Summary: Chapter 18: Nine Days
Darnay and Doctor Manette converse before going to church for Darnay’s wedding to Lucie. Manette emerges “deadly pale” from this meeting. Darnay and Lucie are married and depart for their honeymoon. Almost immediately, a change comes over Manette; he now looks scared and lost. Later that day, Miss Pross and Mr. Lorry discover Manette at his shoemaker’s bench, lapsed into an incoherent state. They fear that he will not recover in time to join the newlyweds, as planned, on the honeymoon, and for nine days they keep careful watch over him.
Summary: Chapter 19: An Opinion
On the tenth morning, Lorry wakes to find the shoemaker’s bench put away and the Doctor reading a book. Lorry cautiously asks Manette what might have caused the now-ended relapse, relating Manette’s strange case as though it had happened to someone else. Manette suggests that he himself anticipated the reversion. He goes on to say that some stimulus must have triggered a memory strong enough to cause it. Manette reassures Miss Pross and Lorry that such a relapse is not likely to recur because the circumstances that caused it are unlikely to surface again. Still speaking as though the afflicted party were someone other than Manette, Lorry creates a scenario about a blacksmith. He asks whether, if the smith’s forge were associated with a trauma, the smith’s tools should be taken from him in order to spare him painful memories. Manette answers that the man used those tools to comfort his tortured mind and should be allowed to keep them. Eventually, however, Manette agrees, for Lucie’s sake, to let Lorry dispose of his tools while he is away. A few days later, Manette leaves to join Lucie and Darnay. In his absence, Lorry and Miss Pross hack the shoemaker’s bench to pieces, burn it, and bury the tools.
Summary: Chapter 20: A Plea
When Lucie and Darnay return home from their honeymoon, Sydney Carton is their first visitor. He apologizes for his drunkenness on the night of the trial and delivers a self-effacing speech in which he asks for Darnay’s friendship: “If you could endure to have such a worthless fellow . . . coming and going at odd times, I should ask that I might be permitted to come and go as a privileged person [in the household]. . . .” Carton leaves. Afterward, Darnay comments that Carton tends to be careless and reckless. Lucie deems this judgment too harsh and insists that Carton possesses a good, though wounded, heart. Lucie’s compassion touches Darnay, and he promises to regard Carton’s faults with sympathy.
Summary: Chapter 21: Echoing Footsteps
Years go by, and Lucie and her family enjoy a tranquil life. She gives birth to a daughter, little Lucie, and a son, who dies young. Lucie still maintains her habit of sitting in a corner of the parlor, listening to the echoing footsteps on the street below. By 1789, the echoes reverberate “from a distance” and make a sound “as of a great storm in France with a dreadful sea rising.” One day in July, Lorry visits the Darnays and reports that an alarming number of French citizens are sending their money and property to England.
The scene then shifts to the storming of the Bastille in Paris. Defarge and Madame Defarge serve as leaders among the mob. Once inside the Bastille, Defarge grabs a guard and demands to be taken to 105 North Tower. Defarge searches the cell. When he is finished, he rejoins the mob as it murders and mutilates the governor who had defended the fortress. Madame Defarge cuts off the man’s head.
Analysis: Chapters 18–21
Nearly every character in the novel battles against some form of imprisonment. In the case of Doctor Manette and Charles Darnay, this imprisonment is quite literal. But subtler, psychological confines torture other characters as much as any stone cell. Sydney Carton, for instance, cannot seem to escape his listlessness. Darnay struggles to free himself from the legacy of his family history. Lorry tries to unshackle his heart from its enslavement to Tellson’s Bank. Finally, although Manette long ago escaped the Bastille, in this section he battles the tormenting memories of his years there. Prompted by the discovery of Darnay’s true identity, Manette reverts to pounding out shoes in order to calm his troubled mind. This episode brings the notion of the fight for freedom from the level of political revolution to the level of personal struggles, suggesting that men and women toil to free themselves from the forces that oppress them as surely as nations do.
Dickens further elaborates the parallel between personal and public struggles in Chapter 21, which begins with Lucie in her parlor listening to the echo of footsteps on the street, and then shifts to the storming of the Bastille in Paris. The footsteps sweep the reader along, from the intimate struggles of private life to a revolution that will shape the future of an entire country and continent. Dickens’s description of the battle contains exceptional power. Consider the following passage from Chapter 21:
Flashing weapons, blazing torches, smoking waggon-loads of wet straw, hard work at neighbouring barricades in all directions, shrieks, volleys, execrations, bravery without stint, boom, smash and rattle, and the furious sounding of the living sea; but, still the deep ditch, and the single drawbridge, and the massive stone walls, and the eight great towers, and still Defarge of the wine shop at his gun, grown doubly hot by the service of Four fierce hours.
Here Dickens captures the frantic and dangerous energy of the conflict. This passage’s effect owes much to Dickens’s language, which employs both alliteration and onomatopoeia to evoke the mood of battle. Alliteration, or the repetition of consonants, fills the passage with harsh sounds. The effect, in the last line for instance, mimics the regular bursts of gunfire: “at his gun, grown doubly hot by the service of Four fierce hours” (emphasis added). The passage’s onomatopoeia, or use of words that imitate the sound to which they refer—such as boom, smash, and rattle—contributes to the overall impression of chaos as the sounds of the battle take over. Both methods cause an abstract description to give way to an eruption of noise, as the harsh and relentless pounding and battering of the siege becomes a palpable presence in the text.
As the battle rages on, Dickens introduces a symbol that plays a major role in the novel’s theme of resurrection: blood, which begins to flow in the streets of Saint Antoine. Dickens links the image of blood to that of wine: after a day of butchery, the revolutionaries’ clothes and hands bear stains of red, recalling the day on which the wine-cask breaks in front of Defarge’s shop (Book the First, Chapter 5). With these allegorical images of blood and wine, the theme of resurrection takes on a decidedly Christian undertone. In the Catholic ritual of communion, the priest consecrates a cup of wine and it becomes the blood of Christ, whose entombment and miraculous ascent to heaven on Easter Day have rendered him a symbol of resurrection in Christian tradition. In later chapters, Dickens will continue to draw upon this Christian association of blood, wine, and resurrection. Just as Christ shed his wine red blood upon the cross prior to being entombed and resurrected, so must the blood of the aristocracy flow before the commoners can take up their new lives.