A motley and bloodthirsty crowd assembles at the trial of Charles Darnay. When Doctor Manette is announced as Darnay’s father-in-law, a happy cry goes up among the audience. The court hears testimony from Darnay, Manette, and Gabelle, establishing that Darnay long ago had renounced his title out of disapproval of the aristocracy’s treatment of peasants. These factors, in addition to Darnay’s status as the son-in-law of the much-loved martyr Manette, persuade the jury to acquit him. The crowd carries Darnay home in a chair on their shoulders.
The next day, although Manette rejoices in having saved Darnay’s life, Lucie remains terrified for her husband. Later that afternoon, she reports hearing footsteps on the stairs, and soon a knock comes at the door. Four soldiers enter and re-arrest Darnay. Manette protests, but one of the soldiers reminds him that if the Republic demands a sacrifice from him, he must make that sacrifice. Manette asks one of the soldiers to give the name of Darnay’s accuser. Though it is against the law to divulge such information, the soldier replies that he is carrying out the arrest according to statements made by Defarge, Madame Defarge, and one other individual. When Manette asks for the identity of this third person, the soldier replies that Manette will receive his answer the next day.
Meanwhile, Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross discover Miss Pross’s long-lost brother, Solomon, in a wine shop. Solomon scolds his sister for making a scene over their reunion. He cannot afford to be identified because he is working as a spy for the Republic. Meanwhile, Cruncher recognizes Solomon as the witness who accused Darnay of treason during his trial in England thirteen years earlier. He struggles to remember the man’s name until Sydney Carton, who suddenly appears behind them, provides it: Barsad. Carton states that he has been in Paris for a day and has been lying low until he could be useful. He threatens to reveal Barsad’s true identity to the revolutionaries unless the spy accompanies him to Tellson’s.
Upon arriving at Tellson’s, Carton informs Mr. Lorry and Jerry Cruncher that Darnay has been arrested again; he overheard Barsad discussing the news in a bar. Carton has a plan to help Darnay, should he be convicted, and he threatens to expose Barsad as an English spy should Barsad fail to cooperate. Carton reveals that he has seen Barsad conversing with Roger Cly, a known English spy. When Barsad counters that Cly is dead and presents the certificate of burial, Cruncher disproves the story by asserting that Cly’s coffin contained only stones and dirt. Though Cruncher is unwilling to explain how he knows these details, Carton takes him at his word and again threatens to expose Barsad as an enemy of the Republic. Barsad finally gives in and agrees to help Carton with his secret plan.
Lorry scolds Cruncher for leading a secret life (grave-robbing) outside his job at Tellson’s. Cruncher hints that there may be many doctors involved in grave-robbing who bank at Tellson’s. Cruncher then makes amends, saying that if Lorry will let young Jerry Cruncher inherit his own duties at the bank, he himself will become a gravedigger to make up for all the graves that he has “un-dug.” After Barsad leaves, Carton tells Lorry and Cruncher that he has arranged a time to visit Darnay before his imminent execution. Carton reflects that a human being who has not secured the love of another has wasted his life, and Lorry agrees.
That night, as he wanders the streets of Paris, Carton thinks of Lucie. He enters a chemist’s shop and buys a mysterious substance. The words spoken by the priest at his father’s funeral echo through his mind: “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.” Carton helps a small girl across the muddy street, and she gives him a kiss. The priest’s words echo again in his mind. He wanders until sunrise, then makes his way to the courthouse for Darnay’s trial. The judge names Darnay’s accusers: the Defarges and Doctor Manette. Manette reacts with shock and denies having ever denounced Darnay. Defarge then takes the stand and speaks of a letter that he found, hidden in 105 North Tower of the Bastille.
Defarge claims that Manette wrote the letter while imprisoned in the Bastille, and he reads it aloud. It tells the story of Manette’s imprisonment. In 1757, a pair of brothers, one the Marquis Evrémonde (Darnay’s father) and the other the next in line to be Marquis (Darnay’s uncle, the man who ran over the child with his carriage in Book the Second, Chapter 7), ordered Doctor Manette to care for a young peasant woman, who was dying of a fever, and her brother, who was dying of a stab wound. The Marquis’ brother had raped the young woman, killed her husband, and stabbed her brother, who died quickly. Although the woman was still alive, Manette failed to save her life. The next day a kind woman—the Marquis’ wife and Darnay’s mother—came to Manette’s door. Having heard about the horrible things done to the peasant girl and her family, she offers to help the girl’s sister, who was hidden away so the Marquis could not find her. Unfortunately, Manette does not know the sister’s whereabouts. The next day, Manette was taken away and imprisoned in the Bastille on the orders of the Marquis Evrémonde. After hearing this story, the jury sentences Darnay to death, to pay for the sins of his father and uncle.
