit for the life that he is capable of leading. He sees himself as one who died when his parents did. He’s never been able to believe in his own ability to transcend the circumstances of his youth.
Monseigneur (often a most worthy individual gentleman) was a national blessing, gave a chivalrous tone to things, was a polite example of luxurious and shining fife, and a great deal more to equal purpose; nevertheless, Monseigneur as a class had, somehow or other, brought things to this. Strange that Creation, designed expressly for Monseigneur, should be so soon wrung dry and squeezed out! There must be something short-sighted in the eternal arrangements, surely! (2.23.3)
Whose opinion is this? Although it’s represented as a sort of universal observation of the narrator’s, he’s clearly channeling the opinions of "Monseigneur" himself. The irony of this ventriloquism is, of course, that the narrator seems to have no sympathy for the rich at all.
[…] the women were a sight to chill the boldest. From such household occupations as their bare poverty yielded, from their children, from their aged and their sick crouching on the bare ground famished and naked, they ran out with streaming hair, urging one another, and themselves, to madness with the wildest cries and actions. Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulon taken, my mother! (2.22.19)
The poor become a terrifying force during the uprising and the storming of the Bastille. Their anonymity early in the novel adds to the eerie sense that they’re a sort of natural force—unknowable and utterly unstoppable.
[…] the miserable bakers' shops were beset by long files of them, patiently waiting to buy bad bread; and while they waited with stomachs faint and empty, they beguiled the time by embracing one another on the triumphs of the day, and achieving them again in gossip. (2.22.29)
After storming the Bastille, the poor must still fall back into their normal routine. The stark contrast between the fierce power that they were able to wield in the morning and their utter submission in the bread lines at night is an unsettling reminder of how little the violence of the day has actually achieved.
The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon Monseigneur. (2.7.9)
Not only is Monseigneur unimaginable, but his followers are inhuman. They’re described as costumes—fancy, hollow shells of rich (and worthless) people.
Monseigneur had one truly noble idea of general public business, which was, to let everything go on in its own way; of particular public business, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea that it must all go his way—tend to his own power and pocket. Of his pleasures, general and particular, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea, that the world was made for them. (2.7.4)
The laziness of the aristocrats only turns into action when their own direct self-interest is concerned. Dickens satirizes the choices of the "Monseigneurs" without ever allowing us to see them as real people—a sign that, before the violence of the revolution at least, he sympathizes with the revolutionaries.
Yes. It took four men, all four ablaze with gorgeous decoration, and the Chief of them unable to exist with fewer than two gold watches in his pocket, emulative of the noble and chaste fashion set by Monseigneur, to conduct the happy chocolate to Monseigneur's lips. (2.7.2)
The absolute decadence of the aristocracy prior to the revolution is satirized here. Note how we’re never given Monseigneur’s name. It’s almost as if he’s not a person at all but a placeholder for the entire aristocratic class.
But, imbued from her childhood with a brooding sense of wrong, and an inveterate hatred of a class, opportunity had developed her into a tigress. She was absolutely without pity. If she had ever had the virtue in her, it had quite gone out of her. (3.14.39)
The almost inhuman wrath of the Vengeance is chalked up to a strange combination of political situation and fate. The aristocrats regarded the poor as less than human, and the Vengeance becomes an ironic affirmation of their views. She’s utterly without human sympathy for the fates of any who fall victim to the Republic.
It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history (1.1.4).
Dickens foreshadows the events of history with a heavy hand. Does this help to make revolution seem fated or inevitable?
The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there. (1.5.5)
The blurring between wine and blood in this text allows both to function interchangeably as liquids for which the citizens of France lust. Like wine, the blood that spills in the streets intoxicates the populace.
"To be registered, as doomed to destruction," returned Defarge.
[…] "The chateau, and all the race?" inquired the first.
"The chateau and all the race," returned Defarge. "Extermination." (2.15.63-67)
"Extermination" becomes a pretty sweeping term. It’s easy enough to justify violence against the occupants of a chateau… but the extermination of a race?
That’s hard to justify at all—as Dickens makes clear.
"It does not take a long time to strike a man with Lightning," said Defarge.
