A Tale of Two Cities - Cliff Notes
Table of contents:
Chapter summaries (pp.2-32)
Characters (pp. 32-40)
Setting (pp. 40-41)
Dickens’ Style (use of detail, repetition, parallelism, theatrical elements, imagery, form and style) (pp. 41-43)
BOOK THE FIRST:
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 1
Here is Dickens' voice, introducing the story he's about to tell. No
action or characters are presented, but the scene is set: England
and France, 1775. We encounter important themes--and one of the most
unforgettable opening paragraphs in English literature.
NOTE: AN INSTANCE OF PARALLELISM "It was the best of times, it was
the worst of times...," the opening words, form a good example of
parallelism--the repetition, for emphasis, of a grammatical
structure. Here and elsewhere Dickens relies on parallelism to
balance opposing pairs, to make contrasts and comparisons. Look
closely for dual themes and characters, even (in Book the Second) for
dual chapter titles. Most elements in the story have, if not an
equal, at least an opposing element.
With a description of a brutal punishment carried out on a French
boy, Dickens leads in to two major themes: Fate and Death. Each is
personified--given human identity--a trick of style Dickens will be
using again and again. The "certain moveable framework" for which
trees have already sprung up is the guillotine; at the moment, the
sinister-sounding "tumbrils of the Revolution" are merely farm carts.
The basis for their future employment, carrying the doomed through
the streets of Paris, has already been laid by an unjust and ignorant
Dickens' tone for describing abuses is ironic, but indignant, too.
Clearly, he doesn't believe that a murdering highwayman shoots
"gallantly," but he does view the hangman as "ever worse than
useless." Few of Dickens' contemporaries despised capital punishment
as much as he did; fewer describe it so vividly. What's your
reaction to the executions detailed here? Dickens himself was both
fascinated and repelled by death, and generations of readers have
found his attitude catching.
NOTE: TOPICAL/HISTORICAL REFERENCES The two kings with "large jaws"
and their queens, one fair, one plain, are the monarchs of England
and France: George III and Charlotte Sophia; Louis XVI and Marie
The references to visions, spirits, and spectres mark the beginning
of a deliberate pattern. Mrs. Southcott was a religious visionary;
the "Cock-lane ghost" was an 18th-century poltergeist. Moving ahead
to his own time, Dickens invokes the "spirits of this very year last
past," meaning those spirits raised by D. D. Home, a popular
These historic ghosts will give way to fictional ones. As you read,
look for the mist likened to "an evil spirit" (Book I, Chapter 2),
and for the "spectre" of Jarvis Lorry's nightmare (I, 3)--the image
is of Dr. Manette, raised from the "death" of solitary imprisonment.
References to the spirit world span the entire novel. The ghosts are
here for a reason.
If you've heard many ghost stories you know that they create a weird,
unreal atmosphere--exactly the effect Dickens was aiming for in A
Tale. His spirits and spectres hint at the possibility of another
world, of life beyond death. They're images that support two of the
novel's themes: unreality versus reality, and--more
Finally, a reference perhaps familiar from your history classes: the
"congress of British subjects in America" describes the Continental
Congress, which sent a petition of grievances to the British
Parliament in January 1775.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 2
We meet Jarvis Lorry, employee of Tellson's Bank in London, traveling
by mail coach from London to Dover. This is only the first of many
fateful journeys--the story also ends with one. Dark, cold, and mist
surround the heavy mail coach. The atmosphere is gloomy,
foreshadowing more gloom to come and setting us up for the
contrasting theme of dark and light.
The atmosphere among passengers, guard, and coachman matches the
weather--all fear an assault by highwaymen, and so mistrust each
other. Their apprehension quickens at the sudden arrival of a
messenger. The messenger is Jerry Cruncher, sent from Tellson's with
instructions for Lorry: "Wait at Dover for Mam'selle." Lorry's
prompt reply, RECALLED TO LIFE, surprises Cruncher as much as his
Left alone in thickening mist and darkness, Cruncher hoarsely
exclaims that he'd be "in a Blazing bad way, if recalling to life was
to come into fashion...!" Here is Dickens' first mention of
resurrection, and first of many strong signals of Cruncher's hidden
occupation. Though the action so far seems bathed in secrecy,
Dickens doesn't write for the sake of confusing us. He's constantly
and skillfully divulging plot, themes, and moral point of view; we
have only to look out for them.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 3
Heading back to London, Jerry Cruncher stops at alehouses on the way,
made uneasy by the night shadows and Lorry's strange message. The
mail coach meanwhile bumps on to Dover, as Lorry dozes on and off
through his own disturbing dreams. His present errand for Tellson's
strikes him as digging someone out of a grave, and it inspires
nightmare dialogues with a white-haired spectre.
