RWM: A Tale of Two Cities, Book III, Chapter XIII

Previously: Book III, Chapters XI-XII| Coming Soon: Book III, Chapter XIV

Welcome to the twenty-ninth week of this read-with-me project. This week we read Chapter XIII: Fifty-Two. This section was first released in a magazine called All the Year Round on Saturday, November 12th 1859.

The story so far…
Sydney begins to put a plan in motion to save Charles from his death sentence.

In this section…

Let us begin with the first paragraph of the chapter:

“In the black prison of the Conciergerie, the doomed of the day awaited their fate. They were in number as the weeks of the year. Fifty-two were to roll that afternoon on the life-tide of the city to the boundless everlasting sea. Before their cells were quit of them, new occupants were appointed; before their blood ran into the blood spilled yesterday, the blood that was to mingle with theirs to-morrow was already set apart.”

I adore the description of this paragraph and believe that it highlight’s one of the reasons that Dickens is such a beloved author. This manages to encapsulate the horror of the guillotine executions beautifully. It has echoes of the gothic, a popular genre especially in periodicals during the 19th century. I especially love of the fresh blood spilling into the old blood is mimicked by the long sentences, and the use of a semi-colon.

Charles spends some time writing letters before his sentence is to be carried out. As expected, the longest one is to Lucie, but he also writes to Dr Manette and Mr Lorry. Of course, there is someone conspicuous by their absence from this list and that is poor Sydney. Charles forgets all about poor Sydney, which may be excused given the current dire circumstances.

When Sydney arrives, as had been previously discussed as a piece of his plan with which Barsad was of assistance, Charles is referred to not by name but by ‘The Prisoner’. This curious change suggests the despondency of his mental state as he prepared for what he believes to be certain death. It could also hint towards Sydney’s plan. The French want to hang a Prisoner, and so maybe it does not matter too much who that prisoner is. It puts a distance between Charles’ identity and his current situation, and also could suggest that a prisoner is such not because of their prior actions but because of their current situation.

The two exchange clothes and Sydney entreat Charles to record his The two exchange clothes and Sydney entreats Charles to write a letter which he dictates. As he’s doing this, he drugs Charles, and then Charles is taken out of the cell as Sydney. You may remember than one of the very first things we learnt about the two men is their uncanny resemblance. It helped Charles at his first trial and now it will save his life.

Mr Lorry, Lucie, little Lucie, Dr Manette, and an insensible Charles manage to get out of Paris.

Since we began this section with the first paragraph it seems fitting to collude with the final paragraph which is equally as poetic a description:

“The wind is rushing after us, and the clouds are flying after us, and the moon is plunging after us, and the whole wild night is in pursuit of us; but, so far, we are pursued by nothing else.:

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 XIV on the 19th of November (Post: 21st of November)
Chapter XV on the 26th of November (Post: 28th of November)
A Tale of Two Cities Masterlist (Post: 4th of December)

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