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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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In A Tale of Two Cities, how does Lucie show compassion for Sydney Carton?

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In A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, Lucie shows compassion for Sydney Carton by allowing him to come be a family friend even though he is pining for her. This love story is one of the great love stories in literature. It was also completely one-sided. Carton knew that Lucie did not and could not love him. In fact, he knew that she loved another—Charles “Darnay” St. Evremonde. Also, Sydney Carton was willing to sacrifice his life for the Manette family because he felt like it was the only way he could serve them.

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Lucie shows compassion for Sydney Carton by allowing him to come by her house and be a family friend even though he is pining for her.

The love story of Sydney Carton and Lucie Manette is a love story for the ages. It was also completely one-sided. Carton knew that...

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Lucie did not and could not love him. In fact, he also knew that she loved another—Charles “Darnay” St. Evremonde. Lucie was compassionate and had a good heart. She saw through Sydney Carton’s façade of drunken irreverence to see a man in pain.

Carton was no doubt in a great deal of pain even before he met Lucie. Feeling his life was being wasted, he drank it away and put very little effort into it. He accompanied Stryver and allowed the other lawyer to take credit for his brilliance. Sydney Carton did not care about credit.

During Darnay’s trial, Carton used a legal trick to create reasonable doubt in the jury. Darnay was acquitted. From that point on, Carton became somewhat of a fixture in the Manette household, even as Lucie was falling in love with Charles. Carton was aware of this, and content to pine at a distance. Despite both his drunkenness and his brilliance, it seems Carton was shy—at least when it came to Lucie.

Carton finally got up the nerve to approach Lucie, and he was honest with her. In a very romantic but egotistical way, he told her that he loved her, but that he knew he couldn't have her. He didn't want to. All he wanted was to be in her life, and be of some service to her. He told her that she had saved his life. He lived for her now.

"Since it is my misfortune, Mr. Carton, to have made you more unhappy than you were before you knew me—"

"Don't say that, Miss Manette, for you would have reclaimed me, if anything could. You will not be the cause of my becoming worse." (Book 2, Chapter 13)

Lucie treated Carton with great respect during this conversation. She was sweet to him, and almost reverent, as she realized that he was willing to sacrifice everything for her. All he asked was to be in her life in this small way. His remarks were prophetic.

"For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. If my career were of that better kind that there was any opportunity or capacity of sacrifice in it, I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you. Try to hold me in your mind, at some quiet times, as ardent and sincere in this one thing." (Book 2, Chapter 13) 

In the end, Carton made good on his promise. He was allowed to accompany the Manettes to Paris, and there he did what he could. He traded places with Charles, and died at the guillotine so that Lucie could be happy. It was his last romantic gesture.

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In A Tale of Two Cities,  Book II,  what is meant by Lucie's “compassion” to Sydney Carton?

You want to examine Chapter 20 in Book II, entitled "A Plea", to find the answer to this question. In this Chapter, Carton speaks to Darnay and asks him to forgive him for his past rudeness when he was drunk and he expresses his wish that they might be friends. Darnay says that he has forgotten the insult, but then goes home to mention to others this conversation. Darnay "spoke of Sydney Carton as a problem of carelessness and recklessness." Although he did not speak bitterly, his wife takes umbrage with Charles at his description of Carton, saying to him:

"I think, Charles, poor Mr. Carton deserves more consideration and respect than you expressed for him to-night."

She expresses her conviction that Carton  "has a heart he very, very seldom reveals, and that there are deep wounds in it. My dear, I have seen it bleeding." Then Lucie interestingly offers her assessment of Carton's character:

"I fear he is not to be reclaimed; there is scarcely a hope that anything in his character or fortunes is reparable now. But, I am sure that he is capable of good things, gentle things, even magnanimous things."

Notice how this assessment foreshadows Carton's final sacrifice, which can only be described as "magnanimous." Lucie's compassion towards Carton therefore leads her to believe the best in him, to pity his situation, especially as she and Darnay are so "strong" in their happiness. Having refused him, does she feel guilty about his position? Whatever the answer, the chapter ends with Dickens imagining what Carton would have said if he had heard the conversation, words that capture the essence of Lucie's gentle character:

"God Bless her for her sweet compassion!"

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