A Tale of Two Cities

by: Charles Dickens

Book the Second: The Golden Thread Chapters 7–9

Dickens sets up the Marquis as a representative of the French aristocracy and, as such, a direct cause of the imminent revolution. Using a device called personification, he creates human manifestations of such abstract concepts as greed, oppression, and hatred. The Marquis, so exaggeratedly cruel and flamboyant, hardly seems an actual human being—hardly a realistic character. Instead, the Marquis stands as a symbol or personification of the “inhuman abandonment of consideration” endemic to the French aristocracy during the eighteenth century.

Dickens advances this impression of the Marquis’ character in the opening passage of Chapter 9, when he describes the nobleman’s chateau:

It was a heavy mass of building, that chateau of Monsieur the Marquis, with a large stone court-yard before it, and two stone sweeps of staircase meeting in a stone terrace before the principal door. A stony business altogether with heavy stone balustrades . . . and stone faces of men, and stone heads of lions, in all directions. As if the Gorgon’s head had surveyed it, when it was finished, two centuries ago.

The repetition of the word stone solidifies, as it were, our impression of the man who lives in the chateau. His heart, Dickens suggests, possesses the same severity as the castle’s walls. The mention of the Gorgon—one of three Greek mythological sisters who had snakes for hair and turned anyone who looked at them to stone—foreshadows the death of the Marquis. For by the end of the chapter, the chateau has one more stone face added to its collection—the dead Marquis’ face, which the narrator describes as “like a stone mask, suddenly startled, made angry, and petrified.” Lying dead on his pillow, the Marquis serves as a warning of the violence and bloodshed to come, initiated by the masses who can no longer abide the aristocracy’s heartless oppression of them.