A Tale of Two Cities (Part 4: The Final Chapters) by Charles Dickens

These are the final chapters of A Tale of Two Cities Read-along, which has been hosted by Laura @ Reading in Bed. Thank-you to Laura for hosting! It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the book! If you want, you can read my first three posts on the book at Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

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Warning: This post is a teeny bit lengthy, but I really liked the last part of the book, so I didn’t want to leave anything out.

Well, Sydney Carton turns out to be the hero of the story. There is also another, quieter hero in the story (in my opinion) that I was not expecting, but turned out to be my favourite part of the book. We will get to both of these soon, but I want to start at the beginning (that is, of part 4).

The new era began; the king was tried, , doomed, and beheaded; the Republic of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death, declared for victory or death against the world in arms; the black flag waved night and day from the great towers of Notre Dame; three hundred thousand men, summoned to rise against the tyrants of the earth, rose from all the varying soils of France…

For one year and three months, Charles Darnay was in prison, during which time, Dr. Manette worked tirelessly as a physician in some of the prisons, making sure to keep Charles safe for Lucie.

Everyday, prisoners were put on trial, and everyday, most of them were sent to their deaths. A new machine was being popularized in France at the time.

Above all, one hideous figure grew as familiar as if it had been before the general gaze from the foundations of the world — the figure of the sharp female called La Guillotine.

It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibly prevented the hair from turning grey, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine, looked through the little window and sneezed into the sack. It was the sign of the regeneration of the human race. It superseded the Cross. Models of it were worn on breasts from which the Cross was discarded, and it was bowed down to and believed in where the Cross was denied.

When it was finally time for Charles’s Tribunal, he was acquitted, with the help and good word of Dr. Manette, who was a popular martyr among the people. However, later that same day, he was again taken prisoner, having been denounced by the Defarges and one other. This time, there did not seem to be much hope.

In the meantime, Miss Pross recognizes her brother in a wine-shop. She knows him as Solomon Pross, but Jerry Cruncher recognizes him as John Barsad, the spy who testified against Charles at his trial in England. Here, Sydney Carton comes back into the story and confirms that the man is known as Barsad, and is a spy of the prison. Knowing this could come in handy for him, Sydney takes him back to Tellson’s. Sydney convinces Barsad, by threatening to expose him, to let him into the prison to see Charles if things do not go well for him at his trial.

That night, Sydney and Mr. Lorry speak of the meaninglessness of life if there is no one to miss you when you are gone. Sydney wanders the city that night, thinking deep thoughts, stopping at the chemist to buy a mysterious substance.

It was the settled manner of a tired man, who had wandered and struggled and got lost, but who had at length struck into his road and saw its end.

Death sentence and the wrath of Mme. Defarge:

At the second Tribunal of Charles, we find out that the third person named as one of Darnay’s denouncers is Dr. Manette, who immediately begins to tremble and deny it. It turns out that when M. Defarge was searching room 105 of the North Tower, he did in fact find a letter that Manette had written in 1767, 10 years after he had been imprisoned. It tells of the wrong-doings of the Evremonde family (Charles Darnay’s real last name), and is read aloud in court. After such a letter, there is no hope left for Charles. He is sentenced to death.

During Sydney’s wanderings, he goes into the Defarges’ wine-shop, where he listens to the talk. He learns that Mme. Defarge is from the particular family whose story was told in the letter written by Manette many years ago. Mme. Defarge is looking for revenge and does not want to stop at Charles. She wants his wife and child killed, as well.

Sydney relays this news to Mr. Lorry and tells him he must take Lucie and the child out of France tomorrow. He gives Lorry his personal papers to hold until he gets back from visiting Charles. He tells him to be ready with the carriage, but to wait for his return.

The switcheroo and the getaway:

Right before Charles is due to be transported to his death, Sydney comes to him. Charles had been resigned to his death, and is now confused and insists that escape is impossible. Sydney gets him to put on his own clothes, then dictates a letter explaining his actions, and drugs Charles with the fumes from his mysterious substance until Charles has passed out. Sydney puts on Charles’s clothes, fixes his hair to look like him, then asks Barsad to take Charles to the waiting carriage.