"How long," demanded madame, composedly, "does it take to make and store the lightning? Tell me." (2.16.25-26)
Madame Defarge’s implacable rage allows her to wait for the oncoming of revolution. Note the naturalized metaphors in this scene: her rage is as certain (and as natural) as the elements themselves.
"But it is your weakness that you sometimes need to see your victim and your opportunity, to sustain you. Sustain yourself without that. When the time comes, let loose a tiger and a devil; but wait for the time with the tiger and the devil chained—not shown—yet always ready." (2.16.39)
Madame Defarge shows restraint where her husband shows passion. At the moment, this seems like a good strategy; it also foreshadows her pitiless treatment of the Manettes later in the novel.
With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into the detested word, the living sea rose, wave on wave, depth on depth, and overflowed the city to that point. Alarm-bells ringing, drums beating, the sea raging and thundering on its new beach, the attack began. (2.21.36)
Like the quote earlier, this depicts the uprising of the people as an event as natural and unstoppable as nature. Individuals become indistinguishable in the "sea" of violence that sweeps the country.
For, they are headlong, mad, and dangerous; and in the years so long after the breaking of the cask at Defarge's wine-shop door, they are not easily purified when once stained red. (2.21.79)
Dickens’s opinion of the French Revolution is a complicated one: while the sort of poverty that causes people to grovel for wine in the streets is pitiable, the mob mentality that thirsts for blood is a terrible force in this novel.
"Well, well," reasoned Defarge, "but one must stop somewhere. After all, the question is still where?"
"At extermination," said madame. (3.12.17-18)
If Madame Defarge had her way, there would be no real end to the violence of the revolution. As we see, "extermination" becomes an all-consuming and vastly unjust undertaking.
For, the footsteps had become to their minds as the footsteps of a people, tumultuous under a red flag and with their country declared in danger, changed into wild beasts, by terrible enchantment long persisted in. (2.24.2)
The coming of war is signaled by the devolution of a nation into a pack of wild animals.
"Then tell Wind and Fire where to stop," returned madame; "but don't tell me." (3.12.36)
By the end of the novel, Madame Defarge is more of a supernatural force than a natural one. She’s ultimately terrifying in her unwillingness to deviate from her plans for revenge.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (1.1.1)
Ah, the famous opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities. This passage seems to create a sense of sweeping possibility: the age is everything and nothing all at once. Looked at closely, however, the passage also suggests that this is an age of radical opposites (with almost no in-betweens).
There was a character about Madame Defarge, from which one might have predicated that she did not often make mistakes against herself in any of the reckonings over which she presided. (1.5.20)
Madame Defarge becomes her own form of judge and jury over the course of the novel. Her version of justice, which demands unremitting revenge, could be seen as the downfall of the new Republic as a whole.
Death is Nature's remedy for all things, and why not Legislation's? Accordingly, the forger was put to Death; the utterer of a bad note was put to Death; the unlawful opener of a letter was put to Death; the purloiner of forty shillings and sixpence was put to Death; the holder of a horse at Tellson's door, who made off with it, was put to Death. (2.1.4)
If the French system is bad, the English courts are not much better. Dickens satirizes and critiques a court system that can’t distinguish between the worst offenses and the most petty crimes.
Mr. Stryver then called his few witnesses, and Mr. Cruncher had next to attend while Mr. Attorney-General turned the whole suit of clothes Mr. Stryver had fitted on the jury, inside out; showing how Barsad and Cly were even a hundred times better than he had thought them, and the prisoner a hundred times worse. Lastly, came my Lord himself, turning the suit of clothes, now inside out, now outside in, but on the whole decidedly trimming and shaping them into grave-clothes for the prisoner. (2.3.102)
The operating metaphor here is simple: an argument in court fits a story around an accused man in the same way that a tailor fits a suit. Dickens plays with this metaphor, stringing out the multiple possibilities of its usage until it becomes an almost farcical insight into the workings of the law.
From the dimly-lighted passages of the court, the last sediment of the human stew that had been boiling there all day, was straining off. (2.4.1)
The "stew" of humanity that attends court becomes a marker of the sort of attraction that famous court cases had for the populace. All of England seems to have turned out to see Darnay tried for treason.
