The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street. . . .See Important Quotations Explained
The setting shifts from Dover, England to Saint Antoine, a poor suburb of Paris. A wine cask falls to the pavement in the street and everyone rushes to it. Men kneel and scoop up the wine that has pooled in the paving stones, while women sop up the liquid with handkerchiefs and wring them into the mouths of their babies. One man dips his finger into the “muddy wine-lees” and scrawls the word blood on a wall.
The wine shop is owned by Monsieur Defarge, a “bull-necked, martial-looking man of thirty.” His wife, Madame Defarge, sits solemnly behind the counter, watchful of everything that goes on around her. She signals to her husband as he enters the wine shop, alerting him to the presence of an elderly gentleman and a young lady. Defarge eyes the strangers (they are Lorry and Lucie) but pretends not to notice them, speaking instead with three familiar customers, each of whom refers to the other two as “Jacques” (a code name that identifies themselves to one another as revolutionaries). After Defarge directs the men to a chamber on the fifth floor and sends them out, Mr. Lorry approaches from the corner and begs a word with Defarge. The men have a brief conversation, and soon Defarge leads Lorry and Lucie up a steep, dangerous rise of stairs. They come to a filthy landing, where the three men from the wine shop stand staring through chinks in the wall. Stating that he makes a show of Doctor Manette to a chosen few “to whom the sight is likely to do good,” Defarge opens the door to reveal a white-haired man busily making shoes.
Manette reports, in a voice gone faint with “solitude and disuse,” that he is making a lady’s shoe in the “present mode,” or fashion, even though he has never seen the present fashion. When asked his name, he responds, “One Hundred and Five, North Tower.” Lucie approaches. Noticing her radiant golden hair, Manette opens a knot of rag that he wears around his neck, in which he keeps a strand of similarly golden curls.
At first, Manette mistakes Lucie for his wife and recalls that, on the first day of his imprisonment, he begged to be allowed to keep these few stray hairs of his wife’s as a means of escaping his circumstances “in the spirit.” Lucie delivers an impassioned speech, imploring her father to weep if her voice or her hair recalls a loved one whom he once knew. She hints to him of the home that awaits him and assures him that his “agony is over.” Manette collapses under a storm of emotion; Lucie urges that arrangements be made for his immediate departure for England. Fearing for Manette’s health, Lorry protests, but Lucie insists that travel guarantees more safety than a continued stay in Paris. Defarge agrees and ushers the group into a coach.
In Chapters 5 and 6, Dickens introduces the reader to the first of the novel’s two principal cities: Paris. The scramble for the leaking wine that opens “The Wine-shop” remains one of the most remembered (and frequently referenced) passages in the novel. In it, Dickens prepares the sweeping historical backdrop against which the tale of Lucie and Doctor Manette plays out. Although the French Revolution will not erupt for another fourteen years, the broken wine cask conveys the suffering and rage that will lead the French peasantry to revolt. The scene surrounding the wine cask contains a nightmarish quality. In clambering to feed on the dregs, the members of the mob stain themselves with wine. The liquid smears the peasants’ hands, feet, and faces, foreshadowing the approaching chaos during which the blood of aristocrats and political dissidents will run as freely. The ominous scrawling of the word blood on the wall similarly prefigures the violence. Dickens here betrays his conflicted ideas regarding the revolution. While he acknowledges, throughout the novel, the horrible conditions that led the peasantry to violence, he never condones the peasants’ actions. In his text the mob remains a frightening beast, manifesting a threat of danger rather than the promise of freedom: “Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth.”
Dickens uses several techniques to criticize the corrupt circumstances of the peasants’ oppression. He proves a master of irony and sarcasm, as becomes clear in his many biting commentaries; thus we read, “[France] entertained herself . . . with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have . . . his body burned alive”(Book the First, Chapter 1). Dickens also makes great use of anaphora, a rhetorical device wherein a word or phrase appears repeated in successive clauses or sentences. His meditation on hunger, which he cites as a defining impetus behind the peasants’ imminent uprising, serves as a perfect example of how the author uses repetition to emphasize his point:
Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses . . . Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down the smokeless chimneys . . . Hunger was the inscription on the baker’s shelves . . . Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomies in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato. . . . (Chapter 5)
With this repetition, Dickens demonstrates that hunger dominates every aspect of these peasants’ lives—they cannot do anything without being reminded of their hunger. The presence of the word hunger at the opening of each clause reflects the fact that hunger is the peasants’ first thought and first word—they have no means to escape it. Reading the passage aloud, we become paralleled with the poor. We encounter “Hunger” at each breath.
In addition to setting the stage for revolution—both the historical upheaval in France and the more private but no less momentous changes in his characters’ lives—Dickens establishes the unabashedly sentimental tone that characterizes many of the relationships in the novel, especially that between Doctor Manette and Lucie. As she coaxes her father into consciousness of his previous life and identity, Lucie emerges as a caricature of an innocent, pure-hearted, and loving woman. Most modern readers find her speech and gestures rather saccharine: “And if . . . I have to kneel to my honoured father, and implore his pardon for having never for his sake striven all day and lain awake and wept all night . . . weep for it, weep for it!” Indeed, as a realistically imagined woman grieving over a family tragedy, Lucie proves unconvincing. Her emotions, her speech, and even her physical beauty belong to the realm of hyperbole. But Dickens does not aim for realism: he employs these sorts of exaggerations for the sake of emphasis and dramatic effect.
The Parisian revolutionaries first began addressing each of other as “Jacques” during the Jacquerie, a 1358 peasant uprising against French nobility. The nobles contemptuously referred to the peasants by the extremely common name of “Jacques” in order to accentuate their inferiority and deny their individuality. The peasants adopted the name as a war name. Just as the fourteenth-century peasants rallied around their shared low birth, so too do Dickens’s revolutionaries fight as a unified machine of war. For example, at the storming of the Bastille in Book the Second, Chapter 21, Defarge cries out, “Work, comrades all, work! Work, Jacques One, Jacques Two, Jacques One Thousand, Jacques Two Thousand, Jacques Five-and-Twenty Thousand . . . work!”