A reception at the Parisian suite of Monseigneur, a French lord, showcases the excesses and superficiality of the French aristocracy. The Marquis St. Evrémonde angrily leaves the reception after being snubbed by the other guests and treated coldly by Monseigneur. As his driver carouses recklessly through the Paris streets, the carriage accidentally runs over a child. The Marquis shows no remorse for the child's death, and when Gaspard, the child's grief-stricken father, approaches the carriage, the Marquis throws him a coin. Defarge emerges from the crowd to comfort Gaspard, and the Marquis throws him a coin as well. The carriage begins to move on, and one of the peasants throws a coin back into the carriage. Angered, the Marquis threatens the crowd and then drives away.
Dickens uses the Monseigneur's reception to display the extravagances of the French aristocracy and to emphasize how unnatural the members of the French upper class have become. Aristocrats such as the Monseigneur have become so immersed in the spectacle of the "Fancy Ball"that they have lost touch with reality. They place themselves at the center of the world, above God and above vocation. The Monseigneur spurns the supremacy of God, for instance, when he replaces "the Lord"with "Monseigneur"in the Biblical phrase "The earth and the fullness thereof are mine, saith the Lord"and when he removes his sister from a convent in order to gain money through her marriage to a wealthy member of the Farmer-General. Other aristocrats pursue an empty life of posturing and ignorance, especially in regard to their occupations. Gentlemen had no idea how to be military or civil officers, and women of the ruling class cared nothing for motherhood.
As with other characters throughout the book, Dickens uses physical appearance to represent the moral qualities of the French nobles. "The leprosy of unreality"disfigures the people attending the reception. Self-absorption and greed similarly disfigure their hearts and minds. The Marquis St. Evrémonde, with his attractive "face like a fine mask"that changes to look treacherous and cruel, represents all that is evil in the French aristocracy.
If the aristocracy does not care about God or about finding meaning in their lives, they certainly will give no thought to the lives of the lower classes. The incident with the Marquis and the child illustrates this disregard for the common people. By believing he can pay for a child's life like a piece of merchandise, the Marquis reveals himself to be heartless and supremely arrogant. Meanwhile, the silent challenge offered by Defarge and Madame Defarge at the scene suggests that the people's tolerance for such cruel treatment is near the breaking point.
escutcheon the shield on which a family displays its crest.
the merry Stuart who sold it Charles II.
a Farmer-General a member of a rich organization that made a living off of high taxes.
Convulsionists members of a religious group with physical practices similar to the Shakers or the Holy Rollers.
cataleptic having a condition in which consciousness and feeling seem to be temporarily lost and the muscles become rigid: the condition may occur in epilepsy, schizophrenia, and other such conditions.
finger post a sign post.
Dervishes members of any of various Muslim religious groups dedicated to a life of poverty and chastity. Some dervishes practice whirling, chanting, and the like as religious acts.
Palace of the Tuileries where the French king and queen lived in Paris.