It was nothing to her, that an innocent man was to die for the sins of his forefathers; she saw, not him, but them. It was nothing to her, that his wife was to be made a widow and his daughter an orphan; that was insufficient punishment, because they were her natural enemies and her prey, and as such had no right to live. (3.14.40)
"Not him, but them." That’s the heart of this quote: Madame Defarge doesn’t care about the rights of individuals at all. Her determination to exterminate the entire race of the Evrémondes makes her as dangerous a force as the aristocrats who raped her sister.
Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind. (3.15.1)
Dickens’s narrator makes his moral pretty obvious. The French Revolution wasn’t some freak accident in the course of human history. Any oppressed people will seek justice and perhaps even revenge.
The eye could not detect one creature in the group free from the smear of blood.
Shouldering one another to get next at the sharpening-stone, were men stripped to the waist, with the stain all over their limbs and bodies; men in all sorts of rags, with the stain upon those rags; men devilishly set off with spoils of women's lace and silk and ribbon, with the stain dyeing those trifles through and through. (3.2.31)
The fantastic costumes that the grindstone sharpeners wear parallel the costumes of Monseigneur’s attendants earlier in the novel. Both are grotesque, an uneasy reminder of just how alike the two classes are in their viciousness.
The grindstone had a double handle, and, turning at it madly were two men, whose faces, as their long hair flapped back when the whirlings of the grindstone brought their faces up, were more horrible and cruel than the visages of the wildest savages in their most barbarous disguise. False eyebrows and false moustaches were stuck upon them, and their hideous countenances were all bloody and sweaty, and all awry with howling, and all staring and glaring with beastly excitement and want of sleep. (3.2.31)
We’re not given an actual account of the fighting that goes on during the revolution. The indirect accounts of men working the grindstone to sharpen weapons, however, might be more gruesome than the fighting itself. By not directly depicting the events of the day, Dickens forces us to imagine just how all of the weapons came to be stained with so much blood.
A revolutionary tribunal in the capital, and forty or fifty thousand revolutionary committees all over the land; a law of the Suspected, which struck away all security for liberty or life, and delivered over any good and innocent person to any bad and guilty one; prisons gorged with people who had committed no offence, and could obtain no hearing; these things became the established order and nature of appointed things, and seemed to be ancient usage before they were many weeks old. (3.4.10)
The revolution quickly turns into a new Republic, one that has laws just as vindictive and unjust as those once established by the old aristocrats.
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. (1.3.1)
In case we thought that Carton just happens to be a weird loner, Dickens takes care to remind us that his cynicism might just be a stark form of realism. None of us really knows much about anyone else.
In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them? (1.3.1)
Dickens emphasizes a sort of existential loneliness on two levels: we don’t understand the folks we know and love, and we’re also surrounded by communities and cities of strangers. How’s that for a warm and fuzzy feeling?
"I hope you care to be recalled to life?"
And the old answer:
"I can't say." (1.6.94-6)
Are there experiences that make life no longer worth living? Does unfair imprisonment eventually rob people of their humanity? These are serious questions, and Dickens doesn’t offer any easy answers.
While one external cause, and that a reference to his long lingering agony, would always—as on the trial—evoke this condition from the depths of his soul, it was also in its nature to arise of itself, and to draw a gloom over him, as incomprehensible to those unacquainted with his story as if they had seen the shadow of the actual Bastille thrown upon him by a summer sun, when the substance was three hundred miles away. (2.4.2)
Doctor Manette’s imprisonment actually refines some of his most noble qualities. His experiences may be incommunicable, but they’ve also made him into a man of incredible strength.
The water of the fountain ran, the swift river ran, the day ran into evening, so much life in the city ran into death according to rule, time and tide waited for no man, the rats were sleeping close together in their dark holes again, the Fancy Ball was lighted up at supper, all things ran their course. (2.7.44)
A small boy gets run over by the Marquis. Drawing back to focus on the bigger picture becomes a way for Dickens to point out the insensitivity of the world at large. A small boy dies, and the world moves on as usual.
