Vocabulary in A Tale of Two Cities

Vocabulary Examples in A Tale of Two Cities:

"provender..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter VI)

“Provender” here means food or provisions. However, it can also refer to dry food for livestock, such as oats or hay. Dickens’s usage of the word further emphasizes Dr. Manette’s imprisonment.

"laconic..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IV)

Laconic refers to a person, speech, or style of writing that is concise to the point of seeming rude. Mr. Darnay responds curtly to Mr. Carton because he (presumably) does not like that Mr. Carton speaks sarcastically about Lucie Manette.

"Hilary Term and Michaelmas..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter V)

“Michaelmas”—or “Michaelmas Term”—and “Hilary Term” are the first and second terms at several prominent universities in the United Kingdom, with a term referring to a designated period of time during the academic calendar. Both are named after the feasts of saints that fall during the span of their terms:Michaelmas, which lasts from September or October to Christmas, commemorates the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels on September 29. Hilary Term, which lasts from January to March, refers to the Feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers on January 14.

"propitiate..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter VIII)

To “propitiate” means to attempt to please or attain the goodwill of another person, spirit, or god. The peasants are therefore not propitiating; their faces appear “drooped” because they are starving, not because they are trying to appeal to the Marquis’s good graces.

"flambeau..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IX)

A “flambeau” is a flaming torch. Dickens repeatedly mentions flambeaux (the plural form) in his description of the Marquis’s chateau. The image of a flaming torch, along with the formidable stone architecture of the building, suggests historical regression and cruelty—two key characteristics of the Marquis himself.

"disinterestedly,..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter X)

Charles Darnay’s love for Lucie Manette is “disinterested” because it is genuine and disconnected from self-serving motivations. As we shall see, Charles’s authentic affection for Lucie is meant to be contrasted with the attentions of a potentially less-suitable man.

"bumpers..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)

A “bumper” is a glass or cup filled to the brim—in this case, with alcoholic punch. Sydney Carton, who is inclined to use alcohol to cope with depression and disappointment, is clearly distressed by Mr. Stryver’s intentions to propose to Lucie Manette.

"ostentatious friendliness..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)

Ostentatious behavior is pretentious or ingenuine, with the purpose of pleasing or manipulating another person. Mr. Stryver is frequently ostentatious; in this case, he is being friendly towards Sydney Carton in order to prepare him for a potentially unpleasant “disclosure.”

"incorrigible..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)

The adjective “incorrigible” means incapable of change or improvement. Sydney Carton believes that his character—and therefore his lot in life—is unable to be reformed.

"wet-towelling ..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)

Recollection (especially recalling “to life”) is an important theme in A Tale of Two Cities. In this case, Dr. Manette begs Charles Darnay to not disclose his true identity because it will “recall” memories that might trigger the resurrection of Dr. Manette’s trauma-induced amnesia.

"profligates..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIII)

A “profligate” is a corrupt and promiscuous person. Sydney Carton believes that his immorality transcends redemption—he is incapable of change and therefore unworthy of Lucie’s affection.

"revulsion..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVIII)

The noun “revulsion” here likely means to either abruptly change one’s response to a situation or to withdraw. Dr. Manette is both responding erratically and withdrawing in response to learning Charles Darnay’s true identity.

"How lightly I valued the obligation I was conferring..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVIII)

The noun “obligation” here refers to fulfilling one’s sense of duty, as opposed to being explicitly expected to carry out an action. Mr. Lorry means that he did not realize he was “‘conferring’” Charles’s bride when he brought Lucie across the English Channel as a baby.

" “I, my Pross?” (By this time, Mr. Lorry dared to be pleasant with her on occasion.)..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVIII)

The noun “obligation” here refers to fulfilling one’s sense of duty, as opposed to being explicitly expected to carry out an action. Mr. Lorry means that he did not realize he was “‘conferring’” Charles’s bride when he brought Lucie across the English Channel as a baby.

"magnanimous..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XX)

In this context, “magnanimous” refers to courageousness, nobility, and loftiness of character. Lucie Manette is not convinced that Sydney Carton is an inherently bad person; she believes he must be reformed, or figuratively “resurrected.”

"dissolute..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XX)

A “dissolute” person is disreputable, immoral, and lacks integrity. Sydney Carton is committed to his identity as a “‘dissolute dog’” and seems unconvinced that he might be capable of change.

"predominate..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXI)

The verb “to predominate” means to exercise remarkable influence or control over a situation or person. Lucie’s nurturing influence, however, is “predominate nowhere”; she weaves her symbolic “golden thread” without apparent exertion.

"modicum..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXII)

The noun “modicum” here refers to a very small portion of bread. Dickens strongly implies that the angry French peasants, though initially successful in their invasion of the Bastille, have done little to alleviate their poverty.

"low caste..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXIII)

The noun “caste” refers to the Hindu class system, which restricts occupations (and access to higher-caste individuals) based on inherited rank or privilege. Outside of Hindu society, a caste system generally features strict social barriers based on inherited status.

"beastly..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter II)

Dickens’s use of words like “howling,” “beastly,” and “matted locks” strongly suggests that rather than encouraging positive social change, mass riots cause citizens to regress into a primal, animalistic state.

"metempsychosis..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter II)

The noun “metempsychosis” refers to the supposed transfer or transmigration of a human (or other animal) soul to another living body upon death. Dickens uses it to sarcastically suggest that the fleeing nobleman is attempting to “transfer” his soul into the body of a servant. However, as the narrator acknowledges, he is “still the same Monseigneur” who required four servants to assist him in the preparation of his drinking chocolate.

"tergiversation..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter VIII)

The noun “tergiversation” refers to evasion, or the frequent changing of one’s opinions regarding a particular cause. The word can also refer to the abandonment of a cause, political party, or religion.

"imperious..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter X)

The adjective “imperious” can refer to pompousness, arrogance, or an otherwise domineering nature that befits a person of rank or authority—such as the aristocrats who force Dr. Manette into their carriage.

"despond..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter XI)

The verb “despond” means to become discouraged or to lose confidence. Sydney Carton, confident in his decision to switch places with Charles Darnay, urges Mr. Lorry to remain positive.