Study Guide

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

By Charles Dickens

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Volume II, Chapter Sixteen – Still Knitting

  • 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 who’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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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.

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