I am a disappointed drudge, sir. I care for no man on earth, and no man on earth cares for me. (2.4.70)
Get used to Carton’s motto—you’ll read it often. We’re not sure why the man has absolutely no hope for his own future. Perhaps it helps explain, however, his willingness to sacrifice himself for someone else’s future.
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." (3.15.50)
The repetition and cadence of this line makes it a memorable one. In fact, it’s one of the most frequently-quoted lines in all of Dickens’s works.
Eye to eye, voice to voice, hand to hand, heart to heart, these two children of the Universal Mother, else so wide apart and differing, have come together on the dark highway, to repair home together, and to rest in her bosom. (3.15.30)
Dickens attempts to find a moment of peace and unity in the middle of chaos. Given the emphasis on how none of us can really know our fellow humans, it’s fitting that this unity is only found when two strangers "come together."
His mother had died, years before. These solemn words, which had been read at his father's grave, arose in his mind as he went down the dark streets, among the heavy shadows, with the moon and the clouds sailing on high above him. "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die." (3.9.89)
Repeating the words of the gospel may seem like a strange choice for Sydney Carton. In the final moments of his life, however, he demonstrates a true (if unlooked-for) sense of faith in the people around him, the nation he dies in, and the higher power he invokes.
"I am not old, but my young way was never the way to age. Enough of me." (3.9.57)
As Carton observes, living in a specific time can be as important to the type of life you lead as anything else. "The way of the age" determines who succeeds and who fails, who lives and even—during the French Revolution—who dies.
"Eighteen years!" said the passenger, looking at the sun.
"Gracious Creator of day! To be buried alive for eighteen years!" (1.3.34)
Mr. Lorry’s imagination circles around the idea of imprisonment for several chapters. As he aptly describes it, two decades in the Bastille render Doctor Manette a walking corpse.
"I am going to see his Ghost! It will be his Ghost—not him!" (1.4.85)
Although Lucie almost immediately gives her life over to the protection and care of her father, her initial horror indicates her own suffering in this situation, as well.
Such a staircase, with its accessories, in the older and more crowded parts of Paris, would be bad enough now; but, at that time, it was vile indeed to unaccustomed and unhardened senses. Every little habitation within the great foul nest of one high building—that is to say, the room or rooms within every door that opened on the general staircase—left its own heap of refuse on its own landing, besides flinging other refuse from its own windows. The uncontrollable and hopeless mass of decomposition so engendered, would have polluted the air, even if poverty and deprivation had not loaded it with their intangible impurities; the two bad sources combined made it almost insupportable. (1.5.51)
The description of a single staircase broadens into a critique of an entire class of poverty-stricken people. Notice how one object becomes a focal point for Dickens, allowing him to launch an entire set of generalized observations.
And now that the cloud settled on Saint Antoine, which a momentary gleam had driven from his sacred countenance, the darkness of it was heavy—cold, dirt, sickness, ignorance, and want, were the lords in waiting on the saintly presence—nobles of great power all of them; but, most especially the last. (1.5.6)
The desperation of the people becomes personified as the desperation of Saint Antoine (the location where the Defarges live). Personification of a single location is a common technique in this novel.
The faintness of the voice was pitiable and dreadful. […] Its deplorable peculiarity was, that it was the faintness of solitude and disuse. It was like the last feeble echo of a sound made long and long ago. (1.6.6)
Doctor Manette’s time in prison has robbed him not just of time but of his ability to re-enter the world, as well. Even his voice seems to have been forgotten.
The raggedest nightcap, awry on the wretchedest head, had this crooked significance in it: "I know how hard it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to support life in myself; but do you know how easy it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to destroy life in you?" (2.22.2)
The nightcap becomes a metonymic (a single thing representative of a group) voice for the entire populace of starving, underprivileged French citizens. When life becomes of almost no value to its wearer, it’s easy for him to imagine taking the lives of others.
Who gave them out, whence they last came, where they began, through what agency they crookedly quivered and jerked, scores at a time, over the heads of the crowd, like a kind of lightning, no eye in the throng could have told; but, muskets were being distributed—so were cartridges, powder, and ball, bars of iron and wood, knives, axes, pikes, every weapon that distracted ingenuity could discover or devise.
