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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Who was imprisoned and why, as hinted by Dickens in chapter 9 of A Tale of Two Cities?

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The person the Marquis St. Evremonde had imprisoned was Dr. Manette.  His nephew, calling himself Charles Darnay, tries to overcome his famiy’s past.

Charles objects greatly to the way his uncle conducts business, and tries to renounce his family name and go to England.  In Book 2, Chapter 9 he confronts his uncle.

“There is not,” pursued the nephew in his former tone, “a face I can look at, in all this country round about us, which looks at me with any deference on it but the dark deference of fear and slavery.” (ch 9, p. 79)

His uncle takes this as a compliment.  He enjoys being hated and feared.  Charles complains about being “bound to a system that is frightful” to him.  The Marquis seems to find Charles’s relationship with the Manettes humorous.

“They say, those boastful English, that it is the Refuge of many. You know a compatriot who has found a Refuge there? A Doctor?” (p. 81)

After all, Charles will come to marry the daughter of the man his uncle imprisoned.  He can never really escape the family name.

Dr. Manette’s situation is a curious one.  He was sent for one day to attend a girl in distress.

The patient was a woman of great beauty, and young; assuredly not much past twenty. Her hair was torn and ragged, and her arms were bound to her sides with sashes and handkerchiefs. (ch 10, p. 205)

The bonds are from a noble gentleman with initial E.  It does not take much from there to realize it is the Marquis St. Evremonde who is responsible for the girl’s condition.  The woman is in great distress, repeating “My husband, my father and my brother!" and counting twelve over and over again.  Dr. Manette is taken to see a seventeen year old boy who has been stabbed and refuses treatment.

It turns out the woman was raped by the St. Evremonde brothers.  One of them asks Dr. Manette if she is alive, and he says she is about to die.  He is surprised she is still alive, and Manette responds “There is prodigious strength …in sorrow and despair.” (p. 209).  Realizing that Dr. Manette is sympathetic to the young woman, he has him imprisoned in the Bastille. 

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