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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Book the Third, Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis

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Summary:

Ernest Defarge reads aloud a letter that Dr. Manette wrote during his years as a prisoner in the Bastille. We learn that, while living in Paris in 1757, he was overtaken by the Evrémonde brothers (Charles Darnay’s father, who was the Marquis at the time, and uncle). They claimed to have a patient in desperate need of a doctor and forced Dr. Manette to enter the carriage. The Evrémondes (who were twin brothers, though Dr. Manette refers to the then-Marquis as the “elder” and his brother the “younger”) conducted him to a “solitary house,” where he heard someone crying in an upper chamber. It was a woman “of great beauty” who was ‘in a high fever of the brain.” Her arms were tied to her sides by “sashes and handkerchiefs,” one of which displayed “the armorial bearings of a Noble, and the letter E.” She shrieked the same words over and over: “My husband, my father, my brother! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Hush!”

The Evrémondes provided Dr. Manette with a case of medicines to use. After Dr. Manette reluctantly administered the medicine, the Evrémondes led him to a second patient (a boy who was “not more than seventeen”) in need of care. The boy was dying of a puncture wound. Dr. Manette attempted to care for him, but the boy insisted that he “let it be.” We learn that he was the brother of the hysterical woman and that he was fatally stabbed by the younger Evrémonde in a sword fight. The boy told Dr. Manette his family’s story. His beautiful sister, who was married to a good peasant man, caught the attention of the younger Evrémonde. He asked her husband to “lend” her to him, but her husband refused. As punishment, he was forced to stay up all night (after laboring hard all day) to “quiet the frogs” outside of the estate “in order that [the Evrémondes’] noble sleep may not be disturbed.” The man’s health worsened in the “unwholesome mists” of the night, and he died on his wife’s bosom shortly thereafter. The younger Evrémonde “took her away...for his pleasure and diversion,” and the young widow’s father died of heartbreak shortly thereafter. The boy, outraged, hid his other sister in a distant place (so that she would not become another “vassal” for the Evrémondes) and, seeking revenge, confronted the younger Evrémonde—but was stabbed. He died shortly after finishing his story. His sister, who Dr. Manette learned was pregnant, died a week later.

The Evrémondes offered Dr. Manette gold in exchange for his discretion, but he refused payment and returned home. The then-Marquis’s wife (with her little boy, Charles Darnay) visited Dr. Manette the next day, expressing interest in locating and making amends to the other sister. Dr. Manette did not know where to find her. After they left, he sent a letter detailing the crimes of the younger Evrémonde, though without mentioning his name, to the authorities. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested and thrown into the Bastille. He saw the Evrémonde brothers before being forced into the coach that would take him to his “living grave.” The Marquis (Darnay’s father) held up the accusatory letter and burned it in the fire of his lantern.

Dr. Manette’s letter ends with a denouncement of the Evrémonde family. The jury of the Tribunal finds Charles Darnay guilty and sentences him to death.

Analysis:

Dr. Manette’s letter reveals the extremes of upper-class corruption and selfishness in two ways: first, by documenting the atrocities committed by the Evrémonde brothers, and second, by subtly indicating that their victims are not limited to the peasantry. Dr. Manette was a prominent physician in Paris at the time and would have been considered a member of the professional middle class. The Evrémondes’ actions therefore suggests not only general depravity and cruelty but also a potential threat to middle-class values such as industriousness (versus entitlement and laziness), self-discipline, and honesty.

The corruption of the Evrémondes also highlights several similarities between the aristocracy and the revolutionaries. The Republic demonstrates little regard for the lives of others, just as the Evrémonde brothers have no regard for the lives of the peasants they regularly abuse. Furthermore, the Evrémondes seem to live lawless lives; they feel entitled to do whatever they wish and do not behave according to the tenets of the Christian faith—a point Dickens regularly emphasizes about the Republic. Dr. Manette’s letter ultimately highlights the hypocrisy of the Republic’s brutality; they are no better than the despised Evrémondes.

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Book the Third, Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis

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Book the Third, Chapters 11 and 12 Summary and Analysis