Read With Me: A Tale of Two Cities, Book II, Chapter III

Previously: Book II, Chapters I-II | Coming Soon: Book II, Chapters IV-V

Welcome to the sixth week of this read-with-me project. This week we had only one chapter to read, Chapter III: A Disappointment. This chapter was first released in a magazine called All the Year Round on Saturday, June 6th 1859.

The story so far…
Book II picks up the story five years after the events of the first book. We’ve followed Mr Cruncher, who is employed as a messenger, to the courthouse where Charles Darnay is on trial for treason.

In this section…
The chapter begins with a long argument that details the Attorney General’s case against Mr Charles Darnay. While it may seem a bit of a chore to read because of the style, which lacks any dialogue, I quite like the fact that it seems to mimic courtroom arguments, with only one voice telling one side of the story. This is primarily here to inform the reader of Charles’ story, which we have previously been ignorant of.

The end of the previous chapter alluded to a connection between the Manettes, Mr Lorry, and Charles Darnay. To understand the connection, we are taken back to the departure from Paris five years previously. As it transpires Charles met Lucy on the ship and gave her advice on how best to shelter her father. While we, as the reader, were not technically present for this moment, as it is told retrospectively it can be read as our first impression of Charles as a man. His kindness towards Lucy had an impact on her, and she regrets the fact that she is testifying for the prosecution, or at the very least is distressed by it. This story also asks us to consider whether we as a reader or even Lucy as a character, can forgive Charles for possibly being a traitor because he is a kind man. Essentially, does one good deed cancel a bad one? This is a very important theme in the novel and will come to bear a lot on the ending of the narrative.

In this chapter, we are introduced to our final main character in Mr Sydney Carton, whose presence is used to acquit, Charles. Once more, this is worth bearing in mind when we reach the end of the novel.

Let’s discuss our first impressions of Mr Carton. In looks, he is strikingly similar to Charles, which is how the latter is acquitted (which is connected to the phrase “Recalled to Life”) of the charge tough discrediting the witness on the stand. However, despite the similarities, they are not identical.

“[There was] something especially reckless in [Sydney’s] demeanour, not only gave him a disreputable look, but so diminished the strong resemblance he undoubtedly bore to the prisoner (which his momentary earnestness, when they were compared together, had strengthened), that many of the lookers-on, taking note of him now, said to one another they would hardly have thought the two were so alike

I love how his personality comes through aesthetically and is used to differentiate between Charles and Sydney. It relates to that pseudo-science of Phrenology. This was suggested that physical attributes, such as specific bumps on the skull could be used to predict criminality. In the same sense, Sydney’s physical attributes are used to depict his as a reckless person before we have seen him act like this.

Despite this presumption of recklessness his action in the courtroom do not seem to agree with the depiction:

“[Sydney Carton had] changed neither his place nor his attitude, even in this excitement”

This shows that he is remarkable calm, at least outwardly, and possibly not so much influenced by those around him. In addition to this, he later draws attention to Lucy when he sees that she is suffering, which, as with Charles, suggests that he too has a kindness in his heart along with being observant. It’s striking that his first piece of dialogue is to inquire after Lucy, which perhaps is setting up a fondness between the two, or at least on his part.

If you cannot tell by the length of this post, this has been one of my favourite chapters thus far. Before I leave you I do have a couple of things to say about the title of the chapter, which seems to hint that Charles would be convicted. However, as he is acquitted it becomes apparent that the reference is not to his disappointment but to that of the crowd that gathered to watch the trial.

“[…] the crowd came pouring out with a vehemence that nearly took him off his legs, and a loud buzz swept into the street as if the baffled blue-flies were dispersing in search of other carrion.”

Not only is this a fabulous visual for the reader but it also frames the common people as being bloodthirsty. This can be connected to the spillage of wine in Paris, in Book I, Chapter V, and will be a repeated motif as the violence in the streets increases though the French Revolution as the novel progresses.

What about you… Are you reading along with A Tale of Two Cities, and if so, what did you think of this section?

Dates for your diary:
Chapters IV-V on the 11th of June (Post: 13th of June).
Chapter VI on the 18th of June (Post: 20th of June).
Chapters VII-VIII on the 25th of June (Post: 27th of June)

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