Study Guide

A Tale of Two Cities Volume II, Chapter Three – A Disappointment

By Charles Dickens

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Volume II, Chapter Three – A Disappointment

  • Dickens cuts right to the heart of the action: Mr. Attorney-General, the head of the state’s case against Charles Darnay, is in the middle of his argument.
  • We know that he’s in the middle of the argument because every sentence in his argument begins with "that." In other words, we’re not exactly hearing him speak. We’re overhearing him speak.
  • It’s a neat little trick on Dickens’ part: he doesn’t want us to agree with Mr. Attorney General, so he uses third-person narration instead of representing his speech.
  • But back to the speech: Mr. Attorney-General thinks that the prisoner (that’s Darnay) has been engaging in a very long and treasonous correspondence with the French.
  • The French? Ack! Gasp!
  • Hey, wait…why does the British government care about the French?
  • Well, the French were actually involved in a nifty little battle on the other side of the Atlantic: the American Revolution.
  • Anybody who carried information from Britain to France probably had their hands in the American Revolution, as well.
  • That’s what the Attorney-General thinks, at least. He’s going to try to hang Darnay.
  • After Mr. Attorney-General gets done talking, his partner, Mr. Solicitor-General, gets up to examine the state’s first witness.
  • John Barsad, a "gentleman," swears that he’s not a spy, and that he makes his own living (although no one seems to know where his money comes from) as an honest man.
  • He also swears that Charles Darnay hired him as an odd-jobs man once when Darnay was traveling by boat to France.
  • Barsad testifies that Darnay carried lists from France to England and from England to France.
  • Of course, he doesn’t really specify what those lists contained—but then, when you’re trying a traitor, you don’t really need that many details, do you?
  • The state calls Mr. Jarvis Lorry to the stand.
  • Mr. Lorry testifies that he traveled to France by boat five years ago.
  • He did see two other people on the boat, but he can’t say that he can identify Darnay as one of the two men.
  • The court calls Miss Manette to the stand.
  • Let’s pause while the entire court checks her out.
  • Sigh…she’s so, so pretty.
  • Apparently, Darnay is checking her out, too. She exchanges sympathetic looks with him.
  • When Lucie begins to testify, it’s obvious that she doesn’t want to say anything that could incriminate Darnay.
  • Lucie says that Darnay helped her father when Dr. Manette fell ill on the boat.
  • Against her will, she also testifies that Darnay exchanged some papers with Frenchmen who were aboard the boat.
  • Apparently, Darnay also made some jokes about George Washington while he and Lucie were chatting.
  • It was all in good fun at the time, but now the court doesn’t take it so lightly.
  • The court, in fact, seems to think that making jokes about how George Washington might not be such a bad guy is, in fact, treason.
  • Lucie’s testimony, in other words, didn’t go all that well for Darnay.
  • Next, it’s Dr. Manette’s turn on the stand.
  • He says that he’s been told he was on a ship traveling from France to England, but he can’t remember anything from that time.
  • Another witness gets called to the stand to affirm that Darnay stayed at a hotel about twelve miles from the coast on the night that he traveled to England.
  • Okay, okay, we know it’s getting technical. Bear with us for a second, though.
  • While the prisoner’s lawyer is cross-examining this witness, a man in the court passes the lawyer a note.
  • All of a sudden, the lawyer has a new course of attack.
  • He asks the witness if he’s ever seen anyone who could be confused with Darnay.
  • Confused, the witness says no.
  • Pointing with a dramatic flourish to the other end of the room, the lawyer says, "Not even that man?"
  • Gasp!
  • Mr. Sydney Carton (the man in the corner) looks exactly like Mr. Darnay.
  • A coincidence, you say?
  • Well, yes. But this is a novel. Anything can happen, folks. Just ride with it.
  • The court case goes on for a while as lawyers try and re-try (and re-try) different theories.
  • Suddenly, however, Carton points out that Lucie is fainting.
  • (How does he notice before anyone else? Well, we’re guessing that he’s been staring. It’s not polite, we know, but for now we’re overlooking it.)
  • By this point, the case is pretty much over.
  • Carton’s appearance has introduced too much doubt into the trial.
  • Darnay is acquitted.
  • Jerry Cruncher is astonished.
  • Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much time to stay astonished. Mr. Lorry sends him back to the bank with the news.

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