A Tale of Two Cities – Book the Second: The Golden Thread Chapters 7–9

Summary: Chapter 7: Monseigneur in Town
Monseigneur, a great lord in the royal court, holds a
reception in Paris. He surrounds himself with the greatest pomp
and luxury. For example, he has four serving men help him drink
his chocolate. The narrator tells us that Monseigneur’s money corrupts
everyone who touches it. Monseigneur parades around his guests briefly
and then returns to his sanctuary. Miffed at Monseigneur’s haughtiness,
one guest, the Marquis Evrémonde, condemns Monseigneur as he leaves.
The Marquis orders his carriage to be raced through the city streets,
delighting to see the commoners nearly run down by his horses. Suddenly
the carriage jolts to a stop. A child lies dead under its wheels.
The Marquis tosses a few coins to the boy’s father, a man named
Gaspard, and to the wine shop owner Defarge, who tries to comfort
Gaspard. As the Marquis drives away, a coin comes flying back into
the carriage, thrown in bitterness. He curses the commoners, saying
that he would willingly ride over any of them. Madame Defarge watches
the scene, knitting the entire time.
Read a translation of
Chapter 7: Monseigneur in Town →
Chapter 8: Monseigneur in the Country
The Marquis arrives in the small village to which he serves
as lord. There, too, the people live wretched lives, exploited,
poor, and starving. As he looks over the submissive faces of the
peasants, he singles out a road-mender whom he passed on his journey,
a man whose fixed stare bothered him. He demands to know what the road-mender
was staring at, and the man responds that someone was holding onto
the bottom of the carriage. The Marquis continues on his way and
soon comes upon a peasant woman, mourning at a rustic graveside.
The woman stops him and begs that he provide her husband’s grave
with some stone or marker, lest he be forgotten, but the Marquis
drives away, unmoved. He arrives at his chateau and, upon entering,
asks if Monsieur Charles has arrived from England.
Read a translation of
Chapter 8: Monseigneur in the Country →
Chapter 9: The Gorgon’s Head
Later that night, at the Marquis’ chateau, Charles Darnay,
the nephew of the Marquis, arrives by carriage. Darnay tells his
uncle that he wants to renounce the title and property that he stands
to inherit when the Marquis dies. The family’s name, Darnay contends,
is associated with “fear and slavery.” He insists that the family
has consistently acted shamefully, “injuring every human creature
who came between us and our pleasure.” The Marquis dismisses these
protests, urging his nephew to accept his “natural destiny.” The
next morning, the Marquis is found dead with a knife through his
heart. Attached to the knife is a note that reads: “Drive him fast
to his tomb. This, from Jacques.”
Read a translation of
Chapter 9: The Gorgon’s Head →
Analysis: Chapters 7–9
In Chapter 5 of Book the First,
we read a description of the French public squabbling over the spilled
contents of a broken wine cask; this passage, in its indictment
of the greed and viciousness of the mob, forms the backbone of Dickens’s
criticism against the impending revolution. In this section, in
contrast, Dickens expresses an equal disapproval for the aristocracy
whose vile mistreatment of the peasantry contributes to the revolution.
Again, Dickens uses sarcasm to great effect as he describes the
Monseigneur’s ridiculous dependence on his serving men:
It was impossible for Monseigneur to dispense
with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high
place under the admiring Heavens. Deep would have been the blot upon
his escutcheon if his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only
three men; he must have died of two.

Dickens’s choice of the word escutcheon, referring to
a family coat-of-arms, is key to our understanding of Monseigneur.
For this emblem represents what the he sees as a power inherent
to his family’s bloodline, an innate nobility that he thinks justifies
his absurd lavishness. Dickens undercuts Monseigneur’s reverence
for this symbol of his own power by commenting on his ridiculous
fear that he might damage his reputation should he prove insufficiently ostentatious
in the frivolous act of drinking chocolate. Moreover, in noting
Monseigneur’s deep interest in the ritual of imbibing his little treat,
Dickens contrasts him with the more loftily motivated characters
in the novel. While the novel’s worthy characters act according to
selfless and righteous goals, the Monseigneur conducts himself according
to base and earthly instincts.
Dickens uses the Marquis Evrémonde to give a similar portrait
of the aristocracy as elitist. The Marquis displays no sympathy
for Gaspard, the father of the boy whom his carriage crushes. Rather,
he believes that his noble blood justifies his malicious treatment
of his plebian subjects. In tossing the coins to Gaspard, he aims
to buy his way out of the predicament and rid his own conscience
of the nuisance of Gaspard’s grief. He believes that it is the commoner’s
lot in life to struggle and suffer. Likewise, he has no doubt that
his nephew’s rightful station is to dominate commoners, referring
to his nephew’s noble blood as his “natural destiny.”
Dickens sets up the Marquis as a representative of the
French aristocracy and, as such, a direct cause of the imminent
revolution. Using a device called personification, he creates human
manifestations of such abstract concepts as greed, oppression, and
hatred. The Marquis, so exaggeratedly cruel and flamboyant, hardly
seems an actual human being—hardly a realistic character. Instead,
the Marquis stands as a symbol or personification of the “inhuman abandonment
of consideration” endemic to the French aristocracy during the eighteenth
century.
Dickens advances this impression of the Marquis’
character in the opening passage of Chapter 9,
when he describes the nobleman’s chateau:
It was a heavy mass of building, that chateau
of Monsieur the Marquis, with a large stone court-yard before it,
and two stone sweeps of staircase meeting in a stone terrace before
the principal door. A stony business altogether with heavy stone balustrades
. . . and stone faces of men, and stone heads of lions, in all directions.
As if the Gorgon’s head had surveyed it, when it was finished, two
centuries ago.

The repetition of the word stone solidifies, as it were,
our impression of the man who lives in the chateau. His heart, Dickens
suggests, possesses the same severity as the castle’s walls. The
mention of the Gorgon—one of three Greek mythological sisters who
had snakes for hair and turned anyone who looked at them to stone—foreshadows
the death of the Marquis. For by the end of the chapter, the chateau
has one more stone face added to its collection—the dead Marquis’
face, which the narrator describes as “like a stone mask, suddenly
startled, made angry, and petrified.” Lying dead on his pillow,
the Marquis serves as a warning of the violence and bloodshed to
come, initiated by the masses who can no longer abide the aristocracy’s
heartless oppression of them.