A Tale of Two Cities Book the Second, Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

Charles Dickens

Book the Second, Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

Summary:

The Attorney-General accuses Charles Darnay of conducting “secret business” between France and England for the past five years, that is, delivering classified information about England to France. The first witness, an “unimpeachable patriot,” allegedly discovered the treasonous nature of Darnay’s business. This patriot, John Barsad, appears before the jury and is questioned by Darnay’s lawyer Mr. Stryver. We learn that Barsad, although a gentleman, has been in debtor’s prison several times and owes money to Darnay.

The second witness, Roger Cly, alleges that he was under Darnay’s employ for four years and suspected him of treason early on. He claims that Darnay showed mysterious lists to French gentlemen in Calais and Boulogne. He then reveals that he has known Barsad for at least seven years, but he insists it is only a coincidence. He cannot prove, however, that the suspicious lists are in Darnay’s handwriting.

Jarvis Lorry, Lucie Manette, and Dr. Manette are questioned in turn. We learn that, five years ago, Lucie spoke with Darnay on the boat that carried her and her father back to England from France. She recalls that he told her he was traveling under a different name because of the sensitive nature of what he must do, though he never elaborated. Dr. Manette cannot give testimony because he had not yet recovered his sanity when he met Charles Darnay. Another witness is called to testify that he saw Darnay conducting suspicious business at a hotel in a “garrison-and-dockyard town,” and it seems that Darnay will certainly be found guilty. However, Stryver calls the jury’s attention to the presence of his colleague Sydney Carton, a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Darnay. Stryver then challenges the witness to guarantee that he did not in fact see Sydney Carton at the hotel. The witness cannot be certain that he saw Darnay and not Carton. Lucie nearly faints and is escorted out of the courtroom by her father. The jury acquits Darnay, while Barsad and Cly are found to be crooks. Jerry Cruncher, who is told by Lorry that he must carry the verdict back to Tellson’s Bank as soon as it is known, departs.

Analysis:

Charles Darnay’s English trial expands upon three of the novel’s major concerns: public enthusiasm for the spectacle of execution (which, as we shall see, is a similarity shared by England and France), paranoia-based conspiracy theories, and misleading appearances.

Spectators of the trial, as Jerry Cruncher discovers, are eager for Darnay’s condemnation and fantasize about his cruel punishment with “relish.” Witnesses are called to give their testimonies, which feed the paranoia surrounding Darnay’s involvement with France—but appearances can be deceiving. Darnay’s outwardly suspicious behavior is not treasonous in the least, yet Barsad, who presents himself as an “unimpeachable patriot,” and Roger Cly are corrupt spies. Sydney Carton appears nearly identical to Darnay but (as will soon become clear) is nothing like him.