And now that the cloud settled on Saint Antoine, which a momentary gleam had driven from his sacred countenance, the darkness of it was heavy—cold, dirt, sickness, ignorance, and want, were the lords in waiting on the saintly presence—nobles of great power all of them; but, most especially the last.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Volume 1, chapter 5.

I'm confused about the bold part. I understand that by saying " his sacred countenance" he's referring to the saint whom the city is named after. But it's still not clear to me what he's trying to say.

  • FWIW, it makes no literal sense. It must have poetic meaning. It's unclear whether "his" refers to the saint or the town in a poetic way. It doesn't make sense that a gleam would drive a cloud off the face of either a saint or a town, but if the cloud is a metaphor for bad times for the town, and if there was a brief metaphorical gleam earlier in the story where there was some hope of good times, then it would make sense, but I'd need to read the book up to this point to know.
    – gotube
    Jul 15, 2022 at 18:53

1 Answer 1


The momentary gleam refers to the lightening of the mood as a result of the spillage of a cask of wine earlier in the chapter, to the benefit of the inhabitants (or perhaps citizens).

A shrill sound of laughter and of amused voices--voices of men, women, and children--resounded in the street while this wine game lasted. There was little roughness in the sport, and much playfulness. There was a special companionship in it, an observable inclination on the part of every one to join some other one, which led, especially among the luckier or lighter-hearted, to frolicsome embraces, drinking of healths, shaking of hands, and even joining of hands and dancing, a dozen together. When the wine was gone, and the places where it had been most abundant were raked into a gridiron-pattern by fingers, these demonstrations ceased, as suddenly as they had broken out.

But it was soon over, and the sombre mood returned.

  • I understanded it like that at first but I doubted myself, because of the use of word" sacred". "Sacred" is not a word to describe the countenance of poor and miserable place.
    – Ali
    Jul 15, 2022 at 19:53
  • I think it as you say: referring to the place as if it were the saint of that name, whose countenance is sacred, as if the locale should mirror that, but no longer does. Jul 15, 2022 at 19:54
  • Looking at the rest of the sentence: "cold, dirt, sickness, ignorance, and want" which were the "lords in waiting on the saintly presence" and especially "want": the most noble of them all. It is all figurative. Jul 15, 2022 at 20:02
  • Thank you. Now it's clear
    – Ali
    Jul 15, 2022 at 20:19

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