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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Who is the outlaw archetype in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities?

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Easily considered as an outlaw archetype in A Tale of Two Cities is the spy John Basard. He is the prime character in the novel who meets the definition of an outlaw as one who "dissociates himself from society in a manner that shocks conventional values," Basard, in reality the "long-lost brother" of Miss Pross, is a nefarious man who works first for the British along with spy Roger Cly (Basard's doppelganger) and later for the French.

In Chapter III of Book the Second, the unconscionable Basard falsely testifies against Charles Darnay as he is on trial for treason. After he testifies, Sydney Carton questions him about his character and having been in debtors' prison and other character flaws:

Ever been kicked? ...Kicked on that occasion for cheating at dice? ..... Ever live by cheating at play? Never. Ever live by play? Not more than other gentlemen do. Ever borrow money of the prisoner? Yes. Ever pay him? No. Was not this intimacy with the prisoner, in reality a very slight one, forced upon the prisoner in coaches, inns, and packets? No. Sure he saw the prisoner with these lists? Certain. Knew no more about the lists? No. Had not procured them himself, for instance? No. Expect to get anything by this evidence? No. Not in regular government pay and employment to lay traps? Oh dear no! Or to do anything? Oh dear no! Swear that? Over and over again. No motives but motives of sheer patriotism? None whatever.

Later in the narrative, a fellow spy, Roger Cly, has a funeral that Jerry Cruncher observes as he sits outside Tellson's Bank.  Soon afterward, Basard leaves England and is seen in the Saint Antoine wine shop of the Defarges as a spy. Then, in Chapter VIII of Book the Third, Miss Pross encounters her lost brother who angrily interrupts her joyous greeting,

"I knew it! You want to be the death of me.  I shall be rendered Suspected, by my own sister.  Just as I am getting on."

But, Mr. Lorry knows "this precious brother [of Miss Pross] had spent her money and left her!"  It is then that Jerry Cruncher identifies him as the "spy-witness" at the Old Bailey.  Following his recognition, Sydney Carton arrives and notes that Basard is a "Sheep of the Prisons," a "cant word for spy" for the French revolutionaries. Basard is responsible for Darnay's arrest and entry into the Conciergerie [Paris prison].  Carton exposes all Basard's occupations:

“Sheep of the prisons, emissary of Republican committees, now turnkey, now prisoner, always spy and secret informer, so much the more valuable here for being English that an Englishman is less open to suspicion of subornation in those characters than a Frenchman, represents himself to his employers under a false name. That’s a very good card. Mr. Barsad, now in the employ of the republican French government, was formerly in the employ of the aristocratic English government, the enemy of France and freedom...."

After exposing Basard, Carton also notes a "friend" of Basard's who works with him in the French prisons, but seems a foreigner, who plots against the Republic.  Cruncher again approaches and identifies this man as Roger Cly, whom Basard contends has died, producing a death certificate.  But, Jerry, the "resurrection man," in another helpful deed, tells Carton that certificate has been forged because Cly's coffin was empty! This testimony of Cruncher's enables Carton to coerce Basard the outlaw turnkey to let him into the Conciergerie where Darnay is prisoner.

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In Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens offers one character that shows evidence of being the archetype for an outlaw—Jerry Cruncher. The use of the term "outlaw" refers to one who operates outside of, or breaks, the law.

We are given an image of Jerry's work ethic, and how he appears like an outlaw, in Chapter Two. He has been sent with a message to Mr. Lorry, the London banker who is traveling to Paris. Jerry shows himself serious about his job, letting the reader know that he is a dedicated worker. He is covered with mud and his hat is close to holding a "half a gallon" of rainwater, but he delivers his message and receives a response before seeing to his own physical comforts. He also is mindful of the welfare of his horse, believing the mare will be harmed should Jerry do more than walk her on uneven ground having already ridden her hard to intercept Lorry. Here is a man who has his priorities straight—work is work, and there is no fooling around. 

Mr. Lorry's response puzzles all that hear it—the coach's driver, the guard and Jerry. Whatever deeper meaning Lorry's message has, Jerry takes it at face value because of his profession. For as a thief of dead bodies, it would not do well if the corpses were "RECALLED TO LIFE," for it would damage Jerry's business irreparably.

‘Recalled to life.’ That’s a Blazing strange message. Much of that wouldn’t do for you, Jerry! I say, Jerry! You’d be in a Blazing bad way, if recalling to life was to come into fashion, Jerry!

Jerry is the "resurrection" man, one who "resurrects" dead bodies from the graveyard to sell to medical students so they can "perfect their craft." Perhaps what makes Jerry not as reprehensible as one might first think him to be is that he sees nothing wrong with his actions. He is making an "honest" living—it's not as if the dead bodies are needed by anyone else (particularly the deceased)—though stealing them is illegal.

Ironically, Jerry might seem more the "outlaw" less because he is a thief and more because he has rejected "prayer." A moral individual would see it as a strength—to resist the evils and temptations of life.

Jerry has the looks of what one would expect of an outlaw. In Chapter Two, he is close to being shot as a highwayman. His hat is pulled down against the weather and his face is concealed (though with mud, not a mask); his voice is hoarse—as one might expect an outlaw to change his voice to avoid being identified. 

In Chapter Three we learn that Jerry keeps his eyes covered by the shadow of his hat. If eyes are "the window of the soul," he is reticent to give away much about himself through these "pale orbs:"

He had eyes...being of a surface black, with no depth in the colour or form...

His hair is also offsetting:

Except on the crown, which was raggedly bald, he had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over it, and growing downhill almost to his broad, blunt nose...

And beside Jerry's appearance, he has an uncommon interest in funerals, not surprising with his profession.

Funerals had at all times a remarkable attraction for Mr. Cruncher; he always pricked up his senses, and became excited, when a funeral passed Tellson’s. 

Even though Jerry is "respected" and considers himself a "hardworking honest man," his trade in corpses—which is distasteful and illegal—fill out the impression of an outlaw more so that the other characters in the novel.


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