"I hope you care to live?" Lorry twice asks his spectre. The answer:
"I can't say."
The rising sun jolts the bank clerk awake, dispersing the night's bad
dreams. Yet a seed has been planted in Jarvis Lorry's mind: being
recalled to life, or resurrected, may not be an entirely blessed
event. Still, the opposite of life is dismaying, as the beautiful
sunlight reminds Lorry: "Eighteen years!" he cries. "To be buried
alive for eighteen years!"
NOTE: A SHIFT IN VOICE The lead paragraph of Chapter 3 is one of a
very few times in the novel that Dickens changes his narrative voice.
What does he gain from using "I," the first-person singular?
"I" commands attention. We note there's a break in the action, and
concentrate on the meditative interjection that follows.
"I" is also a suitable persona for stepping back and commenting in
general on what's been happening. Dickens as "I" philosophizes over
the "wonderful fact" that human beings are basically mysteries to
each other. "My friend is dead," he says, meaning, imagine I've lost
a friend. Whether she's living or dead, her innermost personality
remains secret; we can't break down the barriers of our
How does this insight relate to the story? Dickens applies it
specifically to the passengers in the mail coach, all equally
mysterious to each other. Yet characters throughout the novel hide
secrets and memories, which even their loved ones can't decipher:
Dr. Manette is one such character, Charles Darnay is another. Even
Jarvis Lorry has something to reveal, as we learn in the next
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 4
At a Dover inn, having shed his heavy overcoat, Jarvis Lorry proves
to be about 60 years old. He's carefully dressed (if a little vain)
and self-controlled, though his eyes hint that a lively spirit
remains unquenched by long service to Tellson's.
Jarvis Lorry passes the day walking on Dover beach. It is evidently
a smuggler's haunt, which adds to the air of secrecy. Lorry awaits
the arrival from London of Lucie Manette, a 17-year-old orphan and
ward of Tellson's. When Lucie appears, Lorry is struck by her beauty
and resemblance to the child whom, 15 years earlier, he carried
across the Channel on a similar errand for Tellson's. Suddenly
uncomfortable, he drops a formal bow, gazing into a depressingly
ornate mirror behind Lucie.
In a roundabout fashion, over protests that he is only a man of
business, the bank clerk reveals Lucie's past. After her mother
died, Lorry did indeed fetch little Lucie across the Channel. Now
word has come that Lucie's father, Dr. Manette of Beauvais, is not
dead as everyone had believed. The doctor has just been released
from 18 years of secret imprisonment in the Bastille, and now remains
in the care of an old servant in Paris. Lorry has been dispatched by
Tellson's to identify his former client, and to escort Lucie to her
"I am going to see his ghost!" exclaims Lucie. Like Jarvis Lorry she
imagines her father as a spectre. Unlike Lorry she responds by
falling into a swoon. As you'll discover, Lucie tends to faint in
moments of crisis. Dickens seems genuinely to have agreed with his
Victorian readers that a proper heroine should be beautiful, good,
and extremely sensitive. Perhaps you may think that Lucie could use
a few coarse touches of humanity, but Dickens intends her to
represent an ideal.
Miss Pross, Lucie's brawny, red-haired companion, flies to her aid.
Loyalty and eccentricity are Miss Pross' two sides. We don't
identify with her, but thanks to Dickens' wonderfully detailed
description of her bonnet "like a Grenadier wooden measure," Miss
Pross stays with us.
