A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 3, Chapter 14 : The Knitting Done | Summary



Madame Defarge fears her husband may warn Dr. Manette and his family that she intends to denounce them because of his feelings for the doctor. On the day Evrémonde is scheduled to die, she meets with Jacques Three, who is on the jury of the Tribunal; The Vengeance; and the wood-sawyer who can attest that Lucie has been signaling prisoners in La Force. She herself witnessed Dr. Manette doing so. She gives her knitting to The Vengeance and asks her friend to save her a seat at the execution. Madame Defarge sets off to the Manette apartment, where she hopes to find Lucie and the doctor mourning Darnay, which will help to condemn them.

While Madame Defarge is approaching, Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher are making their plans. Jarvis Lorry has charged them with hiring a small, rapid transport in which they can leave at 3 p.m. and overtake Lorry's heavier carriage and ensure changes of horse have been arranged for the carriage. They know the identity of the man John Barsad brought at 2 p.m., and Jerry is frantic with worry; he suddenly understands the value of prayer. Miss Pross suggests he arrange the transport and pick her up at the cathedral, so that two carriages won't be seen leaving their courtyard. He sets off to do so, and she gets ready to leave.

Madame Defarge is suddenly in the room with Miss Pross and demands to see Lucie. But Miss Pross doesn't speak French, and Madame Defarge doesn't speak English. A conversation ensues in which Miss Pross insults Madame Defarge, and Madame Defarge becomes increasingly angry and abusive. Each understands the tone of what the other is saying. Eventually, Madame Defarge suspects that no one is there and makes a lunge for the closed door to a back room. Miss Pross throws her arms around Madame Defarge's waist and holds on as tightly as she can so that Madame Defarge can't move. Madame Defarge claws at Miss Pross's face and hair, but Miss Pross buries her face and hugs harder. She can tell that Madame Defarge has a knife in her belt and keeps her arm over it. Madame Defarge reaches for the gun stashed in her bosom, Miss Pross sees it and swats at it. There's a flash and a bang. When the smoke clears, Madame Defarge is lying on the floor dead. Miss Pross straightens her clothes as best she can, puts on a bonnet and veil to hide her scratched-up face, and leaves, locking the apartment door behind her. She runs to the cathedral to meet Jerry, throwing the apartment key in the river along the way. She asks Jerry if there are sounds in the streets but can't hear his answer; she is deaf. Jerry postulates she will never hear again, and she never does.


Readers may understand that there are reasons why Madame Defarge is so vengeful and merciless. But Dickens does not feel this exonerates her. Lest readers forget, he reminds them in this scene between her and her closest supporters. The Vengeance and Jacques Three seem to share her passion. Jacques, in particular, feels the more executions, the better. His ravings are so clearly evil that they serve to remind readers such feelings deserve no sympathy. And, despite the praise of The Vengeance and Jacques Three, Dickens does not let readers forget the fear Madame Defarge inspires; the poor wood-sawyer is so afraid that he's willing to lie to make her happy. She is a terrifying woman who, with her knife and her gun, feels completely invincible and never doubts her right to vengeance. The narrator says, "She was absolutely without pity. If she had ever had the virtue in her, it had quite gone out of her."

Miss Pross is already very strong, but she is also filled with protective courage and desperation to make sure that no one hurts her "Ladybird"—her nickname for Lucie. Dickens describes her strength in holding Madame Defarge away from the door as "the vigorous tenacity of love, always stronger than hate." Miss Pross's version of love is certainly vigorous and tenacious. Jarvis Lorry has always admired Miss Pross for her strength and faithfulness, even to her errant brother, Solomon. But in this chapter, readers see proof of her cleverness, her reliability, and her determination. Miss Pross does what she plans without paying much mind to anyone else. She is ready to sacrifice her life for Lucie's family, but in the end sacrifices her hearing. She loves fiercely and can sometimes be obnoxiously overprotective, but it serves her and those she loves well.

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