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Free Study Guide-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Free BookNotes
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Chapter Three: A Disappointment


The prisoner, Charles Darnay, has been accused of being a traitor to George III, King of England, by assisting Louis XVI, King of France, in his wars against England. He supposedly has moved between the two countries to gain and supply information as to what forces the English have to send to Canada. The Attorney General states that the prisoner can give no honest account of his comings and goings. He produces a witness, John Barsad, who supposedly was once a friend of the prisoner. He, however, has decided to put loyalty to his country above his friendship to the prisoner. He has obtained some information in the form of lists by inducing the prisoner's servant, Roger Cly, to examine his master's pockets and drawers.

The Prosecution cannot prove the handwriting to be that of the prisoner, and Mr. Stryver, on cross examination, shows that John Barsad has a low character, is totally untrustworthy, and seems no better than a professional informer and spy.

As the next witness, the servant, Roger Cly, states that he has been in the service of the prisoner for four years, meeting him aboard the Calais packet. Becoming suspicious of his master, he searches his clothes and his belongings for some clues to his mysterious travel and behavior. He finds several lists, all of a similar nature, and sees him showing one of them to French gentlemen at Calais and Boulogne. He admits that he has known John Barsad for seven to eight years. Mr. Stryver, on cross- examination, insinuates that the servant planted the lists on Darnay and is in league with John Barsad to frame the prisoner.

Miss Manette is called to testify next and appears reluctant to give evidence against the prisoner. She states that she first met Darnay five years ago, while crossing the Channel between France and England. He was very kind and advised her how to shelter her father from the wind and weather; he also expressed great concern for her father's condition. She admits that he had come aboard with two French gentlemen, with whom he conversed at length.

Before they departed the boat, the Frenchmen had handed some papers to him. She had not seen the contents of the papers or heard the men speak about them. The prisoner had told her, however, that he was traveling under an assumed name since he had some delicate, difficult business to attend to which might get people into trouble. He also told her that his business might take him between France and England for a long time to come. Dr. Manette is called as the next witness, but cannot identify the prisoner since at that time he had just been released from prison and was not mentally sound.

The object of the prosecution is to show that the prisoner had gone down in the Dover mail coach on a Friday night in November, five years ago. He got out at a place where the prisoner did not remain, but traveled to a garrison and dockyard where he collected information. A witness is called to identify the prisoner as being the one who was at that same time in the coffee shop of the garrison-and-dockyard town, waiting for someone. Mr. Stryver cross-examines him to no avail.

At this point, the wigged gentleman, who has been staring at the ceiling, scribbles a note on a piece of paper, balls it up, and tosses it to Mr. Stryver. On reading the note, Mr. Stryver looks with great attention and curiosity at the prisoner and at Mr. Carton. He then points to Sydney Carton and asks the witness if he sees any resemblance between him and the prisoner. The likeness between the two is obvious and striking, and even more so when Carton removes his wig. The evidence of the witness becomes valueless.

In his speech for the defense, Mr. Stryver shows that John Barsad is a hired spy, a traitor, and a great scoundrel, who has forged documents, sworn false oaths, and framed the prisoner because some family affair required his making frequent trips across the Channel.

During the summing up by the Judge and the conference with the jury, Mr. Carton sits without moving, hands in pockets. His demeanor appears reckless and gives him a disreputable and disinterested look; but he is more observant than he appears, for when Miss Manette's head falls on her father's chest, he quickly calls an attendant to take her out. When he discusses Miss Manette with Darnay, the prisoner says that he is sorry to have caused the young lady such agitation.

After a long interval, the jury reaches a decision, and Charles Darnay is acquitted. The spectators leave the room in disappointment.


In this chapter, Dickens uses coincidence to help construct a well-knit plot. Darnay enters Lucie's life accidentally, as a fellow passenger on a ship crossing the Channel; they are brought together again, five years later, at his trial. The presence of Sydney Carton, who resembles Darnay, is another important coincidence. He rescues the protagonist Darnay from death, much like Dr. Manette has been resurrected. The parallel between Manette and Darnay, both of whom are victims of oppression and lies, is ironic.

It is also ironic that Lucie is helping the prosecution, and her evidence may help put a man to death; she has spent the last five years of her life nursing another man back to health from "death." The finest irony, however, is that Darnay falls in love with Lucie when she testifies against him. The entire trial scene foreshadows later scenes where Darnay will be on trial again. By that time, the mob's thirst for blood will be more violent and less submissive to the rule of law and justice. In this trial, they disperse quickly after Darnay's acquittal and are only disappointed that there will not be any hanging.

Although Darnay is really the only character that is developed in this chapter, there is some important information included about others. Carton is obviously observant, for he sees the similarity of appearance between himself and the prisoner and uses it for Darnay's advantage. He also notices that Lucie Manette is not feeling well after testifying and calls in an attendant for her. Carton is also clever, for his impulse saves Darnay, where others have failed. Both Lucie and Darnay are painted as somewhat flawed; they are almost too passive, giving them a sense of being somewhat lifeless. In Victorian times, however, people were respected for not showing emotion.

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