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The Monseigneur reveals himself to be a most unpleasant person who treats the woman whom he encounters at the roadside in Chapter 8 of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cites in a most barbarous manner. Dickens plants foreshadowing of what is to come in the symbolically representative phrase “To this distressful emblem of a great distress….”
Monseigneur encounter the woman, who is a starving peasant and a grieving widow, with an exclamation of impatience, which is precisely what Dickens writes, “With an exclamation of impatience...,” which is followed by an expression of great exasperation (extreme annoyance) that is demonstrated in his first words to the woman: “How, then! What is it? Always petitions!”
The woman unbelievably has the courage to continue with making her petition (request) of the Monseigneur, which is that a simple wooden marker be provided for her dead husband’s scantily marked grave so that she might find it amongst the others and so that it might be identified by the living once she too has died of starvation; it is important so that she might be lain next to him.
When she says her husband has died and is buried in among other “little heaps of poor grass,” Monseigneur treats her unsympathetically and unkindly, saying, “Well! He is quiet!...” When she says he died of starvation as so many more–including she herself—will do, Monseigneur treats her callously and cruelly, saying, “Again, Well? Can I feed them?”
Dickens goes to pains to describe the woman with great sympathy, saying “She looked an old woman, but was young,” to point out that Monseigneur is without compassion or pity in the way he treats her. Monseigneur allows the woman to be forcible removed from beside his carriage as a sign of his denial of her petition and so he might continue on his journey, his selfish, cold-hearted thoughts absorbed by the contemplation of the “league of two of distance that remained between him and his chateau.”
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