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?
What is the full significance of the chapter's title?
Of what is Charles reminded as he paces to and fro in his cell in La Force?
Under what charges has Charles been imprisoned?
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?
How does the scene with the grindstone considerably heighten the suspense?
Why do the savagely anti-aristocratic patriots agree to help Dr. Manette?
Book III, Chapter 3: "The Shadow."
Why does Lorry find the situation doubly distressing?
Why does Madame Defarge coldly scrutinize Charles' family?