NOTE: A CRUEL "PRIVILEGE" Jarvis Lorry suggests that Dr. Manette
was imprisoned through a compatriot's "privilege of filling up blank
forms." Such forms, called lettres de cachet in French, were
arbitrary warrants of imprisonment. Powerful French nobles
supposedly could obtain them for use against enemies or offending
members of their own families. In Dr. Manette's case, the fear that
he was indeed jailed by noble influence, and may still be in danger,
has led to Tellson's and Lorry's policy of secrecy.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 5
We're in Paris, at a wine shop in the poverty-stricken suburb of
Saint Antoine. A large cask of wine has broken and the people rush
into the street to gulp any drops they can catch. It's no riot,
nothing that would make the evening news these days, but it
prefigures major themes and events, including riots, that form
Dickens' portrait of the French Revolution.
The spilled wine stains hands, faces, kerchiefs, and the pavement
red. Its similarity to another red substance is spelled out by a
tall fellow in a nightcap, a "tigerish smear" about his mouth, who
dips a finger in the wine and jokingly scrawls "Blood." The joker is
Gaspard, a minor character we'll meet again. He's reproached by
Monsieur Defarge, the keeper of the wine shop, who asks: "Is
there... no other place to write such words in?" In meaningful
answer, Defarge places a hand on the tall man's heart. To the
well-built, resolute Defarge, blood is no joke.
Try to keep the images and incidents of this chapter in mind. Now,
the spilled wine turns into a harmless game, ending in drinking and
dancing. Eighteen years ahead, we'll see a much less innocent dance.
Saint Antoine residents will be stomping the frenzied Carmagnole,
with blood instead of wine staining their hands and faces.
Pay attention, too, to Dickens' way of evoking the poverty and misery
of the quarter. Today the poor are "scarecrows," clad in rags and
nightcaps, but soon they'll menace the "birds, fine of song and
feather"--the oppressing nobles. Again we're faced with gloom--even
the lit streetlamps are "a feeble grove of dim wicks." These very
lamps are destined to be used to hang men. At first glance you may
find Dickens' description a bit long and repetitive, but bear with
him. Not a detail is wasted; people and things (note those tools and
weapons "in a flourishing condition") are brought in to build
atmosphere and prepare us for what is to come.
Entering the wine shop with Defarge, we meet his wife, Madame
Defarge. She is a strong-featured woman of iron composure, busy at
her trademark activity, knitting. Also present are Jarvis Lorry and
Lucie Manette, and three wine drinkers. The drinkers and Defarge
exchange the name "Jacques," a kind of password demonstrating that
they're against the existing order. Defarge directs the three men to
an adjoining building. Then, after a brief conference, Defarge leads
Lorry and Lucie up a dark, filthy staircase to Dr. Manette's room.
Lucie trembles at meeting her father, who according to Defarge is
very confused and changed.
The trio of Jacques are busily peering into Dr. Manette's room.
Defarge waves them away, admitting that he shows his charge to those
"whom the sight is likely to do good," that is, to fellow
revolutionists. Defarge, Lorry, and Lucie step into the dark garret
where a white-haired Dr. Manette stoops over a bench, absorbed in
NOTE: A PERSONIFICATION Dickens strengthens our sense of the
crushing poverty of Saint Antoine by personifying "Hunger" in
paragraph 6. Given lifelike attributes, Hunger "pushes," "stares,"
"starts," and "rattles." By the time Hunger is "shred into atomies,"
We've seen personification before (Woodman Fate and Farmer Death in
Chapter 1). It crops up elsewhere in this chapter--Saint Antoine is
a "he"--and throughout the novel.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 6
Fallen into a black mist of forgetfulness, Dr. Manette can't recall
his name. Like a modern political prisoner, he responds only to a
number: "One Hundred and Five, North Tower," the location of his
prison cell. Shoemaking provided his psychological crutch in prison,
and though he's free, the doctor still pursues his trade
Dr. Manette's emotional meeting with his daughter Lucie has drawn
fire from many readers. They point to Lucie's repetitions of "weep
for it, weep for it" as sheer theatrical corniness. This scene does
read like a melodramatic play: father and daughter exchange
speeches, father tears his hair in a frenzy, daughter rocks him on
her breast "like a child." Corny by our standards? You judge. There
are readers who suggest that Dickens was lifting from a highly
respected source. Shakespeare staged a similar scene in King
Lear--the reunion between the old, mad king and his faithful daughter
Lucie, who has inherited her mother's golden hair, looks familiar to
Dr. Manette. She doesn't succeed in restoring his memory, but does
introduce the light half of Dickens' light-dark theme. Lucie's an
"angel," whose "radiant" hair is compared to "the light of freedom."