[…] Every pulse and heart in Saint Antoine was on high-fever strain and at high-fever heat. Every living creature there held life as of no account, and was demented with a passionate readiness to sacrifice it. (2.21.30)
The violent preparations for revolution that this passage describes seem strangely self-animated. No one knows who prepares for the upcoming battle—and this anonymity is mimicked in the narrator’s descriptions of the preparations.
Far and wide lay a ruined country, yielding nothing but desolation. Every green leaf, every blade of grass and blade of grain, was as shrivelled and poor as the miserable people. (2.23.2)
Dickens depicts an almost universal suffering: the world that people inhabit reflects their own misery (and vice versa). Dickens’s sweeping observations make the revolution of the poor an act of epic proportions.
"It's a dreadful remembrance. Besides that, his loss of himself grew out of it. Not knowing how he lost himself, or how he recovered himself, he may never feel certain of not losing himself again. That alone wouldn't make the subject pleasant, I should think." (2.6.67)
Mr. Lorry sees how terrifying the thought of prison still is for Doctor Manette. The lack of control that Doctor Manette once had over his own life becomes a present fear, dogging his days and nights.
"I am not afraid to die, Citizen Evrémonde, but I have done nothing. I am not unwilling to die, if the Republic which is to do so much good to us poor, will profit by my death; but I do not know how that can be, Citizen Evrémonde. Such a poor weak little creature!" (3.13.85)
The innocence and anguish of a young seamstress becomes the ultimate symbol of the failure of the revolution. If youth and innocence can be abolished by the revolutionary fervor that sweeps the country, what hope do the revolutionaries have for crafting a better society than the one that they overthrew?
"If, when I hint to you of a Home that is before us, where I will be true to you with all my duty and with all my faithful service, I bring back the remembrance of a Home long desolate, while your poor heart pined away, weep for it, weep for it!" (1.6.77)
Lucie’s immediate devotion to a father that she’s never met becomes the first of many opportunities for Dickens to demonstrate the almost incredible bond that unites the two.
"It's enough for you," retorted Mr. Cruncher, "to be the wife of a honest tradesman, and not to occupy your female mind with calculations when he took to his trade or when he didn't. A honouring and obeying wife would let his trade alone altogether. Call yourself a religious woman? If you're a religious woman, give me a irreligious one!" (2.14.64)
Mr. Cruncher’s irrational assumption that his wife’s "flopping" ruins his success as a grave-digger allows Dickens to throw some of his characteristic humor into an otherwise serious novel.
"Do you imagine—" Mr. Lorry had begun, when Miss Pross took him up short with:
"Never imagine anything. Have no imagination at all." (2.6.54-5)
Miss Pross attributes her unquestioning loyalty to Lucie to her lack of imagination: she doesn’t have to imagine how Lucie or Doctor Manette would feel, she just does what she can to shield them from the rest of the world.
"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." (3.14.85)
Miss Pross faces off with Madame Defarge, an interesting sidestepping of the supposedly inevitable confrontation of the two female centers of the novel: Lucie and Madame Defarge. Why does Lucie manage to miss out on all of the climactic moments of the novel?
"Are you dying for him?" she whispered.
"And his wife and child. Hush! Yes." (3.13.91-2)
Sydney’s love for Lucie becomes a form of loyalty that eventually leads to his own murder. As he makes clear, however, his execution becomes a testimony to the love he has for her family.
"I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence." (3.15.48)
Sydney Carton, unable to gain Lucie’s love in this lifetime, settles for the epic loyalties that he imagines her family bestowing upon him in the future.
"I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it, faded away." (3.15.49)
Sydney’s loyalties seem to be for everyone but himself. Even his name will be better when it belongs to someone else.
Sometimes, we strike into the skirting mud, to avoid the stones that clatter us and shake us; sometimes, we stick in ruts and sloughs there. The agony of our impatience is then so great, that in our wild alarm and hurry we are for getting out and running—hiding—doing anything but stopping. (3.13.103)
The narrator of Dickens’s novel is so committed to Lucie, Charles, and Doctor Manette that their escape is narrated as if he himself were a part of it. Note the "we" that the narrator begins using at this moment.
