A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 3, Chapter 12 : Darkness | Summary



Sydney Carton decides he should be seen in the neighborhood, especially in Saint Antoine. First, he has a meal and then a good sleep. He has stopped drinking anything more than "light thin wine." He wakes at 7 p.m.—two hours before he must meet Dr. Manette at Tellson's Bank—and goes to the Defarges' wine shop, where he finds the Defarges, The Vengeance, and Jacques Three in conversation over a drink. He orders a glass of wine in halting French. While pouring it, Madame Defarge remarks to the others how much Carton looks "like Evrémonde." After toasting the Republic, Carton pretends to be struggling to read a Jacobin newsletter while actually eavesdropping on the Defarges' conversation.

Madame Defarge favors complete extermination of the Evrémonde family, but Monsieur Defarge wants to stop at executing Darnay because "this Doctor has suffered much." His wife counters that Dr. Manette is "not ... a true friend of the Republic" and makes clear she wants to send Lucie to the guillotine, too. Jacques Three and The Vengeance support her enthusiastically. Madame Defarge says to her husband, "Thou wouldst rescue this man even now," and he denies that. Then Madame Defarge admits something to Jacques Three and The Vengeance that she told her husband on the night he brought home the doctor's paper from the Bastille: "That peasant family so injured by the two Evrémonde brothers ... is [her] family." She says to her husband, "Tell Wind and Fire where to stop ... but don't tell me." Then customers enter the shop, and the conversation ends. Carton leaves, asking Madame Defarge for directions to the National Palace. As she raises her arm to point the way, he considers stabbing her beneath it, but instead goes on his way, stopping at the prison before returning to the bank.

At Tellson's, Jarvis Lorry tells Carton the doctor hasn't returned yet. By midnight, he still hasn't arrived. When Dr. Manette finally shows up, he has no hat or scarf and drops his coat on the floor, saying "I cannot find it ... and I must have it. Where is it?" He is asking for his shoemaking bench. When he doesn't get it, he throws a childish tantrum. Carton says that the doctor must be taken to Lucie, but first, he lays out a plan for Lorry. He tells Lorry what he overheard at the Defarges' shop and that he suspects Madame Defarge will wait to gather as much evidence as possible against Lucie, little Lucie, and even the doctor. He explains that the wood-sawyer can testify that Lucie has been signaling to prisoners; also, it is considered treason "to mourn for, or sympathise with, a victim of the Guillotine," and he believes Madame Defarge will wait until everyone has seen the family's sorrow. In the doctor's coat, he finds papers allowing Dr. Manette, Lucie, and the child to leave the city; he entrusts these papers, as well as his own, to Lorry and tells him to have a carriage readied and everyone in it at 2 p.m. the next day. Lorry is to wait only for Carton and to leave as soon as Carton joins him in the carriage. Lorry promises "solemnly that nothing will influence [him] to alter the course on which [they] now stand pledged." Carton kisses Lorry's hand and helps the older man bring the doctor to Lucie. Then he stands in her courtyard, sending a blessing up to her window.


Sydney Carton, who has played the part of a careless drunk who only helps his employer when push comes to shove, stages a brilliant stakeout to get information from the Defarges, proving that he is a much better spy than the professionals readers have met in the book. He completely convinces the Defarges that he can't understand what they are saying to each other so they talk about their plans in front of him without censoring themselves. Carton not only has a gentle heart but his cleverness extends beyond legal cases, and his heroism is genuine. It looks like Carton's reconnaissance mission at the wine shop will save everyone's life but Charles Darnay's. But why must Lorry and the family wait for Carton to join them? Right now, he has no obvious connection to Darnay, so his life isn't in danger. Yet, he insists Jarvis Lorry hang on to his traveling papers. Again, Dickens builds the suspense. The reader suspects that whatever Carton ends up doing, it will be self-sacrificing, in order to keep his promise to Lucie.

In just two days, Carton has completely reversed Lorry's opinion of him. Before, he found him rather distasteful, but now he trusts him completely and does as asked without question. In two days, a relationship has formed between the childless Lorry and the fatherless Carton that seems as close as family. Both men seem to have a limitless capacity for love. Before they part, Carton kisses the older man's hand in a gesture a son might make toward his father—a gesture Carton makes knowing they will never meet again.

The other big piece of news dropped in the conversation at the wine shop is the identity of the young girl from the peasant family, the girl who was hidden away. That young girl is Madame Defarge. Her coldness and seemingly heartless desire for vengeance on the Evrémondes is explained by this revelation. It seems less terrible that she wants revenge because her pain is real and understandable. However, it is still inhumane to blame and condemn someone who was a baby at that time and to extend this condemnation to his wife and child now that he is an adult. Dickens doesn't give Madame Defarge a pass to act the way she does, but he does give the reader an opportunity to see that her rabid insistence on vengeance may not be the product of evil but of madness. Her personal history also explains why her husband's attitude toward Darnay has seemed so ambiguous and even remorseful.

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