A Tale of Two Cities

by: Charles Dickens

Doctor Manette

Sometimes, he gets up in the dead of the night, and will be heard, by us overhead there, walking up and down, walking up and down, in his room. Ladybird has learnt to know then that his mind is walking up and down, walking up and down, in his old prison.

Miss Pross says this to Mr. Lorry about how Doctor Manette often wakes in the middle of the night. Although during the day he can function like he did before his imprisonment, his nighttime wanderings show that, in his mind, Doctor Manette never truly left his prison cell, and his time there will always be a part of him.

“I have looked at her, speculating thousands of times upon the unborn child from whom I had been rent. Whether it was alive. Whether it had been born alive, or the poor mother’s shock had killed it. Whether it was a son who would some day avenge his father. (There was a time in my imprisonment, when my desire for vengeance was unbearable.) Whether it was a son who would never know his father’s story; who might even live to weigh the possibility of his father’s having disappeared of his own will and act. Whether it was a daughter who would grow to be a woman.”

Doctor Manette recounts looking at the moon while in prison and wondering about the potential life of his child, as he did not even know whether the child had survived. He was in prison for so long that he thought about all the possible outcomes of a son or daughter. That Lucie did indeed survive, and she came to find him when he was not sure if she even knew of his existence, reveals why they are so important to one another.

Nothing would induce him to speak more. He looked up, for an instant at a time, when he was requested to do so; but, no persuasion would extract a word from him. He worked, and worked, and worked, in silence, and words fell on him as they would have fallen on an echoless wall, or on the air.

When Doctor Manette learns of Darnay’s true last name before Lucie and Darnay marry, Manette retreats into making shoes and seems to not understand a word anyone around him says. The discovery that Darnay comes from the family who led to Manette’s own incarceration is a shock so great that Manette regresses to the mental state he was in while imprisoned.

“You have no idea how such an apprehension weighs on the sufferer’s mind, and how difficult—almost impossible—it is, for him to force himself to utter a word upon the topic that oppresses him.”

After Doctor Manette recovers from his relapse following the marriage of Darnay and Lucie, Mr. Lorry asks him why it occurred. Manette explains that while he worried about such a thing happening for a long time, speaking about what he experienced in prison was impossible for him. Although we never learn specific details about what Manette suffered while in prison, his relapse and refusal to discuss his experience shows that the mental trauma far outlasts any physical wounds.

“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. My old pain has given me a power that has brought us through the barrier, and gained us news of Charles there, and brought us here.”

After Darnay is sent to prison, Doctor Manette and Lucie arrive in France to see what they can do to help him. Knowing this is a dangerous mission, Mr. Lorry expresses concern for Manette and Lucie’s safety. Here, Manette’s response reveals why he believes they are safe. Manette explains that he has a “charmed life” in the time of the revolution, because anyone who was imprisoned in the Bastille was a prisoner of the hated upper class. Manette believes he can use his status to help free Darnay.