A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 2, Chapter 3 : A Disappointment | Summary



Charles Darnay is on trial for treason at the Old Bailey, and testimony begins with a so-called patriot, John Barsad, who says he can prove the prisoner has been making lists of the Crown's troops and movements for five years to give to the French monarchy. Barsad swears he is not a spy and has never done anything wrong. His servant, Roger Cly, also swears everything Barsad has said is true, and that the lists in his possession were found in Darnay's desk.

Mr. Jarvis Lorry testifies that Darnay did take the midnight ferry with him and was the only other passenger except for Lorry's companions, Lucie and Dr. Manette. Lucie Manette is compelled to say what she knows, having taken the same ferry and spoken with Darnay about why he was there, but she feels she is doing Darnay a disservice by speaking about it and is very distraught. She says he was on perilous confidential business that took him back and forth from France. Dr. Manette also testifies, but does not remember anything Darnay said because the doctor had just been released from prison.

Mr. Stryver, Darnay's attorney, then tears into Barsad's testimony, calling him a spy and a scoundrel. A wigged gentleman in the courtroom tosses him a note, and Stryver changes his direction a bit, saying it is impossible that Barsad could identify Darnay as the only person who could have made the lists because he can't identify Darnay by appearance. Stryver points out that his colleague, Sydney Carton, looks remarkably like Darnay and tells the jury that they cannot trust Barsad's judgment. In addition, he says, Barsad's servant Cly assisted him in his nefarious acts, and Barsad picked Darnay as a likely victim because of his family connections in France. Lucie's testimony, he says, has been twisted by Barsad and is actually just a report of the types of conversation anyone would have with a stranger traveling on the ferry.

The jury retires to make a decision. Lucie begins to faint, and her father takes her outside. Lorry checks on the Manettes, and then tells Jerry to make sure he is there for the jury's announcement. Jerry lets Darnay know that Miss Manette is much better now, and Darnay asks him to pass on the message that he is deeply sorry she has suffered through this trial. Sydney Carton asks Darnay what he thinks will happen, and Darnay is convinced he will die. But later, Lorry thrusts a paper at Jerry with the word "Acquitted" on it to take to Tellson's Bank. Jerry mutters that if the message had been "Returned to Life," this time he would have understood it.


This is the first time Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay see each other, and their physical resemblance is remarkable. This fact saves Darnay's life by casting doubt on Barsad's judgment, and Dickens uses this twist in the plot to foreshadow later events in the novel. Darnay will need saving again when he is in France. The theme of resurrection is brought back here, because if Darnay had been convicted of treason, he would have been put to death, and for this particular crime, the punishment is a very long and painful death rather than a simple hanging or beheading.

It is also interesting to note that Sydney Carton could have been dragged into this case, because he looks like Darnay. Barsad didn't try to implicate him, but Carton was risking his own safety by pointing out that he looks just like a prisoner who has been accused of treason. Carton may be a wreck in his personal life, but he has a self-sacrificing streak that becomes a theme whenever he is in the picture.

In addition, the connection between Darnay and the Manettes has now been forged: a connection that will prove extremely important. Again, Lucie Manette is portrayed as a woman who doesn't want to get the prisoner in trouble, which is due partly to her innate goodness and partly to an instant attraction between her and Darnay.

The theme of injustice is also explored in this chapter, as Barsad and Cly try to frame Darnay, using his position as a French aristocrat to make him vulnerable to accusations of spying. It deflects attention from their own spying activities, which are, according to Stryver, significant and treasonous; he accuses them of fabricating the evidence against his client, calling them "forgers and false swearers."

Finally, the atmosphere in the courtroom is somewhat quieter than one would expect at a public hearing, introducing England once again as a symbol of relative stability. In England, the executions are public, as are the hearings for prisoners such as this one, and people place their natural curiosity for the macabre above their good sense as fellow human beings by attending these events as if they are entertainment. But when the attorney general finishes his presentation of evidence and his questioning of Barsad, a "buzz" of chatter ensues that quiets down as soon as Stryver begins to question the witness. Later in the novel, readers will find out what courtrooms in France were like in these types of cases during the revolution, and the difference in noise level alone will be notable, illustrating a difference in the views of the public on how much influence they have, or should have, in the legal system.

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