After Defarge and Lorry leave to make traveling arrangements, she
watches with her father until "a light gleamed through the chinks in
Only Madame Defarge, silently knitting, observes Lucie, Dr. Manette,
and Lorry leaving Paris. It is a second night journey for Jarvis
Lorry, who is reminded of his old inquiry to the spectre: "I hope
you care to be recalled to life?" Lorry hears the echo of his old
answer, "I can't say," and Book I ends on a note of uncertainty.
Lorry wonders, and the reader wonders, too, if the doctor will ever
regain his faculties.
NOTE: By entitling Book I "Recalled to Life," and repeating Jarvis
Lorry's dialogue with the spectre, Dickens has made one issue clear:
Dr. Manette, the buried man dug out alive, is a symbol of
resurrection. This issue raises rather than resolves other points.
By now you're probably asking yourself if resurrection is necessarily
a good thing. Can the past be blocked out, and a person long buried
truly return to life? Dickens wants us to speculate on these
matters, which he explores more fully in Books II and III.
BOOK THE SECOND
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 1
The year is 1780. Dickens gives us a view of Tellson's Bank and
reintroduces the Bank's odd-job man, Jerry Cruncher, whose first
appearance was on horseback, delivering a message to Jarvis Lorry.
Tellson's is small, dark, and ugly. It has always been so and,
Dickens satirically suggests, its partners would disinherit their
sons before renovating. A description of the bank's inconvenience
and location--beside Temple Bar, where the heads of executed traitors
are displayed--leads to a denunciation of the death penalty, "a
recipe much in vogue."
We watch Jerry Cruncher waking up in his small apartment. Already
bad humored, Cruncher catches his wife praying--or "flopping," as he
calls it--and heaves a muddy boot at her. Cruncher believes Mrs.
Cruncher's continual flopping is interfering with his profits as an
honest tradesman. This "trade," yet unnamed, occupies Cruncher late
at night. It has given him a permanent chest cold, and deposits iron
rust on his fingers.
Cruncher and his son, young Jerry--a spiky-haired miniature of his
father--proceed to Tellson's, where Cruncher is at once called on to
deliver a message. Young Jerry holds down the fort, a backless chair
outside the bank, wondering why his father's fingers are always
NOTE: AN IRONIC METAPHOR Dickens describes Jerry Cruncher's baptism
as "the youthful occasion of his renouncing by proxy the works of
darkness." This description may stop you a moment, since the Jerry
portrayed so far seems markedly antireligious. He hounds his wife
for "flopping," and by night engages in a secret, possibly
disreputable, trade. In truth, Cruncher seems quite comfortable with
"the works of darkness," a tip-off that Dickens' metaphor is
ironic--it implies the opposite of what is said.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 2
Jerry Cruncher is sent to the Old Bailey (the court) to be on hand in
case Jarvis Lorry, there attending a trial, needs a messenger.
The morning's case is treason, a crime carrying the awful punishment
of quartering, that is, being tortured and then literally chopped
into quarters. Fascinated by the almost certain doom of the
defendant, spectators jam the courtroom. Cruncher squeezes through
them in order to signal Lorry, seated among "gentlemen in
wigs"--judges and lawyers. Near Lorry sits the prisoner's lawyer,
and "one wigged gentleman who looked at the ceiling." This mysterious
fellow with his studiedly casual air is Sydney Carton, who plays a
decisive role in the next chapter's action.
The jailers lead in the accused, Charles Darnay. Young, handsome,
gentlemanly looking, Darnay attracts all eyes; the ghoulish crowd
mentally hangs, beheads, and quarters him. Darnay is charged with
traveling between England and France for the purpose of informing
Louis XVI ("the French Lewis") about the strength of British troops
earmarked for North America. (Remember, it's 1780. The American
Revolution against England is in full swing, aided by the French. If
Darnay was in fact reporting British troop movements to the French,
wouldn't he indeed qualify as a spy?)
