A Tale of Two Cities – Book the Second: The Golden Thread Chapters 10–13

Summary: Chapter 10: Two Promises
A year later, Darnay makes a moderate living as a French
teacher in London. He visits Doctor Manette and admits his love
for Lucie. He honors Manette’s special relationship with his daughter,
assuring him that his own love for Lucie will in no way disturb
that bond. Manette applauds Darnay for speaking so “feelingly and
so manfully” and asks if he seeks a promise from him. Darnay asks
Manette to promise to vouch for what he has said, for the true nature
of his love, should Lucie ever ask. Manette promises as much. Wanting
to be worthy of his confidence, Darnay attempts to tell Manette
his real name, confessing that it is not Darnay. Manette stops him
short, making him promise to reveal his name only if he proves successful in
his courtship. He will hear Darnay’s secret on his wedding day. Hours
later, after Darnay has left, Lucie hears her father cobbling away
at his shoemaker’s bench. Frightened by his relapse, she watches
him as he sleeps that night.
Read a translation of
Chapter 10: Two Promises →
Summary: Chapter 11: A Companion Picture
Late that same night, Carton and Stryver work in Stryver’s
chambers. In his puffed-up and arrogant manner, Stryver announces
that he intends to marry Lucie. Carton drinks heavily at the news,
assuring Stryver that his words have not upset him. Stryver suggests
that Carton himself find “some respectable woman with a little property,”
and marry her, lest he end up ill and penniless.
Read a translation of
Chapter 11: A Companion Picture →
Summary: Chapter 12: The Fellow of Delicacy
The next day, Stryver plans to take Lucie to the Vauxhall
Gardens to make his marriage proposal. On his way, he drops in at
Tellson’s Bank, where he informs Mr. Lorry of his intentions. Lorry
persuades Stryver to postpone his proposal until he knows for certain
that Lucie will accept. This admonition upsets Stryver. He almost
insults Lucie as a “mincing Fool,” but Lorry warns him against doing
so. Lorry asks that Stryver hold off his proposal for a few hours
to give him time to consult the family and see exactly where Stryver
stands. Later that night, Lorry visits Stryver and reports that
his fears have been confirmed. If Stryver were to propose, the Manettes
would reject his offer. Stryver dismisses the entire affair as one
of the “vanities” of “empty-headed girls” and begs Lorry to forget
it.
Read a translation of
Chapter 12: The Fellow of Delicacy →
Summary: Chapter 13: The Fellow of No Delicacy
Carton, who frequently wanders near the Manettes’ house
late at night, enters the house one August day and speaks to Lucie
alone. She observes a change in his face. He laments his wasted
life, despairing that he shall never live a better life than the
one he now lives. Lucie assures him that he might become much worthier
of himself. She believes that her tenderness can save him. Carton
insists that he has declined beyond salvation but admits that he
has always viewed Lucie as “the last dream of [his] soul.” She has
made him consider beginning his life again, though he no longer
believes in the possibility of doing so. He feels happy to have
admitted this much to Lucie and to know that something remains in
him that still deserves pity. Carton ends his confession with a
pledge that he would do anything for Lucie, including give his life.
Read a translation of
Chapter 13: The Fellow of No Delicacy →
Analysis: Chapters 10–13
In this section, Dickens develops the love triangle among
Lucie, Carton, and Darnay. Rather than simply writing an encyclopedic account
of the French Revolution, Dickens balances history with the more
private struggles of his principal characters. He links the two
sides of his novel thematically, as each raises questions about the
possibilities of revolution and resurrection—Carton, for example,
like France itself, strikes out for a new life.
It is in Chapter 13 that Dickens
lays the foundation for Carton’s eventual turnaround. Upon seeing
Carton, Lucie observes a change in his demeanor. Much of this change
owes to Carton’s feelings for her. Just as Carton shares Darnay’s
physical countenance, he also shares Darnay’s devotion to Lucie.
Yet Carton’s confession strikes the reader as more touching and
profound than that of his counterpart. The reader certainly believes
Darnay as he informs Manette, “Dear Doctor Manette, I
love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If
ever there were love in the world, I love her,” but this declaration,
while direct, seems rather vapid and unimaginative. The alliteration
of “dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly” highlights the flat—almost
bored—tone of the declaration as it slogs through its sequence of
adverbs. The closing sentence seems almost a parody of Romantic
love poetry. Darnay touts his love as a great force of the universe
but does so with the most mundane possible phrasing, and the repetition
of the word love is dogged and uninspired.
Carton’s words, on the other hand, betray a
deep psychological and emotional struggle, suggesting the existence
of feelings more complex, perhaps even more worthy of reciprocation,
than Darnay’s:
In my degradation I have not been so degraded
but that the sight of you with your father, and of this home made
such a home by you, has stirred old shadows that I thought had died out
of me. . . . I have had unformed ideas of striving afresh, beginning
anew, shaking off sloth and sensuality, and fighting out the abandoned
fight.

In his depiction of his love, Carton opens himself to
the reader’s sympathy in a way that Darnay does not. Whereas Darnay
makes an objective, almost factual statement of his love for Lucie,
Carton describes his emotions, tinged as they are by realistic insecurity (“my
degradation”) and uncertainty (“unformed ideas”). He also speaks
poetically of “old shadows” and “the abandoned fight”; his use of
metaphor seems to reflect his inability to grasp fully his profound
feelings. Darnay, in contrast, categorizes his experience simply
as “love,” not pausing to ponder the emotions behind the word.
Lucie’s conjecture on whether she can “recall [Carton]
. . . to a better course” echoes the beginning of the novel, when
Lorry recalls Doctor Manette to life. Manette had to suffer a death
of sorts—wasting nearly twenty years in prison—before being reborn
into the life of love and devotion with Lucie. Now, Carton, too,
shall have to undergo a sort of death or sacrifice in order to win
the fight for love and meaning that he claims to have abandoned.
Dickens’s characteristic humor, largely absent from A
Tale of Two Cities, shines through in his depiction of
Stryver in Chapter 12. Dickens uses Stryver’s
name to suggest the essential nature of his character. Coldly ambitious,
the man ruthlessly strives to distinguish himself as a great businessman
and here, in Chapter 12, endeavors to win
the hand of Lucie Manette. Dickens ironically entitles the chapter
“The Fellow of Delicacy,” bringing Stryver’s coarseness into greater
relief. In Stryver’s surly refusal to heed Lorry’s gentle advice
and postpone his courtship of Lucie, we see clearly one of Dickens’s
greatest talents—the ability to capture a character through dialogue.
“Were you going [to Lucie’s] now?”
asked Mr. Lorry. “Straight!” said Stryver, with a plump of his fist on
the desk. “Then I think I wouldn’t, if I was you.” “Why?” said Stryver. “Now, I’ll put you in a corner,” forensically
shaking a forefinger at him. “You are a man of business and bound
to have a reason. State your reason. Why wouldn’t you go?”

The directness of Stryver’s response to Lorry (“Straight!”)
and the emphatic nature of his accompanying thump on the table demonstrate
his blind and unshakeable ambition. His finger-wagging and blustery
imperative demanding to hear Lorry’s “reason” reveal his aggressive
nature and refusal to be hindered in his pursuits. In his interrogating
and intimidating mannerisms, Stryver acts as if he were arguing
a legal point or cross-examining a witness. It is clear to the reader
that he approaches the courtship as he would a case in court—as
a way to gain money and stature—and not out of fondness for Lucie.