A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 2, Chapter 9 : The Gorgon's Head | Summary



The table has been set for a late supper for two in a tower room at the chateau, but the Marquis's nephew has not yet arrived. The Marquis thinks he sees something outside, but when the servant opens the blinds, he can see nothing. Not expecting his nephew to arrive so late, the Marquis begins eating alone. Halfway through his meal, the young man arrives. It is Charles Darnay. There is tension between the two men: Darnay suspects his uncle of adding to the evidence against him—an allegation the Marquis denies.

Darnay says their family has done great harm to the peasantry and to France in general but, as his mother would have wanted, he is committed to being merciful. The Marquis admits that things are changing in France: "Our not-remote ancestors held the right of life and death over the surrounding vulgar. From this room, many such dogs have been taken out to be hanged; in ... my bedroom ... one fellow ... was poniarded on the spot for professing some insolent delicacy respecting his daughter ... We have lost many privileges; ... the assertion of our station ... might ... cause us real inconvenience." But he also says he "will die, perpetuating the system under which [he has] lived." He recommends that Charles "accept [his] natural destiny." But Charles renounces his inheritance (the chateau and lands) and France: "If it passed to me from you, to-morrow ... I would abandon it, and live otherwise and elsewhere. It is little to relinquish. What is it but a wilderness of misery and ruin!" The Marquis wants to know where Darnay is going to support himself with his new peaceful attitude and no money. Darnay tells him he will go to England and stay there, having found refuge with a French doctor and his daughter. The two say goodnight. The Marquis sends his servant with Darnay to light the way, adding under his breath, "And burn Monsieur my nephew in his bed, if you will."

The Marquis goes to bed, thinking about the death of the child at the fountain. The night passes quietly. The next morning, the chateau bell begins ringing, and Gabelle gallops off on a horse. The mender of roads dashes to join the villagers who stand whispering at the village fountain, wondering what has happened. The Marquis is still in his bed, with a knife pinning this note to his chest: "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from Jacques."


This chapter reveals Charles Darnay's reasons for fleeing to England, the most important of which is his unwillingness to continue being part of a family that oppresses and kills people. He is also suspicious that his uncle might be pleased to see him locked away in prison. The Marquis doesn't take any of this very seriously, but he should have, because by the end of this chapter, he is dead, an event that is foreshadowed in their supper conversation, when the Marquis talks about dying "perpetuating the system" he has always known, and later when they talk about the inheritance Darnay is renouncing.

Their supper conversation also adds two more specific crimes to the Marquis's record. Not only did he run down the child in Paris with his carriage, but he also had a man killed "for professing some insolent delicacy respecting his daughter" and most likely raped the man's daughter. Readers will learn more about these crimes later. In the same conversation, the Marquis shows an interest in Dr. Manette. By placing the Marquis's mention of the father–daughter incident in the same conversation with his nephew's mention of a French doctor, Dickens links them in the reader's mind. The reason for this will become clear as the novel progresses.

The title of the chapter relates to the stone statues in the courtyard of the Marquis's house. At the end of the chapter, the narrator says that it is as if the Gorgon had stared at someone and "added the one stone face wanting": the Marquis, who is stone cold in his bed. Dickens usually gave his chapters titles that subtly referenced a metaphor or mythical allusion in the chapter. In this way, he could let readers know what was happening in the chapter, and because each chapter was an installment in a magazine, each one had to have its own title.

The reader doesn't know yet who killed the Marquis, but the note from "Jacques" reveals that it's a revolutionary, not Charles Darnay. Darnay hates his family, but he hasn't joined the band of revolutionaries calling themselves "Jacques." There are a lot of people who want to see the Marquis dead, but Dickens referred to Gaspard earlier as a tall figure, a clue that Gaspard may have taken revenge for the death of his child. But Defarge was with Gaspard when the child was killed. He might well have sent one of the Jacques or even committed the deed himself. Again, the theme of violence resurfaces: The solution to any problem in France seems to be violent death.

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