"My husband, fellow-citizen, is a good Republican and a bold man; he has deserved well of the Republic, and possesses its confidence. But my husband has his weaknesses, and he is so weak as to relent towards this Doctor." (3.14.4)
Madame Defarge’s loyalties are more complicated than the sort of family-centered loyalties we see in the Manettes. Sure, she likes her husband and the revolution. She cares more, however, about her own revenge.
"[…] 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 name; "and as such, my maxim is, Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks, On him our hopes we fix, God save the King!" (3.7.18)
Miss Pross’s sudden jump into a mantra upholding the English monarchy demonstrates a kind of unthinking loyalty that Dickens might just be mocking.
As an emotion of the mind will express itself through any covering of the body, so the paleness which his situation engendered came through the brown upon his cheek, showing the soul to be stronger than the sun. (2.2.41)
Charles Darnay’s very body seems to testify to his innocence in the English court.
"If you knew what a conflict goes on in the business mind, when the business mind is divided between good-natured impulse and business appearances, you would be amused, Mr. Darnay." (2.4.22)
Oscillating between businessman and human being, Mr. Lorry often finds that his good heart becomes the source of most of his worries.
At length the jackal had got together a compact repast for the lion, and proceeded to offer it to him. The lion took it with care and caution, made his selections from it, and his remarks upon it, and the jackal assisted both. When the repast was fully discussed, the lion put his hands in his waistband again, and lay down to mediate. (2.5.27)
Sydney does all the thinking while Stryver, his "friend," takes all the credit for being a brilliant legal mind. Depicting this relationship as similar to that of jackals and lions furthers the sense that this is a natural (and unchangeable) order.
He had that rather wild, strained, seared marking about the eyes, which may be observed in all free livers of his class, from the portrait of Jeffries downward, and which can be traced, under various disguises of Art, through the portraits of every Drinking Age. (2.5.12)
If Sydney operates under the assumption that he’s naturally fitted for his role, his "lion" (Mr. Stryver) is described by the narrator as equally fated for the role he plays.
His latent uneasiness had been, that bad aims were being worked out in his own unhappy land by bad instruments, and that he who could not fail to know that he was better than they, was not there, trying to do something to stay bloodshed, and assert the claims of mercy and humanity. With this uneasiness half stifled, and half reproaching him, he had been brought to the pointed comparison of himself with the brave old gentleman in whom duty was so strong. (2.24.61)
The type of introspection that Darnay shows at this moment marks him as our "hero." He’s just so… good. It’s interesting to note that we don’t get a similar moment of reflection when Carton contemplates heroic action.
He knew very well, that in his horror of the deed which had culminated the bad deeds and bad reputation of the old family house, in his resentful suspicions of his uncle, and in the aversion with which his conscience regarded the crumbling fabric that he was supposed to uphold, he had acted imperfectly. He knew very well, that in his love for Lucie, his renunciation of his social place, though by no means new to his own mind, had been hurried and incomplete. (2.24.58)
Darnay’s sudden decision to return to France is based upon a strong sense of responsibility for his family’s actions. To his mind, inaction can be as immoral as bad actions.
No fight could have been half so terrible as this dance. It was so emphatically a fallen sport—a something, once innocent, delivered over to all devilry—a healthy pastime changed into a means of angering the blood, bewildering the senses, and steeling the heart. Such grace as was visible in it, made it the uglier, showing how warped and perverted all things good by nature were become. (3.5.32)
Multiple descriptions of mob mentality emphasize the ways that just about anyone can get "warped" by the sweeping violence of the revolution.
In seasons of pestilence, some of us will have a secret attraction to the disease—a terrible passing inclination to die of it. And all of us have like wonders hidden in our breasts, only needing circumstances to evoke them. (3.6.6)
And just in case you thought this was a self-contained history, Dickens makes sure you know that the French Revolution is also a cautionary tale. We all have the capacity to become as violent and irrational as the mob of revolutionaries.
Miss Pross recalled soon afterwards, and to the end of her life remembered, that […] there was a braced purpose in the arm and a kind of inspiration in the eyes, which not only contradicted his light manner, but changed and raised the man. (3.8.53)
Sydney’s choice to sacrifice himself is made all the more honorable because he doesn’t choose to share his plans with anyone. Instead of his own reflections, we get observations from Miss Pross.
