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Free Study Guide-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Free BookNotes
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Chapter Thirteen: Fifty-Two


In the black prison of the Conciergerie, fifty-two prisoners await their doom. Among them is a former general of seventy and a young seamstress of twenty. Darnay spends his last evening reconciling himself to his fate and writing letters to Lucie, Dr. Manette, and Mr. Lorry. He does not think of Carton even once. He goes to bed and dreams of his wonderful life in Soho.

In the morning, he paces up and down his cell as the hours tick by and the time of execution draws nearer. The executions are set for three o'clock, and since the tumbrels move slowly through the streets, the prisoners will leave at two.

At one o'clock Darnay hears footsteps outside. The door opens, and Sydney Carton stands before him with a slight smile. He is the last person Darnay has expected to see. At first he thinks that Carton is a prisoner like himself, but Carton quickly assures him that he is not and that he brings a request from Lucie. He does not tell Darnay what the request is. Carton then forces Darnay to exchange clothes with him.

Suddenly Darnay realizes that Carton is planning to rescue him. He feels that his attempt will put both their lives in peril. Carton instructs Darnay to write a note to Lucie. As the prisoner bends over the paper, Carton drugs him and dresses himself in Darnay's clothes. Barsad, with the help of other unsuspecting guards, carry the inert body of Darnay out of the prison to the waiting carriage. Carton's plan has succeeded.

At two o'clock the door of Darnay's cell is opened, and he is instructed to follow the jailer. The seamstress, taking him to be Darnay, asks him to hold her hand in the tumbrel. When she looks up at his face, she realizes that he is not Darnay, but does not reveal this to anyone. She is astonished that this noble man is willing to give his life for another man. In the meantime, the carriage containing Dr. Manette, Lucie, little Lucie, Mr. Lorry, and a drugged, sluggish Darnay, makes its way through the barriers and speeds out of Paris.


Dickens describes the oppression rampant during the revolution as a disease. He comments that if a physical disease can contaminate a large number of people disregarding age and status, moral diseases borne of unspeakable suffering and heartless indifference do the same. No one is spared. The rich farmer and the poor seamstress were convicted on the flimsiest of evidence that they were not patriots. The revolutionaries have a diabolical thirst for more heads to roll.

Dickens also gives the reader a graphic and dramatic picture of a prisoner on Death Row. Darnay realizes that no one can save him now, so he collects his strength to face death with dignity. He wants his loved ones to carry a picture of him as a strong and courageous man. He also realizes that there is no disgrace in his fate, for he is guilty of nothing. One section of his letter to Lucie is of particular interest. Darnay does not want her to try and find out if her father had remembered that he had buried the letter in his cell. She was not to ask him whether he had recalled it when he was told the story of the tower. He argues that even if the Doctor knew about the evidence, he would have believed it to be lost when the Bastille was destroyed.

Dickens portrays Darnay as a noble soul who harbors no ill feelings whatsoever. His attitude of forgiveness and understanding is exactly the opposite of that of Madame Defarge.

Carton appears before Darnay to become his savior. It is ironic that this man has never entered Darnay's thoughts in prison and is really the last person Darnay expected to see. Darnay, however, has masterminded a perfect escape plan for Darnay, covering every detail so there is no room for error. Carton's ruse to make Darnay write a letter to Lucie is a clever one. Carton uses the opportunity to attack and drug Darnay. He has Barsad standing by to carry the lifeless Darnay to the waiting carriage. His plan is perfectly executed, and Carton prepares to face his own death.

In the tumbrel, the seamstress looks into Carton's face and realizes he is not really Darnay; but she does not utter a word about it. She cannot believe that anyone is so noble as to sacrifice their own life for another. It is the ultimate irony that in death, Carton, known for excessive drinking and uselessness, is finding what he never had in life - a meaning and a purpose.

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