illustration of a guillotine

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Book the Third, Chapters 4 and 5 Summary and Analysis

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Dr. Manette returns after four days, during which a massacre of more than eleven hundred prisoners “of both sexes and all ages” took place. He has discovered that Charles Darnay is alive, though not permitted to go free. Dr. Manette, who wants to help his daughter the way she helped him, is determined to rescue Darnay. He begins working as a doctor, tending to victims and revolutionaries alike, and slowly earns the respect of the populace. He becomes the “inspecting physician” at three prisons, including La Force, and is able to regularly update Lucie on her husband’s welfare.

One year and three months pass. Lucie, though terrified that her husband will become “red wine for La Guillotine,” continues to keep a very orderly and pleasant house for her father and daughter. Dr. Manette tells her about a window in the prison that Darnay can occasionally access at around three o’clock in the afternoon. If Lucie stands at a certain spot on the street corner, he may be able to see her—though she will not be able to see him. Lucie and her daughter stand at that spot for two hours every day, catching the attention of a nearby wood-sawyer (who used to be a mender of roads). He is suspicious but declares “it’s not [his] business.” Madame Defarge passes by “like a shadow” one day and takes notice of Lucie and her daughter. A moment later, Dr. Manette appears with the news that Darnay’s trial will take place the next day.


The Republic, which is fueled by revolutionary sentiment, is governed by paranoia. During the Reign of Terror (the period during which Charles Darnay was incarcerated), French revolutionaries were worried that foreign armies would invade Paris and liberate prisoners, who would in turn join forces with them against the Republic. Dickens emphasizes the depravity of the revolutionaries with the personification of La Guillotine, which continues to be their makeshift idol. In the chaotic streets of Saint Antoine, Darnay’s solitary confinement is actually an advantage. His life is spared, while many others in La Force become “red wine for La Guillotine.”

In the fifteen months that pass, Lucie (the “Golden Thread”) remains a steadfast anchor for her family. She maintains a proper English household despite feeling immense anxiety, and she demonstrates profound loyalty to Darnay by risking the dangerous streets of Saint Antoine so that he may catch a glimpse of her. Unfortunately, her devotion to her husband may be construed as disloyalty to the Republic.

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