The echoing footsteps that Lucie hears in Chapter 21 of Book the Second now manifest themselves again, but this time they signify the immediate presence of pressing danger. No longer distant, dim, or scarcely audible, the footfalls in Chapter 7 announce the four soldiers come to take Darnay back to prison. Whereas the revolution only vaguely stirs Lucie when she sits in her comfortable parlor in England, it encroaches, physically and emotionally, upon her most intimate relationships now that she has come to Paris. This transformation of the revolution from an abstract notion into a direct presence in the lives of Lucie and Manette finds a parallel in the soldiers’ words to them. In answering Manette’s question as to the identity of Darnay’s accusers, the soldiers first tell him that they are acting on the orders of Saint Antoine, the personified suburb of Paris at the heart of the revolution. However, Manette soon learns that Defarge and his wife have in fact occasioned the arrest. With the news of this betrayal by his former allies, the revolution reaches new heights of personal significance for Manette.
As the novel approaches its close, the reader encounters an ever-increasing number of coincidences, such as Miss Pross’s discovery of her long-lost brother; Carton’s timely arrival in the wine shop to identify Barsad; and Defarge’s discovery of Manette’s letter denouncing the Evrémonde family. Moments such as these, endemic to Victorian fiction, constitute a device called deus ex machina (literally: “god out of the machine”), a term that refers to improbable contrivances used by the author to resolve the plot. Modern readers, more accustomed to realistic narratives, usually consider such unlikely developments to reflect a weakness in the plot’s conception. Even in Dickens’s time, certain readers objected to the contrived feeling created by these coincidences. Wilkie Collins, for instance—the author of The Frozen Deep, the play that inspired A Tale of Two Cities—found the discovery of Manette’s letter in Dickens’s work highly unlikely. But defenders of this style of writing believe that Dickens conceived a world in which everything is so interconnected to everything else that coincidence—no matter how unlikely—is inevitable. Dickens’s biographer, John Forster, defended the author thus:
On the coincidences, resemblances, and surprises of life, Dickens liked especially to dwell, and few things moved his fancy so pleasantly. The world, he would say, was so much smaller than we thought it; we were all so connected by fate without knowing it; people supposed to be far apart were so constantly elbowing each other; and to-morrow bore so close a resemblance to nothing half so much as to yesterday.
The coincidences Dickens presents may seem excessive in number, but many critics have come to see these plot devices as yet another example of Dickens’s talent for exaggeration. Just as his many caricatured figures serve to emphasize and comment on real human foibles, his coincidences and sudden surprising connections serve merely to exaggerate the frequency of what Dickens believed to be very real phenomena in our own world.
Regardless of how one feels about Carton’s sudden appearance, one must acknowledge the transformation of his character as one of the novel’s foremost achievements. Indeed, Carton proves the most psychologically complex and emotionally rich character that A Tale of Two Cities has to offer. By the time of his appearance in Paris, he has shed the skin of “the jackal.” No longer insolent, lazy, and directionless, he emerges determined to save Darnay’s life for the sake of the woman that he himself loves. He now has a purpose, and a purpose that he cherishes. In Chapter 9, the reader witnesses him preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice as he recites a passage from the Book of John (11.25–26). In the Christian tradition, worshippers speak these lines at the opening of the Burial Service in the Book of Common Prayer. Carton’s utterance of these words has a dual significance. First, his words confirm that he has made a conscious decision to give of himself for Lucie’s sake. (The reader might argue that Carton already has sacrificed himself to Lucie’s benefit. However, although Carton has saved Darnay once before, in Book the Second, Chapter 3, this first occasion—his observation of the physical likeness that he and Darnay share—seemed more serendipitous than an act of valor performed deliberately to help Lucie.) Second, Carton’s recitation of the biblical passage speaks beyond his personal psychology to the fates of the other characters in the novel, promising a final and satisfying resurrection.