A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 3, Chapter 13 : Fifty-Two | Summary



Fifty-two people are awaiting execution in the Conciergerie. Charles Darnay is one of them. After hearing Dr. Manette's document, he fully understands that there is no hope. He writes a letter to Lucie, explaining that he had not known why her father was imprisoned and that it was a condition of their marriage that he not tell her his real name. He writes to the doctor to tell him he hadn't known about his connection with the Evrémondes. He commends Lucie and his daughter to the doctor's care and the care of the entire family to Mr. Jarvis Lorry. Sydney Carton doesn't even cross his mind.

Then he sleeps and dreams he is back in Soho with his family. In the morning, he doesn't realize where he is "until it flashed upon his mind, 'this is the day of my death!'" He hears the hours striking and knows he will never hear those hours struck again. He is supposed to be executed at 3 p.m.; the tumbrils move slowly, so he thinks he will be leaving around 2 p.m. He paces back and forth in his cell, calmly counting the hours.

Then he hears "footsteps in the stone passage outside the door." The door is unlocked, and in walks Sydney Carton. Carton says he has a message from Lucie that Darnay is to do everything he says without argument. He tells Darnay to switch clothes with him and shake out his hair like Carton's. Darnay protests the switch won't work and Carton will just die with him but does what he's told. Carton insists he's not asking Darnay to escape and if he should, to refuse. Then Carton dictates a letter addressed to no one and undated. The letter begins, "If you remember ... the words that passed between us, long ago, you will readily comprehend this when you see it. You do remember them, I know. It is not in your nature to forget them. ... I am thankful that the time has come, when I can prove them. That I do so is no subject for regret or grief." As Darnay writes, Carton leans down and puts his hand near Darnay's head. Darnay starts getting woozy and eventually passes out. Carton puts the paper in Darnay's breast pocket and orders John Barsad to take "Sydney Carton" out and say that he had already been weak with emotion going in and became fainter once inside. He reminds him to take him to the courtyard, place him in the carriage, and remind Lorry of his promise. Barsad has two men carry Darnay out, and he says to Carton, "The time is short, Evrémonde." Carton replies, "I know it well. Be careful of my friend, I entreat you, and leave me." Barsad leaves with Darnay on a litter, carried by the two men.

Carton is led out of his cell to be bound with the rest of the 52 prisoners to die that day. He sees a young seamstress, who recognizes him, calls him Citizen Evrémonde, and asks if she can hold his hand to give her courage. When he squeezes her hand and brings it to his lips, she gets a better look at him and realizes he is a stranger. She whispers, "Are you dying for him?" He whispers back, "And his wife and child." She asks if she can hold his "brave hand," and he tells her he will hold her hand until the last moment.

Meanwhile, Lorry is answering questions at the barrier and refers to Darnay as Sydney Carton, who is unwell and "has separated sadly from a friend who is under the displeasure of the Republic." After a few more questions, they are waved on. Lucie worries constantly that they are being pursued, but Lorry can see no one. They change horses and postilions several times without incident. Suddenly, the postilions begin arguing and stop the coach to ask how many heads were to roll today; Lorry tells him 52, settling the argument. They start to move again. As it gets dark, Darnay begins to regain consciousness, but thinks he is still with Carton, calling him by name and asking what is in his hand. They drive on through the night, safe.


In this chapter, it becomes clear what Sydney Carton's real plan is, and it is nothing less than to give his own life to save Charles Darnay's. He knows that Lucie has said she can't live for long without Darnay, and he wants her to have a long life filled with love. The only way he can do that is to give her Darnay, alive, and there is only one way to make sure Darnay lives. Carton uses his resemblance to Darnay to bring him back to life, reinforcing the resurrection theme.

Darnay has no time to react, although he protests the plan at every turn, believing it to be futile and that it can only end in Carton dying alongside him. Carton knew Darnay would protest and purchased chemicals that, when mixed, would render Darnay unconscious and therefore unable to give the plan away. When he delivers Darnay to Jarvis Lorry, John Barsad shows him Darnay's face. In the carriage, only Lorry knows it is Charles Darnay and not Sydney Carton who is traveling with them. Lucie is too busy to notice as she is occupied with her daughter and especially her father, who is "helpless, inarticulately murmuring, wandering" and therefore requires all her attention. It is not until Darnay awakes that Lucie will realize he has been resurrected—and how.

Carton's connection with the seamstress gives him strength, as it does her, especially when she realizes he is dying for Evrémonde. In a way, the two are parallel. She is dying for the Republic, though she doesn't see how her death can benefit it, and he is dying for Lucie. Carton is a hero not only for saving Darnay and keeping his promise to Lucie, but also for comforting a stranger who has been wrongly condemned to death.

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