RWM: A Tale of Two Cities, Book II, Chapters XIX-XX

Previously: Book II, XVII-XVIII| Coming Soon: Book II, Chapter XXI

Welcome to the seventeenth week of this read-with-me project. This week we read Chapter XIX: An Opinion and Chapter XX: A Plea. This section was first released in a magazine called All the Year Round on Saturday, August 20th 1859.

The story so far…

Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay are engaged to be married. Lucie is worried about leaving her father, but Mr Lorry and Miss Pross promise to take care of him. When she leaves for her honeymoon Dr Manette regresses to his previous shoemaking ways for nine days. Mr Lorry and Miss Pross decide not to tell Lucie and hope that he will recover before they are forced to do so. 

In this section… 

Chapter XIX begins with Lorry waking up 10 days since Lucie’s departure to find Doctor Manette back to his old self. Though the Doctor seems to have recovered Mr Lorry is hesitant to address the previous days in case he causes more damage. Instead, he asks for the Doctor’s professional advice regarding a “friend” who is experiencing the same set of symptoms. 

It becomes apparent that the Doctor knows this “friend” to be a ruse for Mr Lorry to enquire about his health. The use of the imaginary friend enables the men to have this personal discussion while remaining somewhat detached, or at least feeling as though they are. It is a curious conversation as they speak of Dr Manette without speaking about him, but it also shows the strength of their friendship and is a very nice moment. It’s easy to dismiss Mr Lorry, though he’s been here from the very start, here we see how much he cares for Doctor Manette. 

Mr Lorry convinces the Doctor that he ought to get rid of his shoemaking equipment in the hopes of avoiding another regression. He is initially reluctant, but a veiled mention of Lucie convinces him that it is the right thing to do and he consents. Once the Doctor laves to join Lucie and Charles for the second leg of their honeymoon as planned, Mr Lorry and Miss Pross get to work 

“There, with closed doors, and in a mysterious and guilty manner, Mr. Lorry hacked the shoemaker’s bench to pieces, while Miss Pross held the candle as if she were assisting at a murder—for which, indeed, in her grimness, she was no unsuitable figure. The burning of the body (previously reduced to pieces convenient for the purpose) was commenced without delay in the kitchen fire; and the tools, shoes, and leather, were buried in the garden.” 

This is a fantastic description of the dead because it positions the destruction of these inanimate objects as a murder. This is emphasised by the use of the word body to describe the bench. The word ‘hacked’ inspires an image of violence and desperation, as opposed to what could have been a careful dismemberment. Despite the consent of the Doctor, the act is one that is full of guilt and panic, suggesting they feel as though they are doing something illicit. The tools of the shoemaker are either burned or buried, which are two common forms of body disposal. Of course, in a way, this destruction is a murder, and Lorry and Pross hope to murder this version of Dr Manette. 

In the second chapter, ‘A Plea’, Lucie and Charles arrive back from their honeymoon and the first person to offer his congratulations is Mr Sydney Carton. His congratulations seem to be genuine, but they also seem to express his love for Lucie rather than for the couple. 

Sydney asks Charles for his friendship, which Charles agrees. However, once Sydney leaves, he is somewhat critical of his character. It takes Lucie to remind him that they ought not to be so dismissive of Sydney.

“She [Lucie] looked so beautiful in the purity of her faith in this lost man [in Sydney Carton], that her husband could have looked at her as she was for hours.”

I think this is a lovely quote that encompasses Charles, Lucie, and Sydney. It also shows two important things to the reader. The first that Lucie is a ‘pure’ character, which appeals to Charles. There are numerous arguments to be made about what it means to be ‘pure’ and how or why that appeals so much to men. In this instance, it appears as though purity goes hand in hand with a childlike naivete. Such a reading could prompt a discussion about the perverse stereotype of the appeal of a childlike woman. I will not delve into this here because today’s post is already quite long, but it is food for thought should you wish to delve into a topic in more depth. The second that Charles does not befriend Sydney for Sydney’s benefit, but for Lucie’s benefit. As such, it is Lucie who brings the men together. 

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 XXI on the 27th of August (Post: 29th of August)

Chapters XXII-XXIII on the 3rd of September (Post: 5th of September) 

Chapter XXIV on the 10th of September (Post: 12th of September)

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