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She had not been married many weeks, when that man’s brother saw her and admired her, and asked that man to lend her to him – for what are husbands among us!

This incident invokes the old feudal droit du seigneur – an “alleged custom of medieval times by which the feudal lord might have sexual intercourse with the bride of a vassal on the wedding-night, before she cohabited with her husband” (OED). Though a custom long out of date by the 18th century, the droit du seigneur was a popular feature of 18th- and 19th-century fiction, and, in A Tale of Two Cities, helps to emphasize the injustices of feudalism – a state of political affairs finally overturned by the Revolution in France.

I write with so much difficulty, the cold is so severe, I am so fearful of being detected and consigned to an underground cell and total darkness…

The “underground cell” that Manette fears was a dungeon – a “cachot.” Totally dark, and usually rat-infested, cachots were no longer used for the detention of prisoners under the reign of Louis XVI. Doctor Manette, however, was incarcerated in 1757 (under the less clement reign of Louis XV), and would indeed have been in danger of confinement in a cachot (Maxwell 478).

He had before offered me money, which I had postponed taking. He now gave me a rouleau of gold.

A rouleau is a roll of coins – “A number [probably between 20 and 50] of gold coins made up into a cylindrical packet” (OED).

An urgent case in the Rue St. Honoré, he said. It would not detain me, he had a coach in waiting.

The Rue St. Honoré, located north of the Seine, has – like the Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine – revolutionary significance: The tumbrils passed along the Rue St. Honoré to the Place de la Révolution where the guillotine stood – apparently with such frequency that, in courtesy to the inhabitants, the guillotine was moved for a time to the eastern districts of Paris (Carlyle 731). Dickens’s Dictionary of Paris (1882) gives the following account of the history of the Rue St. Honoré:

The Rue St. Honoré or portions of it have borne different names in the history of old Paris. It will be enough, therefore, to mention briefly some of the main changes. In the reign of Philippe Auguste, towards the end of the 12th century, the Porte St. Honoré stood not very far from [what at the end of the 19th century was the] omnibus entrance into the Place du Carrousel [between the Louvre and the Tuileries] from the Rue de Rivoli. That point was then, and for many years to come, the extreme western limit of Paris, on the right bank of the Seine. But inside the fortifications the Rue St. Honoré did not then exist. In the last year of the reign of Charles V, in 1380, the fortifications round Paris were extended; and in the first half of the 17th century, under Louis XIII, the Porte St. Honoré stood at the end of the … Rue St. Honoré, at the right angles formed by that street and the Rue Royale…. In 1732 the Porte St. Honoré, where we now see the Rue Royale, was pulled down, and the quarter beyond, which from being a suburb of Paris had in fact become a part of the town, was still called by its old name, Le Faubourg St. Honoré. That name is still preserved. (224)

The Rue St. Honoré, as it lay at the time of Darnay’s second trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal, can be seen on this portion of the Plan de la Ville de Paris, Période Révolutionnaire, 1790-1794.  (The Rue St. Honoré, above the Jardin National, runs from the middle-right portion of the map to the upper left, and intersects the Rue de la Révolution in the upper left corner.  The Rue Royale was, predictably, called the Rue de la Révolution during the Revolution, but afterwards reverted to its earlier name.)

Click on map for larger view

If it had pleased GOD to put it in the hard heart of either of the brothers, in all these frightful years, to grant me any tidings of my dearest wife – so much as to let me know by a word whether alive or dead – I might have thought that He had not quite abandoned them.

Dickens seems to have based this portion of Doctor Manette’s letter on a letter actually found in the fallen Bastille. Carlyle gives this account:

Likewise ashlar stones of the Bastille continue thundering through the dusk; its paper archives shall fly white. Old secrets come to view; and long-buried Despair finds voice. Read this portion of an old Letter: “If for my consolation Monseigneur would grant me, for the sake of God and the Most Blessed Trinity, that I could have news of my dear wife; were it only her name on a card, to show that she is alive! It were the greatest consolation I could receive; and I should for ever bless the greatness of Monseigneur.” Poor Prisoner, who namest thyself Quéret-Démery, and has no other history, – she is dead, that dear wife of thine, and thou art dead! ‘Tis fifty years since thy breaking heart put this question; to be heard now first, and long heard, in the hearts of men. (168)

This letter – dated “à la Bastille, 7 Octobre, 1752” – predates Doctor Manette’s (which is dated in 1767); however, it would have been found at the same time (when the Bastille fell in 1789). By the time Doctor Manette’s letter is read in court, more than 25 years have elapsed since he implored those responsible for his incarceration for news of his wife – who is now dead. Unlike Quéret-Démery, however, Doctor Manette was restored to his surviving family.

