A Tale of Two Cities is the twelfth novel by Charles Dickens, originally published in weekly installments between April 1859 and November 1859. It is one of two historical novels by Dickens (the other being Barnaby Rudge). The plot centres on the years leading up to the French Revolution and culminates in the Jacobean Reign of Terror.
Charles Dickens describes a crowd leaving a court room after ‘a disappointment’ of the acquittal of Charles Darnay. Darney was put on trial for treason at the Old Bailey, the highest criminal court in the land, for passing English secrets into French hands. He is being prosecuted by the Attorney-General, who demands that the jury find him guilty. The quote suggests a crowd also baying for that verdict.
In Book 2, Chapter 3 of A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens compares the crowd at the Old Bailey to blue-flies. Earlier in the chapter he uses this metaphor to express the atmosphere inside the court-room, no doubt of a crowd wanting the defendant to be found guilty and with the certainty of a future hanging in prospect if so (a buzz arose in the court as if a cloud of great blue-flies were swarming about the prisoner, in anticipation of what he was soon to become). At the end of the chapter, Dickens again uses this symbolism of blue-flies to refer to the crowd in the court-room as they disperse, ‘baffled’ by the unexpectedly acquittal of Darney and ‘in search of other carrion’ referring to their lust to see another sensational trial.
Mr. Carton’s manner was so careless as to be almost insolent. He stood, half turned from the prisoner, lounging with his elbow against the bar.
“I do ask it. Accept my cordial thanks.”
“What,” said Carton, still only half turned towards him, “do you expect, Mr. Darnay?”
“It’s the wisest thing to expect, and the likeliest. But I think their withdrawing is in your favour.”
Loitering on the way out of court not being allowed, Jerry heard no more: but left them—so like each other in feature, so unlike each other in manner—standing side by side, both reflected in the glass above them.
An hour and a half limped heavily away in the thief-and-rascal crowded passages below, even though assisted off with mutton pies and ale. The hoarse messenger, uncomfortably seated on a form after taking that refection, had dropped into a doze, when a loud murmur and a rapid tide of people setting up the stairs that led to the court, carried him along with them.
“Jerry! Jerry!” Mr. Lorry was already calling at the door when he got there.
“Here, sir! It’s a fight to get back again. Here I am, sir!”
Mr. Lorry handed him a paper through the throng. “Quick! Have you got it?”
Hastily written on the paper was the word “ACQUITTED.”
“If you had sent the message, ‘Recalled to Life,’ again,” muttered Jerry, as he turned, “I should have known what you meant, this time.”
He had no opportunity of saying, or so much as thinking, anything else, until he was clear of the Old Bailey; for, the crowd came pouring out with a vehemence that nearly took him off his legs, and a loud buzz swept into the street as if the baffled blue-flies were dispersing in search of other carrion.
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