A year later, Darnay makes a moderate living as a French teacher in London. He visits Doctor Manette and admits his love for Lucie. He honors Manette’s special relationship with his daughter, assuring him that his own love for Lucie will in no way disturb that bond. Manette applauds Darnay for speaking so “feelingly and so manfully” and asks if he seeks a promise from him. Darnay asks Manette to promise to vouch for what he has said, for the true nature of his love, should Lucie ever ask. Manette promises as much. Wanting to be worthy of his confidence, Darnay attempts to tell Manette his real name, confessing that it is not Darnay. Manette stops him short, making him promise to reveal his name only if he proves successful in his courtship. He will hear Darnay’s secret on his wedding day. Hours later, after Darnay has left, Lucie hears her father cobbling away at his shoemaker’s bench. Frightened by his relapse, she watches him as he sleeps that night.
Late that same night, Carton and Stryver work in Stryver’s chambers. In his puffed-up and arrogant manner, Stryver announces that he intends to marry Lucie. Carton drinks heavily at the news, assuring Stryver that his words have not upset him. Stryver suggests that Carton himself find “some respectable woman with a little property,” and marry her, lest he end up ill and penniless.
The next day, Stryver plans to take Lucie to the Vauxhall Gardens to make his marriage proposal. On his way, he drops in at Tellson’s Bank, where he informs Mr. Lorry of his intentions. Lorry persuades Stryver to postpone his proposal until he knows for certain that Lucie will accept. This admonition upsets Stryver. He almost insults Lucie as a “mincing Fool,” but Lorry warns him against doing so. Lorry asks that Stryver hold off his proposal for a few hours to give him time to consult the family and see exactly where Stryver stands. Later that night, Lorry visits Stryver and reports that his fears have been confirmed. If Stryver were to propose, the Manettes would reject his offer. Stryver dismisses the entire affair as one of the “vanities” of “empty-headed girls” and begs Lorry to forget it.
Carton, who frequently wanders near the Manettes’ house late at night, enters the house one August day and speaks to Lucie alone. She observes a change in his face. He laments his wasted life, despairing that he shall never live a better life than the one he now lives. Lucie assures him that he might become much worthier of himself. She believes that her tenderness can save him. Carton insists that he has declined beyond salvation but admits that he has always viewed Lucie as “the last dream of [his] soul.” She has made him consider beginning his life again, though he no longer believes in the possibility of doing so. He feels happy to have admitted this much to Lucie and to know that something remains in him that still deserves pity. Carton ends his confession with a pledge that he would do anything for Lucie, including give his life.
In this section, Dickens develops the love triangle among Lucie, Carton, and Darnay. Rather than simply writing an encyclopedic account of the French Revolution, Dickens balances history with the more private struggles of his principal characters. He links the two sides of his novel thematically, as each raises questions about the possibilities of revolution and resurrection—Carton, for example, like France itself, strikes out for a new life.
It is in Chapter 13 that Dickens lays the foundation for Carton’s eventual turnaround. Upon seeing Carton, Lucie observes a change in his demeanor. Much of this change owes to Carton’s feelings for her. Just as Carton shares Darnay’s physical countenance, he also shares Darnay’s devotion to Lucie. Yet Carton’s confession strikes the reader as more touching and profound than that of his counterpart. The reader certainly believes Darnay as he informs Manette, “Dear Doctor Manette, I love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her,” but this declaration, while direct, seems rather vapid and unimaginative. The alliteration of “dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly” highlights the flat—almost bored—tone of the declaration as it slogs through its sequence of adverbs. The closing sentence seems almost a parody of Romantic love poetry. Darnay touts his love as a great force of the universe but does so with the most mundane possible phrasing, and the repetition of the word love is dogged and uninspired.
Carton’s words, on the other hand, betray a deep psychological and emotional struggle, suggesting the existence of feelings more complex, perhaps even more worthy of reciprocation, than Darnay’s:
In my degradation I have not been so degraded but that the sight of you with your father, and of this home made such a home by you, has stirred old shadows that I thought had died out of me. . . . I have had unformed ideas of striving afresh, beginning anew, shaking off sloth and sensuality, and fighting out the abandoned fight.
In his depiction of his love, Carton opens himself to the reader’s sympathy in a way that Darnay does not. Whereas Darnay makes an objective, almost factual statement of his love for Lucie, Carton describes his emotions, tinged as they are by realistic insecurity (“my degradation”) and uncertainty (“unformed ideas”). He also speaks poetically of “old shadows” and “the abandoned fight”; his use of metaphor seems to reflect his inability to grasp fully his profound feelings. Darnay, in contrast, categorizes his experience simply as “love,” not pausing to ponder the emotions behind the word.
Lucie’s conjecture on whether she can “recall [Carton] . . . to a better course” echoes the beginning of the novel, when Lorry recalls Doctor Manette to life. Manette had to suffer a death of sorts—wasting nearly twenty years in prison—before being reborn into the life of love and devotion with Lucie. Now, Carton, too, shall have to undergo a sort of death or sacrifice in order to win the fight for love and meaning that he claims to have abandoned.
Dickens’s characteristic humor, largely absent from A Tale of Two Cities, shines through in his depiction of Stryver in Chapter 12. Dickens uses Stryver’s name to suggest the essential nature of his character. Coldly ambitious, the man ruthlessly strives to distinguish himself as a great businessman and here, in Chapter 12, endeavors to win the hand of Lucie Manette. Dickens ironically entitles the chapter “The Fellow of Delicacy,” bringing Stryver’s coarseness into greater relief. In Stryver’s surly refusal to heed Lorry’s gentle advice and postpone his courtship of Lucie, we see clearly one of Dickens’s greatest talents—the ability to capture a character through dialogue.
“Were you going [to Lucie’s] now?” asked Mr. Lorry. “Straight!” said Stryver, with a plump of his fist on the desk. “Then I think I wouldn’t, if I was you.” “Why?” said Stryver. “Now, I’ll put you in a corner,” forensically shaking a forefinger at him. “You are a man of business and bound to have a reason. State your reason. Why wouldn’t you go?”
The directness of Stryver’s response to Lorry (“Straight!”) and the emphatic nature of his accompanying thump on the table demonstrate his blind and unshakeable ambition. His finger-wagging and blustery imperative demanding to hear Lorry’s “reason” reveal his aggressive nature and refusal to be hindered in his pursuits. In his interrogating and intimidating mannerisms, Stryver acts as if he were arguing a legal point or cross-examining a witness. It is clear to the reader that he approaches the courtship as he would a case in court—as a way to gain money and stature—and not out of fondness for Lucie.