RWM: A Tale of Two Cities, Book II, Chapters XXII-XXIII

Previously: Book II, XXI| Coming Soon: Book II, Chapters XXIV

Welcome to the nineteenth week of this read-with-me project. This week we read Chapter XXII: The Sea Still Rises and XXIII: Fire Rises. This section was first released in a magazine called All the Year Round on Saturday, August 27th 1859.

The story so far…
The section began by filling us in on Lucie and Charles’ family during the past six years. The location switched mid-chapter to Paris as the rebellion gained momentum and the rebels, led by the Derfarges stormed the Bastille.

In this section…
The first chapter, The Seas Still Rises, keeps the action in Paris with Madame and Monsieur Defarge. It is revealed that a man, Foulon, once thought dead is, in fact, alive though not for long. The violence of this chapter is illustrated in Foulon’s drawn-out death where he is hung but the rope breaks and it takes three hangings for him to die. After that, he is also decapitated, and his head thrust onto a pike. It’s also illustrated before this with the eagerness of Madame Defarge to arm herself on the news that Foulson is alive.

The reason they are so quick to execute him is that he previously told the poor, who were complaining about their children starving, told them to feed their children grass. This is cruelly turned on him as his mouth is filled with grass after death. What’s very interesting about this is that while this is branded as a sort of justice and his death may feed their bloodlust it does not feed their children. You could argue that at the end of this chapter they are not any further along with their goal of revolution than they were before this death.

Before we proceed to the following chapter in this section, I do want to say a few words about the chapter title. The Sea Still Rises uses the sea as a metaphor for the revolution. By drawing a connection between these two entities it seems to imply that the revolution is a natural and inevitable phenomenon. No matter how far out the sea looks the tide will always come in again.

In the following chapter, Fire Rises, we see an unidentified revolutionary set fire to the chateau of the murdered Marquis. The local tax collector, Gabelle is set upon an angry mob but escaped. The local’s do nothing to help put out the fire and instead light candles in their windows, which creates fantastic imagery. There are many ways to interpret this, one of which being that these people are showing solidarity not just with the act of the revolutionary but also with the fire itself as a destructive force. The chapter ends with the narrator telling us that rebellion such as this is happening all over France. Again, Dickens employs this technique of showing us something relatively small and then widening our view to encompass something much bigger.

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 XXIV on the 10th of September (Post: 12th of September)
Book III, Chapter I on the 17th of September (Post: 19th of September)
Book III, Chapters II-III on the 24th of September (Post: 26th of September)

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