Darnay faces the judge bravely, flinching only when he catches his
reflection in the mirror above his head. In the midst of a nervous
gesture he notices Dr. Manette and Lucie sitting on the judge's
bench. His stare sets the spectators whispering about this
white-haired man and lovely young lady. "Who are they?"
An answering whisper seems to contradict Lucie Manette's look of
"engrossing terror and compassion." She and her father are identified
as witnesses against the handsome prisoner.
By now you'll have noticed that Dickens ends each chapter with a hook
or teaser, something to pull readers in. A Tale of Two Cities was
published in weekly installments, and Dickens' sales depended on his
ability to sustain suspense.
At the end of this chapter, when the prosecutor rises to "hammer the
nails into the scaffold," we realize that it's Charles Darnay's
scaffold. Most readers, both fearing and fascinated by the prospect
of death, will keep turning the pages.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 3
The account of Charles Darnay's trial is written in several styles,
reflecting Dickens' attitude toward each character and toward legal
proceedings in general. A one-time law clerk, he loved to deflate
puffed-up terminology and traditions.
The opening speech made by the Attorney-General (the prosecutor) is
pompous and long winded, typically bureaucratic. According to the
Attorney-General, his two leading witnesses are men of shining
character and patriotism. Are we to believe this? The
Attorney-General's exaggerated tone tells us to take his speech with
a grain of salt.
John Barsad, the first witness, is called. He releases "his noble
bosom of its burden" but can't escape a cross-examination from
Darnay's lawyer. Dickens' masterly use of satire raises serious
doubts about the nobility of Barsad's bosom. A few sharp questions
from Darnay's lawyer (soon introduced as Stryver) do the trick.
Barsad soon emerges as a debtor and card cheat who has forced his
friendship on Charles Darnay. Though he vigorously denies it, Barsad
appears to be a government spy, paid to entrap others. Given
Dickens' unfavorable portrait of Barsad, how do you think the author
felt about government spying?
Stryver also damages the credibility of Roger Cly, the state's second
witness. Cly, Darnay's servant, is shown to be a thief and a pal of
Barsad. Stryver suggests that the two men conspired to plant
incriminating papers on the defendant.
Next on the witness stand is Jarvis Lorry, who admits to meeting
Darnay in November 1775 on a packet-ship returning from France. On
board with Lorry were Dr. Manette and Lucie, who are both called as
Lucie's testimony betrays her affection for Charles Darnay but
doesn't help his cause. She reveals that he was traveling under an
assumed name, and engaged in "delicate" business with two Frenchmen
who got off the ship before it left shore.
As for Dr. Manette, he remembers nothing of the journey. We see him
now as a vigorous man, restored to his faculties. Yet the doctor's
mind remains blank from the time he was making shoes in prison to the
moment he recovered and found himself living in London.
A "singular circumstance" arises as the state tries to prove that
Charles Darnay rode in the same mail coach as Jarvis Lorry, sharing
the journey that opened the novel. The state claims that Darnay
disembarked before Dover and backtracked to a military garrison to
gather information on the British army. Just as a witness identifies
Darnay as the right man, a note passes between the seemingly
nonchalant Carton and Stryver, shivering this part of the case "to
useless timber." Carton has noticed that he and Darnay are doubles,
almost perfect look-alikes. Faced with two such similar men in the
same courtroom, the witness can't make a positive identification.
In his final argument Stryver again emphasizes how Darnay was framed
by Barsad and Cly. The lawyer points out that Darnay often crosses
to France on family matters he can't disclose. Notice the skillful
way that Dickens, while unraveling the mystery of Charles Darnay's
imprisonment, spins yet another thread of suspense. What are
Darnay's family matters? Why is he forbidden "even for his life" to
reveal them? In a novel as meticulously plotted as this one, you can
look forward to learning the secret of Darnay's family.
