Book III: "The Track of a Storm"

In these final fifteen chapters Dickens focuses on the Reign of Terror (September, 1792 to September, 1793, precipitated by the excesses of the aristocracy in the preceding century, especially of the Sun King, Louis XIV, who is reputed to have said shortly before his death in 1715, "Apres moi, le deluge."

In October, 1789, several thousand women marched on Versailles, demanding that Louis XVI move to Paris. In February, 1790, the King accepted the principles of the Revolution, which heretofore had been democratic but disorganised. In September, 1791, after unsuccessfully attempting to flee France, the King accepted the work of the Assembly, and, with the concurrence of the Girondists in its successor, the Legislative Assembly, declared war against Austria in April, 1792. However, sensing the King was now a liability in a war being waged against France by monarchist regimes in Austria and Prussia, the Parisian mob attacked the Palace of the Tuileries in August. Under the Revolutionary Tribunal over 1,200 political prisoners perished in the infamous September Massacres. The National Convention, which then replaced the Legislative Assembly, sentenced the King to death in January, 1793; in October, his wife, the beautiful Queen Marie Antoinette, followed him to the guillotine. In July, 1794, the Reign of Terror burned itself out with the execution of the last of the Revolution's great butchers, Robespierre. The stage was set for Napoleon.

In 1792 France was in danger and there really were traitors, starting with the King and Queen, who had encouraged the intervention of outside powers. France was fighting for her life against the forces of ancient corruption; and for a few years her leaders suffered from the most terrible of all delusions. They believed themselves to be virtuous. Robespierre's friend St. Just said, "In a republic which can only be based on virtue, any pity shown towards crime is a flagrant proof of treason" (Kenneth Clark, Civilisation, "Fallacies of Hope"). Clark's "Worship of Nature," "The Smile of Reason," and "Fallacies of Hope," all of which cover the historical background to the French Revolution, are worth viewing. Students should compare Dickens' description of the death of the maniacal Madame Defarge to David's painting "Marat Murdered in his Bath."

Book III, Chapter 1: "In Secret"

  1. How does Charles come to realize the extreme danger he's placed himself by returning to France at this time?

  2. What is the full significance of the chapter's title?

  3. Of what is Charles reminded as he paces to and fro in his cell in La Force?

  4. Under what charges has Charles been imprisoned?

  5. How does our attitude towards Ernest Defarge change in this chapter?

Book III, Chapter 2: "The Grindstone"

  1. How is Lorry's exclamation, "Thank God that no one near and dear to me is in this dreadful town tonight" ironic?

  2. How does the scene with the grindstone considerably heighten the suspense?

  3. Why do the savagely anti-aristocratic patriots agree to help Dr. Manette?

Book III, Chapter 3: "The Shadow."

  1. Why does Lorry find the situation doubly distressing?

  2. Why does Madame Defarge coldly scrutinize Charles' family?

Book III, Chapter 4: "Calm in Storm."

  1. How many months are covered in this chapter?

  2. Why do all the atrocities he witnesses not drive Dr. Manette into another relapse?

  3. In fact, our estimation of Dr. Manette changes, and he becomes a developing character. Justify or attack Dickens' treatment of Dr. Manette's character in this chapter.

  4. Note Dickens' allusion to the children of the dragon's teeth (p. 301), the tough, new generation that were to populate Cadmus' new city, Thebes, in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Why does he so refer to the patriots?

  5. Explain: "La Guillotine . . . was the sign of regeneration of the human. It superseded the cross" (p. 302) AND "The name of the functionary . . . every day" (p. 303).

Book III, Chapter 5: "The Wood-Sawyer"

  1. What is coincidental about the wood-sawyer who lives in the vicinity of La Force?

  2. What is the Carmagnole?

  3. Who is in secret conference with Mr. Lorry?

  4. What is ominous in the wood-sawyer's personifying himself as "the Samson of the firewood guillotine"? (p. 306)?

  5. How do we become aware acutely that this novel was originally serialized when we get to the end of this chapter?

Book III, Chapter 6: "Triumph"

  1. Why does the attitude of the crowd of the courtroom to Charles dramatically change?

  2. Who are Charles' principal witnesses?

  3. What does their testimony substantiate?

  4. As a discerning reader, why do you find Charles' exoneration unsatisfying?

Book III, Chapter 7: "A Knock at the Door."

  1. Upon what grounds is Charles again arrested on the afternoon of his release?

  2. What foreshadowing of Charles' arrest does Dickens initially provide?

  3. How did Miss Pross always get bargains when shopping despite her total lack of French? What is her attitude towards the French language?