"I hope, sir," pleaded the abashed Mr. Cruncher, "that a gentleman like yourself wot I've had the honour of odd jobbing till I'm grey at it, would think twice about harming of me, even if it wos so—I don't say it is, but even if it wos. And which it is to be took into account that if it wos, it wouldn't, even then, be all o' one side. There'd be two sides to it." (3.9.7)
Mr. Cruncher engages in some fine moral relativism here. Sure, it’s bad that he digs up graves. Then again, between doctors and lawyers and undertakers, just about everyone else makes some money off of dead bodies, don’t they?
She was the golden thread that united him to a Past beyond his misery, and to a Present beyond his misery: and the sound of her voice, the light of her face, the touch of her hand, had a strong beneficial influence with him almost always. (2.4.3)
Lucie becomes a conduit for Doctor Manette’s own experiences. Deprived of his life in prison, he begins to live through her.
There ought to have been a tranquil bark in such an anchorage, and there was. The Doctor occupied two floors of a large stiff house, where several callings purported to be pursued by day, but whereof little was audible any day, and which was shunned by all of them at night. (2.6.6)
Lucie seems to create a space of calm around her entire family—perhaps because we’re never really allowed to see a dark side to her character.
Although the Doctor's daughter had known nothing of the country of her birth, she appeared to have innately derived from it that ability to make much of little means, which is one of its most useful and most agreeable characteristics. (2.6.16)
The home that Doctor Manette occupies is emphatically Lucie’s home: she’s the one who makes every room she inhabits comfortable.
"We have so asserted our station, both in the old time and in the modern time also," said the nephew, gloomily, "that I believe our name to be more detested than any name in France."
"Let us hope so," said the uncle. "Detestation of the high is the involuntary homage of the low." (2.9.48-49)
Charles may have cast off his inheritance, but his feelings seem to have little to no influence on his uncle, a standard-bearer of the arrogant aristocracy.
"Charles Darnay, mysteries arise out of close love, as well as out of wide division; in the former case, they are subtle and delicate, and difficult to penetrate. My daughter Lucie is, in this one respect, such a mystery to me; I can make no guess at the state of her heart." (2.10.59)
Doctor Manette emphasizes the distance that can exist between even the closest of family members—a theme that the narrator himself later explores.
"I know that when she is clinging to you, the hands of baby, girl, and woman, all in one, are round your neck. I know that in loving you she sees and loves her mother at her own age, sees and loves you at my age, loves her mother broken-hearted, loves you through your dreadful trial and in your blessed restoration." (2.10.39)
Asking Doctor Manette for the right to court Lucie, Charles demonstrates that he understands the almost incomprehensible role that she plays in her father’s life. Generational and familial roles have blurred between them: she now plays the role of every person he’s lost in his life.
"O Miss Manette, when the little picture of a happy father's face looks up in yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!" (2.13.49)
Sydney Carton, certain that his solitary (and unhappy) life could never include Lucie, imagines instead a happy family life for her.
Good Miss Pross! As if the estrangement between them had come of any culpability of hers. As if Mr. Lorry had not known it for a fact, years ago, in the quiet corner in Soho, that this precious brother had spent her money and left her! (3.8.23)
Miss Pross’s good-natured affection sees no evil—even when her brother uses and abandons her. Her devotion to Lucie seems slightly less remarkable in light of her complete devotion to her no-account brother, as well.
"My husband, my father, and my brother! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Hush!" (3.10.73)
Kidnapped and raped by the Marquis Evrémonde, a young woman descends into madness. Her ravings are also a kind of elegy for her family, all of whom died as a result of the Marquis’s actions.
"I care nothing for this Doctor, I. He may wear his head or lose it, for any interest I have in him; it is all one to me. But, the Evrémonde people are to be exterminated, and the wife and child must follow the husband and father." (3.14.6)
Madame Defarge sees her sister’s rape as a family crime, one that must be repaid by an entire family. Her sense of justice pays no attention to the actual perpetrators of the crime.