The Attorney-General finishes his closing argument and the jury
begins deliberations. Sydney Carton gazes carelessly at the ceiling,
but, somehow, the sight of Lucie Manette fainting doesn't escape him.
He orders an officer to carry her out, and assures Darnay, awaiting
his verdict in the prisoners' dock, that Lucie feels better. This
first encounter between Carton and Darnay, men so alike they could be
twins, isn't exactly brotherly. What do you make of Carton's manner,
"so careless as to be almost insolent"? On the one hand, Carton
looks so disrespectable that even Jerry Cruncher--who's no
gentleman--distrusts him. On the other hand, Carton's quick action
at spotting the mutual likeness and alerting Stryver has just ruined
the strongest part of the state's case. Carton is a man of
contrasts, well-suited to a story of contrasts; you'll have many more
opportunities to judge his character.
The verdict comes back: acquitted! Lorry scrawls the single word on
a piece of paper and hands it, for swift delivery, to Jerry Cruncher.
"If you had sent the message, 'Recalled to life,' again," mutters
Cruncher, "I should have known what you meant, this time." Cruncher's
response ties Charles Darnay into the theme of resurrection, first
stated by Dr. Manette's release from the Bastille. Darnay, too, has
been "recalled to life," largely through the agency of Sydney Carton.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 4
Dr. Manette, Lucie, Stryver, and Lorry gather around to congratulate
Charles Darnay, giving us a closeup view of characters only glimpsed
in the courtroom. Dr. Manette, though "intellectual" and "upright,"
still displays symptoms of his prison ordeal. Only Lucie can charm
away his dark moods. Dickens likens her to a "golden thread" uniting
her father to the time before and after his misery. Indeed, "The
Golden Thread" title of Book II signifies tranquility and domestic
peace. It soothes Dr. Manette's "black brooding," and yet, as Book
II progresses, will be threatened by other dark forces. As the story
continues, watch for explicit contrasts between light and dark.
A swift, on-target sketch of the lawyer Stryver--he's "stout, loud,
red, bluff, and free from any drawback of delicacy"--is followed by
an uncomfortable exchange between Lorry and Carton. The heart of the
chapter, though, is the second meeting between the doubles.
NOTE: You can read Carton's evident hostility toward Darnay as
jealousy, self-pity, drunkenness, or a combination of the three. Yet
keep in mind that no one but Stryver knows of Carton's role in saving
Darnay's life; Carton himself doesn't mention it. Carton's actions,
good and bad, ultimately lead to his great sacrifice at the end of
the novel. You'll be constantly reevaluating your feelings toward
Carton. He's an outsider, a drunk, a man who pities himself, yet he
has a firm grip on our sympathy.
When Darnay leaves him, Carton, half-drunk, goes to a mirror and
studies his reflection. This is the third time Dickens has lingered
on a mirror. One hung in the courtroom above Charles Darnay, another
stood behind Lucie Manette at the Dover inn. Mirrors have multiple
meanings in A Tale; they may express unreality, self-division,
ghosts, the past, death, and dreams. (The mirror above Darnay in the
Old Bailey had stored up reflections of "crowds of the wicked and the
wretched," all of them dead.)
On one level, the mirror Carton stares into, distractedly, shows his
close resemblance to Darnay. The two men are such "mirror images"
that Darnay, previously left alone with his "double of coarse
deportment," felt himself in a dream. Yet the mirror also shows
Carton what he might have been, and occasionally is: a man like
Darnay. In this way it expresses Carton's sense of the two different
sides of his nature.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 5
We zero in on the relationship between Stryver and Carton, learning
that the apparently lazy Carton is the secret behind Stryver's legal
success. It is Carton the "jackal" who extracts the essence from
stacks of legal documents and prepares it for Stryver.
What motivates Carton to do another man's hack work, to serve as his
jackal? At this point our only answer is that Carton has always been
this way. Have you known students who do homework for others while
neglecting their own assignments? This has been Carton's practice
ever since he was a schoolboy.
Darnay's release is a triumph for Stryver. Carton, however, responds
with such gloom that Stryver remarks on it, and then offers a toast
to Lucie Manette, "the pretty witness."