All goes according to plan, and, although terrified of being pursued, the carriage containing Mr. Lorry, Lucie, Little Lucie, Dr. Manette, and Sydney/Charles gets away.

The wind is rushing after us, and the clouds are flying after us, and the moon is plunging after us, and the whole wild night is in pursuit of us; but, so far, we are pursued by nothing else.

And that is the last we see of them.

While everyone else is getting away, Miss Pross and Jerry have been left to make their own arrangements for getting out of France. This scene is comedic, as both are so nervous they cannot think. And, Jerry tells Miss Pross the ways in which he is going to be better if he makes it back to London. Finally, Miss Pross sends Jerry out to get a carriage and arranges to meet him at the cathedral at three o’clock.

At the same time, Mme. Defarge is on her way to see Lucie, having just come from a secret meeting about her plans to denounce the rest of Darnay’s family. She is hoping to catch Lucie in the act of mourning her husband, which is against the law. As Jerry and Miss Pross are trying to decide what to do, Mme. Defarge is getting closer and closer. I can hear the suspenseful music…

There were many women at that time, upon whom the time laid a dreadfully disfiguring hand; but, there was not one among them more to be dreaded than this ruthless woman, now taking her way along the streets.

My favourite part of the book (the unlikely heroine):

The scene between Mme. Defarge and Miss Pross surprised and delighted me. Miss Pross is on edge as she gets ready to meet Jerry, and is startled when she looks up to see Mme. Defarge standing in the room. Mme. D. asks to see Lucie, but Miss Pross stands in front of Lucie’s door (even though she is already gone) and doesn’t budge. The conversation goes back and forth, each unable to understand the other’s words, and each one watchful and determined. This is just a sample of their conversation:

D: Woman imbecile and pig-like! I take no answer from you. I demand to see her.

P: I am Briton, I am desperate. I don’t care an English twopence for myself. I know that the longer I keep you here, the greater hope there is for my Ladybird. I’ll not leave a handful of that dark hair upon your head, if you lay a finger on me!

D: I have been in the streets from the first, nothing has stopped me, I will tear you to pieces, but I will have you from that door.

A struggle ensues between the two women, and Miss Pross is triumphant! Mme. D. is killed by her own gun. Miss Pross hastily leaves, locking the door behind her, and throwing the key in the river.

After all those years of fighting in the Revolution, Mme. Defarge is killed by an English housekeeper.

The Hero (we’re almost there!):

In the final chapter of the book, Sydney dies a hero. A hero to his friends, and also to the young seamstress he meets that day at the prison. She recognizes that he is not Charles Darnay, and guesses what he is doing for his friend. They take comfort in each other until the time of their deaths. I found their short friendship more touching than any other emotional scene in the book (of which there aren’t many, and the ones that do exist all involve Lucie).

They said of him, about the city that night, that it was the peacefullest man’s face ever beheld there. Many added that he looked sublime and prophetic.

At the moment of Sydney’s death, I believe he feels that he has atoned for his useless life, and we are left with a vision of hope:

I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.

I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy, in that England which I shall see no more…

I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence…

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

Yes, I was even all choked up at the end. Anyone else?

Unanswered questions:

1. What caused Sydney’s fall from grace in the first place? Do we know?

2. What was it that Charles came back to France for way back in Part 2, that he quotes as being a sacred object?

 

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cities (Part 4: The Final Chapters) by Charles Dickens

  1. Cecilia says:

    I would have joined except that I’ve discovered I’m terrible at read-alongs 😉 I read this a long time ago and remember being impacted by the story/ending. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Dickens seems to draw mixed emotions among readers…

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, I think some of us liked it and some of us really didn’t. The read-alongs were fun, but after two in a row, I think I’m ready for a little break.

  2. ebookclassics says:

    The scene with Miss Pross and the Madame Defarge was awesome! I loved every minute of it and it really was a welcome surprise. It was so funny how they were having a showdown, but not could not understand a word each other was saying. I did get choked up at the end of the book. The ending was very well done and redeemed the book for me.

    • Naomi says:

      I would like to see that scene done in a movie. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough female muppets for this story. I think Miss Piggy would make a good Miss Pross, but also a good Mme. Defarge. Maybe she could just play all the female roles using her different wigs. 🙂

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