RWM: A Tale of Two Cities, Book II, Chapter XXI

Previously: Book II, XIX-XX| Coming Soon: Book II, Chapters XXII-XXIII

Welcome to the eighteenth week of this read-with-me project. This week we read Chapter XXI: Echoing Footsteps. This section was first released in a magazine called All the Year Round on Saturday, August 27th 1859.

The story so far…

Lucie marries Charles Darnay. Her departure for her honeymoon causes her father to fall ill but this is kept from her. Sydney asks for Charles’ friendship. Lucie convinces Charles to give him a chance. 

In this section… 

Straight off the bat, we are reminded of a previous chapter and a previous conversation about echoing footsteps through the title of this chapter. Speaking of repeated motifs, we also have that of the golden thread, which is also the title of Book II. I don’t have much to say about these at the moment, but I want to mention them quickly just to signify their presence. 

The chapter begins by working up to a time jump to 1789. Dickens spends a bit of time telling us what has happened to Lucie and Charles’ family at that time. This includes the birth of two children, the younger of which sadly dies. Also, Sydney visits half a dozen times a year, and never shows up drunk. Though this is but a passing mention it shows than in this time he has grown as a person. We don’t yet know whether he is drinking less as a rule, or just putting on a front for the Darnays. 

Mr Lorry tells the Darnay’s that many Frenchmen are sending money and belongings to England. There’s also talk of an ominous ‘dark rumbling’ the causes of which become clear when the focus of the chapter moves to Paris halfway through. The mid-chapter switch shows how closely intertwined the two cities are. 

In Paris, we are witness to the storming of the Bastille, where Monsieur and Madame Defarge serve as leaders. The vivid descriptions illustrate the frantic, tempestuous mood during this act. Defarge makes a thorough search of Dr Manette’s cell, and the eventually kills the governor, with Madame defiling his body. 

What I found most interesting about this scene was the significance of the number seven. It’s reminiscent of the prominence of the number in the bible where it is often used to signify perfection or completion as God made the world in six days, and the seventh day is for rest. 

I also appreciated the final line of the chapter:

“For, they are headlong, mad, and dangerous; and in the years so long after the breaking of the cask at Defarge’s wine-shop door, they are not easily purified when once stained red.”

This links back to what we said previously about the spilt wine and connects the quiet beginning of our Parisian adventure to this moment of violence and rebellion. 

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

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

Book III, Chapter I on the 17th of September (Post: 19th of September)

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