And them and their descendants, to the last of their race, I Alexandre Manette, unhappy prisoner, do this last night of the year 1767, in my unbearable agony, denounce to the times when all these things shall be answered for. I denounce them to Heaven and to earth.”

Though Doctor Manette presumably meant the Last Judgment when he wrote of “the times when all these things shall be answered for,” recommending his captors to God’s judgment, the Revolutionary Tribunal reads the letter as a reference to the Revolution (now come) and its own retributive powers. This circumstance tends to support Dickens’ thematic representation of the hubris of French revolutionaries who, wearing guillotines in place of crosses, appropriate God’s right to judge mankind.

…and for sacrifices and self-immolations on the people’s altar.

The first revolutionary altar was erected among the ruins of the Bastille (Maxwell 479), and though there were a number of such sites, perhaps the most famous altar was the Altar of the Fatherland – the “Autel de la Patrie” – erected in the Champ de Mars after the fall of the Bastille. According to Carlyle, the petition to depose Louis XVI was set up on this altar for the signatures of the people:  “And so, on Sunday the 17th [of July, 1791], there shall be a thing seen, worthy of remembering. Scroll of a Petition, drawn up by Brissots, Dantons, by Cordeliers, Jacobins; for the thing was infinitely shaken and manipulated, and many had a hand in it: such Scroll lies now visible, on the wooden framework of the Fatherland’s Altar, for signature” (406).

Madame Defarge returned to her counter to get the wine, and, as he took up a Jacobin journal and feigned to pore over it puzzling out its meaning, he heard her say, “I swear to you, like Evrémonde!”

The Jacobins – the revolutionary faction which, defeating (and guillotining) the rival moderate party of the Girondins, took control of the Republic in 1793 – oversaw the Reign of Terror. Marat, Danton and Robespierre are among the most famous Jacobins.

The name “Jacobin” derives from the Jacobin convent in Paris where the political society first met and established itself, in 1789 (OED). (The religious Jacobins were, originally, French members of a Dominican order of friars, to whom the church of Saint Jacques was given.) The echo of “Jacquerie” (the word for French peasant revolts) in “Jacobin” is, though appropriate, accidental. Carlyle, in The French Revolution, gives us this introduction to the Jacobins:

[The party] has leased for itself, at a fair rent, the Hall of the Jacobins Convent, one of our “superfluous edifices”; and does therefrom now ... begin shining out on an admiring Paris. And so, by degrees, under the shorter popular title of Jacobins Club, it shall become memorable to all times and lands…. This Jacobins Club, which at first shone resplendent, and was thought to be a new celestial Sun for enlightening the Nations, had, as things all have, to work through its appointed phases: it burned unfortunately more and more lurid, more suphurous, distracted! – and swam at last, through the astonished Heaven, like a Tartarean Portent, and lurid-burning Prison of Spirits in Pain.

Its style of eloquence? Rejoice, Reader, that thou knowest it not, that thou canst never perfectly know. The Jacobins published a Journal of Debates, where they that have the heart may examine: impassioned, dull-droning Patriotic-eloquence; implacable, unfertile – save for Destruction, which was indeed its work: most wearisome, though most deadly. Be thankful that Oblivion covers so much; that all carrion is by and by buried in the green Earth’s bosom, and even makes her grow the greener. The Jacobins are buried; but their work is not.... (271-3)

The Jacobin journal which Carton pretends to “puzzle over” is not necessarily the Journal to which Carlyle refers here; however, its “style of eloquence” is undoubtedly similar.

The English customer paid for what he had had, perplexedly counted his change, and asked, as a stranger, to be directed towards the National Palace.

The National Palace, previously the Palais des Tuileries, is on the other side of Paris from the Saint Antoine wineshop: The Tuileries, between the Place de la Révolution (now the Place de la Concorde) and the Louvre, is in the western part of Paris, just north of the Seine; Saint Antoine is in the east.  (The National Palace, or Palais National, is visible at the lower right corner of the map shown above.)



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