A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 2, Chapter 7 : Monseigneur in Town | Summary

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Summary

Every two weeks, the powerful lord known only as the Monseigneur holds a reception at a hotel in Paris. On this night, he indulges in a cup of hot chocolate, a treat requiring no less than four attendants. His excesses were impoverishing the Monseigneur, so he took his sister out of a convent and married her off to a very rich Farmer-General. It is imperative that he and everyone around him dress well, keeping up the appearance that everything is under control. The Monseigneur prefers lavish dinners and receptions over actually thinking of the needs of the French people. Because of his position in the Court, no one around him will tell him anything he doesn't want to hear, and everything is fine as long as the Monseigneur always gets his way.

The last to leave the reception is the Marquis St. Evrémonde. Just as he likes, "his man" drives the carriage as quickly as possible so that the Marquis can "see the common people dispersed before his horses." Suddenly, the carriage stops, and people gather. A tall man—Gaspard—is wailing and crying over a bundle. The Marquis asks what all the fuss is about and is told that the carriage has hit and killed a child. The Marquis says that people should be more careful with their children—they're always in his way—and is more worried that his horses might be hurt. He tosses a gold coin at Gaspard for his trouble. Monsieur Defarge tries to comfort Gaspard, saying that at least the child died quickly and knew no pain, escaping what would probably be a terrible life as an adult. The Marquis hears him and calls him a philosopher, tossing him a coin as well. As the carriage begins to drive away, someone throws one of the coins back into the carriage. The Marquis demands to know who threw the coin. He looks to see if Monsieur Defarge is there, but all he sees is Gaspard hovering over his child and Madame Defarge next to him, silently knitting. He calls the peasants dogs, and says he would willingly exterminate all of them, especially the person who threw the coin. No one says anything against him because they know he has power over them. He speeds off.

The rest of the guests at the reception drive by as well, all members of the wealthy class and the aristocracy, while the commoners watch the procession like rats peeking out of their holes. Meanwhile, Madame Defarge keeps knitting.

Analysis

The Marquis appears for the first time in this chapter. He is a guest at the Monseigneur's reception. The Monseigneur himself is described as a powerful man who is vain, easily swayed, and self-obsessed. But the Marquis is something else entirely. At 60 he is well dressed, "haughty," and has "a face like a fine mask"—a thin-lipped, narrow-eyed face that changes only in a flare, pulse, or reddening of the nostrils. The narrator says he has "a look of treachery, and cruelty." At the reception, few people speak with the Marquis; he is mostly alone. Even the Monseigneur does not greet him warmly. Readers can glean from this that he is not well liked—probably because he is not likable—and that he may well feel resentful of how he has been treated. This suspicion is borne out by his actions in the rest of the chapter.

This chapter also reveals how the aristocracy may appear to the lower classes, providing insight into the resentment that spawned the revolution. The Monseigneur values his own comforts above all else, and has even sacrificed his sister's vocation and happiness in order to continue living in the style he enjoys. Later, the Marquis feels that a gold coin is sufficient compensation for the loss of a child—as if the child were "some common thing" he has "accidentally broke[n]." The aristocracy doesn't view the lower classes as human; the Marquis calls them dogs to their faces. Through the narrator, Dickens likens them to rats, who have to scrounge for whatever they can find and hide in order not to be exterminated.

The Marquis's treatment of Gaspard is another example of the themes of injustice and violence. Later, readers will learn about the Marquis's sexual abuse of a peasant woman, her death, and the deaths of her family members—events that are connected to Dr. Manette and his imprisonment.

The actions and attitudes of the supercilious Monseigneur and the scornful Marquis represent how many among the aristocracy act toward the populace. It is not surprising that the popular uprising turns into a bloodbath in which the aristocrats are the first to suffer.

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