illustration of a guillotine

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Book the Third, Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453


That night, fifty-two prisoners await their execution in the “black prison of the Conciergerie.” Charles Darnay sits alone in his cell, preparing for death. He writes a letter to Lucie, explaining that he was unaware of his father’s and uncle’s connection to Dr. Manette’s imprisonment. He also writes to Dr. Manette and Lorry. The next morning, he tries to imagine what La Guillotine must look like; he has never seen “the instrument that was to terminate his life.” He paces the floor of his cell, waiting for the final hour of three o’clock to arrive. Suddenly, Sydney Carton appears with “a request” from Lucie. He entreats Darnay to switch boots with him, and Darnay insists that escape is impossible. Carton asks Darnay to write a brief statement. Darnay complies, and Carton drugs him using the potion he purchased from the chemist. While Darnay is unconscious, Carton switches their clothing and instructs Barsad (who Carton blackmailed into sneaking him into the prison) to carry Darnay to the carriage Lorry had prepared. Barsad is still paranoid that Carton will betray him, but Carton is “true to the death.” Darnay is conveyed to Lorry’s carriage, and Carton is left in his place to await the arrival of the tumbrels (open carts used to haul prisoners to La Guillotine). As he joins the crowd of prisoners, Carton is stopped by a young woman who mistakes him for Darnay. She asks if she can ride with him and hold his hand in the tumbrel. He agrees that he shall hold her hand “to the last.”

Meanwhile, Lorry successfully conducts Dr. Manette, Lucie, little Lucie, and Charles Darnay (who is dressed as Sydney Carton) out of Paris. Lucie is afraid they will be caught, but Lorry assures her that they are not being pursued. They safely escape Paris.


Charles Darnay and Dr. Manette have finally realized the extent of their legacies; Darnay’s family was responsible for Dr. Manette’s imprisonment, and Dr. Manette is responsible for Darnay’s imprisonment and execution. Neither man is in control of his life; Darnay awaits his death in a dark cell, and Dr. Manette has lost his sanity again.

Sydney Carton is the only character capable of changing the course of events. He rejects the narrative of the lazy drunk, choosing instead to assume a Christlike role by changing places with Darnay—more for the sake of Lucie and her daughter, perhaps, than for Darnay. However, the profound cruelty and hypocrisy of the French Revolution (as Dickens perceives it) is epitomized not by Darnay’s sentence but by the impending execution of an innocent—the very type of citizen the Republic originally promised to protect.

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