Book III, Chapter 8: "A Hand at Cards."

  1. What great coincidence is revealed to us, Miss Pross, and Jerry Cruncher in the wine-shop when they are out on their usual afternoon shopping expedition?

  2. Why has Sydney Carton come to Paris?

  3. What damaging evidence does Carton hold against Barsad?

  4. What evidence does Carton not possess which would be even more damning against Barsad?

Book III, Chapter 9: "The Game Made"

  1. How does the identity of Charles' third accuser come as a less-than-total surprise?

  2. How does Jerry use his insights into society's double standards to defend himself from Lorry's anger?

  3. What details concerning Sydney Carton1s thoughts and activities, build suspense?

  4. How does Carton's touching conversation with Lorry give us the impression that Carton has had a premonition of death? Note the significance of Carton's speaking French like a native (p. 341).

Book III, Chapter 10: "The Substance of the Shadow."

  1. Here Dickens employs a first person, major character, inset narrative, a flashback in the epistolary mode: apply each of these terms to pages 348-349.

  2. Where and how was the letter written (we here recall that Charles, imprisoned also in secret, was not permitted pen and paper by the new but equally vicious regime (see p. 286)?

  3. How does the number two figure prominently in the Doctor's narrative of the mad woman and her dying brother (ultimately revealed as the brother and sister of Madame Defarge)?

  4. Since Charles had nothing to do with this double crime, why is Madame Defarge bent on his destruction?

  5. Even though his letter ends with a repeat of the curse on the Evremonde family, how does it also explain Charles' very different nature?

  6. What atrocities, typical of the more decadent land-owners, do the Evremondes commit in this chapter?

Book III, Chapter 11: "Dusk."

As Sydney Carton kisses little Lucie to comfort her distress at her mother's extreme agitation after the trial, he murmurs words that only she hears: "A life you love."

  1. The reader, recalling the conclusion of Carton's profession of love for Lucie in Chapter 13 of the Second Book, will conclude what about Carton's plans?

  2. To whom may Carton be referring in the closing lines of the chapter?

Book III, Chapter 12: "Darkness."

  1. What were Carton's intentions in going to Defarge's wineshop?

  2. What suspicion does Madame Defarge, in conversation with the Vengeance and Jacques Three, confirm for us?

  3. Why has Dr. Manette experienced a profound relapse?

  4. What were the two certificates which Carton left in Larry's care?

  5. Why is Madam Defarge bent on denouncing even little Lucie?

Book III, Chapter 13: "Fifty-two."

  1. Although his three letters indicate the people most on his mind as he awaits execution, whom ironically does he not even recall? What KIND of irony is this?

  2. Who assists Carton to enter Charles' cell?

  3. Charles is reluctant to escape at the cost of Sydney's life: how does Carton force his compliance?

  4. What is the significance of the chapter's title?

  5. Why does Dickens abruptly shift to the first person plural at the end of this chapter?

  6. In the range of prisoners on p. 376, Dickens gives one whose death at the hands of the revolutionary patriots is merely nemesis, and another whose death is totally undeserved, showIng how unjust the Revolution has become. Who are these two?

  7. List several sources of suspense in this chapter.

Book III, Chapter 14: "The Knitting Done"

  1. Why has Madame Defarge deliberately excluded her husband from her conference with the Vengeance and Jacques Three?

  2. Why had Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher been left behind?

  3. What extra dimension does the destined confrontation between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge gain by their failIng to understand each other by virtue of their ignorance of the other's language?

  4. Why is Madame Defarge's going to Lucie prior to denouncing her for "plotting" not wholly credible?

  5. In what ways does the reader sense that the revolutionary zealots are going too far in redressing the injustices of the old regime?

Book III, Chapter 15: "The Footsteps Die Out for Ever"

  1. After the montage of Madame Defarge's approaching Miss Pross, the climatic meeting, and the unexpected consequences of the struggle, the little scene between Miss Pross and Jerry has provided some comic relief. Does this chapter contain the novel's climax, or merely its denouement? Explain.

  2. Who follows the scene of Carton's being driven off to execution with nearly as much apprehension as the reader's?

  3. What do Miss Pross and Sydney Carton now clearly have in common?

  4. How does the word "wine" in this chapter's second line operate on the reader at a number of levels?

  5. What warning does Dickens once again issue to humanity in general, and English society in particular, about the atrocities of the French Revolution?

  6. In the seamstress's last remarks (p. 402) we come to certain equations: whom does Dickens mean us to take Carton and his persecutors for (consider also the bottom of p. 403)?

  7. How does the novel's theme underscore the theme of resurrection?


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Last Modified 19 December 2000