A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 3, Chapter 10 : The Substance of the Shadow | Summary



Dr. Manette's paper is read to the court. It tells how the doctor was compelled by two men to go with them to a house to treat a patient. They were armed and rude, and he could not refuse. At the house, the two men hit the person who answered the door across the face for being too slow and then brought the doctor to the patient—a beautiful young woman tied to a bed with strips of gentlemen's clothing. One binding was a scarf embroidered with a crest and the monogram E. She kept crying out "My husband, my father, and my brother!" then counting to 12 and saying "Hush."

The two men, who were twin brothers, told Dr. Manette there was another patient. This was a young boy dying from a sword wound. The boy told Dr. Manette the woman was his sister; she was a "good girl" with a sickly husband, but the younger Evrémonde brother wanted to sleep with her. To force her husband to agree, the Evrémonde brothers harnessed the husband to a cart and drove him all day every day. At night, they kept him on their property in the cold "to quiet the frogs." One day they let the man go at noon to try to find food; he lay in his wife's arms, "sobbed twelve times, once for every stroke of the bell," and died. Then the younger brother took the woman away and had his way with her. Upon hearing what had happened, the boy's father had a heart attack and died. The boy hid his younger sister and went after the younger Evrémonde brother. The Marquis's brother threw money at the boy, then whipped him, and when the boy still came at him, plunged his sword into the boy. The doctor supported the boy, who confronted the Marquis, saying, "I summon you and yours, to the last of your bad race, to answer for [your deeds]. I mark this cross of blood upon you, as a sign that I do it." After repeating his curse for the Marquis's brother, the boy fell dead.

The woman lived a week before lapsing into unconsciousness. The Marquis asked the doctor not to say anything about what he had witnessed, but Dr. Manette avoided answering. Finally, the woman died, just before midnight. The Marquis congratulated his brother and tried to give the doctor money, but the doctor refused it. Soon afterward, the Marquis's wife showed up at the doctor's door, asking if he knew the family name of the peasants, as she wanted to find the younger sister and help her, but the doctor didn't know. The Marquise made her little son, Charles, promise to turn over whatever he inherited from her to the dead woman's sister.

Dr. Manette delivered a letter to a government minister recounting what had witnessed, and that same night a man arrived and followed the doctor's servant, Ernest Defarge, up to where the doctor was sitting with his wife. The man said he had a coach waiting downstairs to take the doctor to an urgent case. In the coach, the doctor was gagged and tied. The Evrémondes met the coach, identified Dr. Manette, and burned the doctor's letter in front of him. The doctor was imprisoned in the Bastille and 10 years later wrote this paper denouncing the brothers "to the last of their race."

The crowd goes wild, and Madame Defarge happily murmurs, "Save him now, my doctor, save him!" Darnay is unanimously condemned to death, to be executed within 24 hours.


This terrible story further explains Dr. Manette's suffering in prison and his descent into insanity. In addition to the many years of solitary confinement, Dr. Manette had to suffer his own guilt. He hadn't been able to save any of the patients in the peasant family, and he couldn't make the Marquis or his brother pay for what they had done. The feelings of desperate frustration and failure nearly did him in. The letter that had reported the incident was burned, and the only consolation was that one member of the peasant family was still alive, hiding somewhere. Dickens doesn't yet reveal who she is, but he will.

The story of the Marquis and his brother reveals more evidence of their view of peasants not only as animals to be herded and killed as necessary, but also as property. Women in the village were seen by people like the Marquis as available for their pleasure no matter what their family status was. Whether or not such a right existed is still a matter of debate. If it did exist, the droit du seigneur ("the lord's right") actually pertained only to the woman's wedding night, when the lord could sleep with her if he wanted. But it is generally believed that such rights were just another type of tax; the vassal could pay the lord a sum of money instead of acquiescing to the demand. In Victorian England, the perception of women as sex slaves was abhorrent, and this letter was Dickens's way of completing the picture of a truly evil character.

Dr. Manette's testimony from so long ago denouncing the entire "race" of Evrémondes is the key testimony that seals Charles Darnay's fate. The onlookers are baying for his blood. These are the very same people who carried him home on their shoulders the day before, celebrating his reprieve. Sydney Carton's earlier statement that the same crowd that carries people home will take them to their death is proven correct.

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