Read With Me: A Tale of Two Cities, Book II, Chapters IV-V

Previously: Book II, Chapter III| Coming Soon: Book II, Chapter VI

Welcome to the seventh week of this read-with-me project. This week we had two chapters to read, Chapter IV, ‘Congratulatory’, and Chapter V, ‘The Jackal’. These chapters were first released in a magazine called All the Year Round on Saturday, June 13th 1859.

The story so far…

Previously we got to meet Charles Darnay, who was on trial for treason. He was saved from the gallows by Sydney Carton. The visual similarities between the two men were enough to cast doubt upon the eyewitness account, and Darnay was found not guilty. 

In this section… 

Chapter IV begins with our group of characters, Mr Lorry, Lucie and Dr Manette, and Charles, leave the courthouse in conversation. Sydney Carton is also present although he lingers in the shadows until the Manettes depart. 

“Another person [i.e. Sydney], who had not joined the group, or interchanged a word with any one of them, but who had been leaning against the wall where its shadow was darkest, had silently strolled out after the rest, and had looked on until the coach drove away.”

I love how he relegates himself to the shadows and think that it’s a common theme for his character. It could be argued to imply that he does this either consciously or subconscious because he feels that this best represents himself. He does not feel worthy of the company of Lucie, even though they only have an association at best. There is a layer of self-loathing to Sydney’s character which makes him sympathetic. This is also reflected by other characters such as Mr Lorry. Despite being instrumental in Charles’ release, Sydney is not treated with much appreciation, particularly by Mr Lorry who seems to find him somewhat distasteful. 

Once Mr Lorry leaves, Charles and Sydney are left alone. Sydney, perceptive as always, asks Charles how his new freedom feels, to which Charles replies as such:

“I hardly seem yet […] to belong to this world again.”

This is reminiscent of Dr Manette being recalled to life. It also emphasises the struggle to feel alive again once one has spent so much time dead. I like that although we are relatively early on in the narrative, we’ve already had a lot of discussion, and confusion between life and death. While these two states traditionally oppose one another, Dickens has been playing around with them so that those once defining lines are blurred. 

Charles and Sydney sup at a tavern together, where their conversation turns to the lovely Miss Lucie. It becomes (unsurprisingly) apparent that Charles cares for her, but Sydney claims, 

“I care for no man on earth, and no man on earth cares for me.”

If you hadn’t already been sympathetic towards Sydney, then surely this statement will change your mind. While previously he had physically been alone, unwilling to join the group and keeping to the shadows, this statement suggests he is also emotionally alone. The chapter ends with Sydney very drunk and trying to work out why he dislikes Charles so much. The answer, of course, is that Charles represents Sydney’s potential which he, as of you, has been unable to fulfil. 

Chapter V follows Sydney at Mr Stryver, the lawyers, rooms. Their conversation established Sydney’s personal life, as opposed to the hints at his personal like in the previous chapter.

 It becomes apparent that Sydney has the financial means, and intellectual ability to become a great lawyer. However, he severely lacks ambition, which has held him back so that he remains in Mr Stryver’s shadow. At this point, Mr Stryver’s name is of particular note, as a character who has strived for his position in life. This, of course, is both reminiscent of being in the shadows of the previous chapter, and prophetically feeling that he is in Charles’ shadow as the narrative continues. 

Their conversation turns to Lucie, as all conversation seem to do. This time it is clear that Sydney is in denial about his feelings for her, which draws on our sympathies. Dickens emphasises this sadness through the final line of the chapter: 

“Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.”

Now that we have has a proper impression of Sydney it is clear that Dickens wants us to sympathise with him. In my opinion, he is perfectly successful in his efforts, and it’s crucial that the reader feels this way for the rest of the plot to be as compelling as it is 

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:

Chapter VI on the 18th of June (Post: 20th of June). 

Chapters VII-VIII on the 25th of June (Post: 27th of June)

Chapter IX on 2nd of July (Post: 4th of July)

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