Montreal Dickens Fellowship Study Questions: “A Tale of Two Cities"
November 7, 2023
Book II, Chapters 1-9
- Tellson’s bank is described as old, unchanging and set in its ways. Grim and death-like, it is inconvenient and crumbling but ever clinging to its image and history of respectability. Is Dickens warning his Victorian readers about England’s refusal adapt to modernization?
- Jerry Cruncher, while providing some comic relief, appears to be wrapped in mystery (his muddy boots, his rusty hands, his paranoia about his wife’s prayers), adding to the secrecy and suspense of the novel. Discuss.
- The details of being “drawn and quartered” are very graphic and the crowd’s excitement at the gore, shows that there is a similar “blood-lust” in England as in France. While Dickens likely draws this similarity to warn his readership, he is also attracting readers through his sensationalism, gore and violence. These are the same attractions of the big and small screen in todays’ pop culture. Blood sells! Comment.
- Dickens vilifies the British legal system by showing injustice and inhumanity and warns of the viciousness of mob mentality even in England. He does however see a ray of hope for the future in the humanity and compassion of individuals, personified in Lucie. Discuss.
- Charles Darnay is described as a dead man with flies buzzing all around his potential corpse. He is also “recalled to life”.\
- Comment on Dickens’ genius in the many ways he portrays this theme.
- Sydney Carton and Mme. Defarge both appear to be unobservant, but both seem to be hiding their true depth. Compare and contrast them.
- Compare and contrast Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton in terms of temperament, manners, drinking, relationship to Lucie and their ability to leave the past behind and start afresh.
- Comment on how Lucie is the “golden thread” of innocence, hope, kindness and goodness, that runs throughout the novel bringing out the best in all the people around her.
- “ A picture is worth a thousand words” Describe how Dickens tells us all about the excesses of the aristocracy through Monseigneur’s chocolate ritual.
- Dickens was a genius at manipulating the English language to emphasize his themes. E.g.: “The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance....) Can you find other examples?
- As Dickens describes it, no one in the aristocracy was fitted to or competent in his profession or role, even mothers. It was all show without substance. Do you believe this was really the case?
- Clothing plays an important symbolic role in the novel. Discuss.Dickens often uses the death of children to pull at the readers’ heartstrings. Discuss how the killing of the child by the/Marquis’ coach serves to engage and bind the reader more than any words could have done.
- Throughout the novel, recurrent images appear as symbols of various themes e.g.: water as fate, red of wine or sunset for blood or violence, stone for hardness and injustice. Comment.
- Darnay’s visit , his renouncement of his title and his uncle’s murder all happen rather quickly, advancing the action and keeping us on the edge of our seats. Dr. Manette’s relapses at key points in the novel warn us of impending trouble. Comment on the use of suspense and foreshadowing in the novel.