Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1 - Five Years Later
Five years have passed since Tellson's Bank sent Mr. Lorry to bring Doctor Manette back to England. Tellson's continues to be "the triumphant perfection of inconvenience,"with its old-fashioned dark and cramped facility lending it an air of respectability and security. Jerry Cruncher acts as a porter and messenger for the bank, and his son, who is also called Jerry, often accompanies him. At home before work one morning, the sight of his wife praying frustrates Jerry. He complains that she prays against his prosperity and tells her he won't tolerate it. After breakfast, Jerry and his son walk to Tellson's and station themselves in front of the bank before it opens. Soon the bank calls Jerry to deliver a message. Meanwhile, Young Jerry puzzles over the source of the iron rust that is always on his father's fingers.
Dickens depicts the venerable Tellson's Bank as being in the business of death. Described as dark, ugly, and cramped, Tellson's boasts an atmosphere of deliberate grimness and decay. Money, documents, and valuables that go into Tellson's for safekeeping are buried in "wormy old wooden drawers"and acquire "a musty odor, as if they were fast decomposing"or being "corrupted."
Just as material goods are buried and decay in Tellson's, the bank transforms the people who deal with it as well. The bank hides clerks who go to work at Tellson's as young men until they become old. Additionally, Tellson's literally sends people to their deaths; the bank identifies forgers, debtors, counterfeiters, and petty thieves who eventually go to their graves under the harsh death penalty. Not coincidentally, Dickens locates Tellson's next to the Temple Bar, an arched gateway to the city where the government sometimes displayed the heads of the executed.
Jerry Cruncher, the messenger, serves as "the live sign of the house,"which indicates that he may have something to do with death as well. Like many of the other characters in the novel, Jerry appears to have a secret. Some of his physical characteristics and personality traits create an air of mystery, such as his muddy boots, his rusty fingers, and his paranoia regarding his wife's prayers.
bank note a promissory note issued by a bank, payable to the bearer on demand and which can be used as money.
plate tableware, often made of silver or covered with a layer of silver (plated).
Barmecide room a room in which things are an illusion. Barmecide was a prince in the Arabian Nights who offered a beggar a feast and set an empty plate before him.
purloiner a thief.
Whitefriars a district of central London between Fleet Street and the Temple area where criminals and fugitive debtors lived.
personal board a person's daily meals.
choused cheated, swindled.
hackney coach a coach for hire, oftentimes a six-seat carriage drawn by two horses.
laudanum a solution of opium in alcohol or wine used as a painkiller or sleeping aid, or drunk as an intoxicant.