A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 2, Chapter 11 : A Companion Picture | Summary



It is 5 a.m. and Sydney Carton and Mr. Stryver have been working late every night preparing for the long vacation. Carton has been drinking punch and suffering from a headache. Stryver tells Carton he acts morose when they visit the Manettes and he should learn to present himself better so as not to make Stryver ashamed of him. Carton replies that as a lawyer it's probably a good thing for him to cultivate his ability to be ashamed. Stryver tells him that he, Stryver, is very careful about how he presents himself, especially because he plans on courting Lucie Manette. Stryver feels Lucie is fortunate because he is "already pretty well off, and a rapidly rising man, and a man of some distinction." Carton, meanwhile, has begun rapidly drinking down bumper after bumper of punch, while claiming to approve of Stryver's plans. Stryver tells Carton he really ought to get a wife himself.


Poor Sydney Carton is not quite prepared for another claim on the hand of Lucie Manette, and his sudden increase in drinking speed and equally sudden inability to say much at all gives away how he really feels about Stryver going after Lucie as a possible wife. Carton knows very well that any man would want to have Lucie for a wife, as she is beautiful, kind, and sweet; she is nearly faultless. But that doesn't erase the feelings of jealousy that crop up when Stryver makes his announcement. As usual, Carton shuts down emotionally and doesn't tell Stryver his feelings because Carton thinks he doesn't deserve Lucie anyway. Carton's silence on this matter is a kind of self-sacrifice; it may stem from self-doubt, but Carton is willing to step out of his friend's way.

It is clear that Stryver thinks highly of Carton's abilities but also that he considers Carton a friend. Not only does he give Carton advice meant to help him, but he accepts Carton's pointed comments with equanimity. For example, Carton says to his employer, "It should be very beneficial to a man in your practice at the bar, to be ashamed of anything ... you ought to be much obliged to me [for making you feel ashamed]." Stryver understands this as a joke and shrugs it off, returning to his point. Jokes at the expense of lawyers are common in Dickens's novels. He wrote 15 novels, and there are lawyers in 11 of them. From Dickens's three years as a law clerk, his own law studies, and a later experience as a lawyer's client in a lawsuit, he came to believe that the law rarely served anyone but the lawyers, who earned money from every case while others suffered. In Bleak House, for instance, an extended suit over an inheritance ultimately puts the inheritance in the pockets of the lawyers involved, while the heirs miss out. When reading Carton's quip, Dickens's devoted audience would have immediately recalled his many legal characters—most of them much less admirable than Stryver.

Because Carton loves Lucie, she and her family are really the only force that can lift him out of his inactivity and sadness. Readers may suspect that, after this conversation, he will begin to think about how he presents himself at the Manette household and resolve to change.

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