Skip over navigation

A Tale of Two Cities

Original Text

Modern Text

Haggard Saint Antoine had had only one exultant week, in which to soften his modicum of hard and bitter bread to such extent as he could, with the relish of fraternal embraces and congratulations, when Madame Defarge sat at her counter, as usual, presiding over the customers. Madame Defarge wore no rose in her head, for the great brotherhood of Spies had become, even in one short week, extremely chary of trusting themselves to the saint’s mercies. The lamps across his streets had a portentously elastic swing with them. The exhausted people of Saint Antoine had had only one triumphant week to overcome their suffering with embraces and congratulations. Now Madame Defarge sat at her counter at the wine shop serving her customers as usual. Madame Defarge wasn’t wearing her rose in her hair, for in one short week the large brotherhood of spies had become extremely cautious, as they knew they could soon be hanged like the streetlamps.
Madame Defarge, with her arms folded, sat in the morning light and heat, contemplating the wine-shop and the street. In both, there were several knots of loungers, squalid and miserable, but now with a manifest sense of power enthroned on their distress. 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?” Every lean bare arm, that had been without work before, had this work always ready for it now, that it could strike. The fingers of the knitting women were vicious, with the experience that they could tear. There was a change in the appearance of Saint Antoine; the image had been hammering into this for hundreds of years, and the last finishing blows had told mightily on the expression. Madame Defarge sat out in the morning sun with her arms folded, thinking about the wine shop and the street. In both locations there were several groups of people. They were poor and unhappy, but now they had a noticeable sense of power placed over their unhappiness. Even the most miserable person in the most tattered nightcap was saying, “I know how hard it has become for me to make a living, but do you know how easy it has become for me take your life away from you?” People who had been unemployed before now had the work of revenge available to them at all times. The fingers of the knitting women were vicious, knowing that they could tear. Saint Antoine looked different. It had been changing into this for hundreds of years, and the final changes of the past week were evident.
Madame Defarge sat observing it, with such suppressed approval as was to be desired in the leader of the Saint Antoine women. One of her sisterhood knitted beside her. The short, rather plump wife of a starved grocer, and the mother of two children withal, this lieutenant had already earned the complimentary name of The Vengeance. Madame Defarge sat watching the neighborhood. She disguised her pleasure with it, as the leader of the women of Saint Antoine should. Another woman was knitting next to her. The short, plump wife of a thin, starving grocer and the mother of two children, she was like a lieutenant to Madame Defarge. She had earned the nickname “The Vengeance.”
“Hark!” said The Vengeance. “Listen, then! Who comes?” “Listen!” said The Vengeance. “Who’s coming?”
As if a train of powder laid from the outermost bound of Saint Antoine Quarter to the wine-shop door, had been suddenly fired, a fast-spreading murmur came rushing along. A rumor rushed to them like a line of gunpowder set on fire.
“It is Defarge,” said madame. “Silence, patriots!” “It’s Monsieur Defarge,” said Madame Defarge. “Silence, everyone!”
Defarge came in breathless, pulled off a red cap he wore, and looked around him! “Listen, everywhere!” said madame again. “Listen to him!” Defarge stood, panting, against a background of eager eyes and open mouths, formed outside the door; all those within the wine-shop had sprung to their feet. Defarge came in out of breath, pulled off the red cap he wore, and looked around. “Listen, everyone!” Madame Defarge said again. “Listen to him!” Defarge stood there, panting as a crowd of people formed behind him outside the door and watched him with eager eyes and open mouths. Everyone in the wine shop had jumped to his feet.
“Say then, my husband. What is it?” “What is it, my husband?”
“News from the other world!” “News from the outside world!”
“How, then?” cried madame, contemptuously. “The other world?” “How?” yelled Madame angrily. “The other world?”
“Does everybody here recall old Foulon, who told the famished people that they might eat grass, and who died, and went to Hell?” “Does everyone here remember old Foulon, who told starving people that they should eat grass, and who died and was sent to hell for it!”
“Everybody!” from all throats. “Everybody does!” they all responded.
“The news is of him. He is among us!” “It’s news about him. He is here among us!”
“Among us!” from the universal throat again. “And dead?” “Among us!” everyone responded. “And dead?”
“Not dead! He feared us so much—and with reason—that he caused himself to be represented as dead, and had a grand mock-funeral. But they have found him alive, hiding in the country, and have brought him in. I have seen him but now, on his way to the Hotel de Ville, a prisoner. I have said that he had reason to fear us. Say all! HAD he reason?” “He’s not dead! He feared us so much—and for good reason—that he pretended to be dead and had a large fake funeral. But they have found him alive, hiding in the country, and have brought him back to Paris. I have seen him just now on his way to the Hotel de Ville. He is a prisoner. I have said that he had good reasons to be afraid of all of us. Tell me, everyone! Was I right?”

More Help

Previous Next