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

Previously: Book III, Chapter XIV| Coming Soon: Masterlist

Welcome to the thirty-first, and the final week of this read-with-me project. This week we read Chapter XV: The Footsteps Die Out Forever. This section was first released in a magazine called All the Year Round on Saturday, November 26th 1859.

The story so far…
Madame Defarge is dead. The Manette-Darnay’s are escaping back to England. Sydney, having swapped places with Charles, is patiently awaiting his execution at the hands of the French citizens.

In this section…
The title of the chapter not only continues the previously seen motif of footsteps, but it also brings it to an end along with the narrative proper. In these posts, I have drawn our attention to this motif, but it would be an interesting piece of work to follow them a lot more closely and in better detail.

The chapter focuses on Sydney and we, unlike the Darnay-Manette’s, are privy to his execution. This leaves the book in such a heart-breaking place as we don’t truly get to see the full reaction of the characters regarding the sacrifice of Sydney. This omission from the narrative mirrors the fact that Sydney himself will never know their reaction.

There are two quotes from the final chapter than I want to bring your attention to. The first quote is part of Sydney’s “last words”, though these must be taken with a pinch of salt. The manner of their recording is somewhat unusual as they are recorded by another person. What’s also unusual is this phrase which precedes them: “If he had given any utterance to his, and they were prophetic, they would have been these:”. This suggests that these may not be his exact words but rather his words have been paraphrased. The concept of them being recorded, particularly alongside the fact that he is described as serene is reminiscent of a martyred saint, sacrificing themselves for others.

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.”

This quote draws us back the very first line of the novel. We discussed how that line shied away from romanticising the past and showed that any period in history can be both good and bad. Similarly, this line reminds us that there is always evil to be found, but there is also always good. I love the way that it ties these two opposing concepts together. It reminds us that while we are grieving for Sydney we should also be celebrating for Charles.

The second quote I wish to discuss is, of course, the final line of the novel:

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Second, to the first line, this is one of the most iconic lines of the novel and shines a light in the darkness of losing Sydney to such violence. We know that he loves Lucie and can understand that he makes the sacrifice for her future happiness with Charles. However, I believe that this line also suggests that he does this for himself also. Sydney was not a happy man, regardless of where Lucie lay her affections, and was consistently restless but he believes this will finally grant him the rest he has been searching for. Sydney may have lived to believe that he was not good enough for this world, but we will always know the opposite to be true; Sydney Carton was too good for this world.

What about you… Are you reading along with A Tale of Two Cities, and if so, what did you think of this section?

I will be back with a final post next week to share some final thought and to collect all the posts in a big masterlist.

Dates for your diary:
A Tale of Two Cities Masterlist (Post: 4th of December)

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