"A golden-haired doll," answers Carton. This may remind you of a
small boy trying to deny a crush. Some readers have latched on to
the words "golden-haired doll" as a telling assessment of Lucie's
personality. Do you think Carton really means what he says--or, as
Stryver hints, is he only trying to conceal his dawning interest in
The chapter ends with Carton descending from Stryver's lodgings into
a cold, overcast dawn. For a moment the jackal sees "a mirage of
honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance." But the vision
evaporates, and once home Carton rests his head on a pillow "wet with
wasted tears." Our impression of Carton is evolving, from a
ne'er-do-well to a struggling man: unsure, unhappy, divided against
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 6
This chapter sets up a contrast between domestic tranquility and
impending fate. Dickens' notion of the ideal home is here
represented by the Manette's quiet corner house in Soho. Lucie has
enlivened her surroundings with a French flair for interior
decoration and skill at attracting company. Frequent visitors
include Jarvis Lorry, now a faithful family friend; Sydney Carton;
and Charles Darnay, who was released four months ago. The ideal home
is also represented by Miss Pross, Lucie's eccentric, devoted
servant. Steadfastly British (at the end of Chapter 3 she refused to
cross the Channel), Miss Pross' only visible flaw is an unstinting
loyalty to her black-sheep brother, Solomon. He has speculated away
all his sister's money, and vanished.
But fate--a force larger than life--intrudes into the place that
Lucie and her father have carved out for themselves.
The chapter title "Hundreds of People" refers on one level to echoes
from the street adjoining the Manettes' house. "Hundreds" is also
Miss Pross' estimate--a jealous exaggeration--of the many visitors
for her "Ladybird," Lucie. For Lucie herself, the echoes from the
street are ominous, heralds of "all the footsteps that are coming
by-and-by into our lives."
The thunder and lightning of the late-night storm strike a menacing
note into the peaceful Sunday gathering of the Manettes, Lorry,
Darnay, and Carton.
Charles Darnay's reference to a message written by a prisoner in the
Tower of London, and later found crumbled to dust, turns Dr. Manette
pale. We know that the doctor keeps his shoemaking tools handy in
his bedroom--their presence signifies how easily his mind can slip
back into "its old prison," the past.
The closing paragraph is obvious foreshadowing. The next chapter
shifts us to France, giving an idea of where the "great crowd of
people with its rush and roar," will come from.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 7
The key words in this chapter, which takes us across the Channel, are
"reality" and "unreality."
Unreality is the note pervading the reception of Monseigneur, "one of
the great lords in power at the Court." Monseigneur's rooms are
gorgeous, but "not a sound business" when compared with the nearby
slums. Monseigneur's guests consist of ignorant military officers,
loose-living priests, and Unbelieving Philosophers. In short,
they're fakes, people of high position but few credentials.
The most solid citizen in attendance, the person who does exactly
what his title announces, is the Farmer-General. He has bought the
right to collect taxes for Monseigneur, a position granting unlimited
license to steal from the peasantry. Historians consider the
Farmer-General system one of the abuses that helped cause the French
Revolution; it makes sense that Dickens, laying groundwork for the
strife to come, mentions it.
Can you list Monseigneur's character traits? For many readers, such
individual traits are missing. They find Monseigneur the
personification of an entire class, a symbol for the ruling nobility.
Thinking along the same lines, other readers believe that Monsieur
the Marquis, introduced as he leaves Monseigneur's rooms in disfavor,
personifies the French rural gentry. Let's check this interpretation
of the Marquis against his actual behavior.
The Marquis orders his coach driven recklessly through the streets of
Paris, an abuse of power consistent with his social position. A
child is run over and killed, and, with typically aristocratic scorn,
the Marquis tosses a gold coin to the grieving father. He is
Gaspard, the tall man we last saw smearing the word BLOOD on a Saint
When Defarge offers practical consolation to Gaspard, the Marquis
tosses Defarge a second coin, which is at once tossed back. "You
dogs!" says the Marquis, assuring the crowd that he'd like nothing
better than to crush the thrower of the coin beneath his coach
Now, consider. Does the Marquis' extra bit of callousness strike you
as one more mark of the privileged classes? Or does he emerge as an
individual, if cruel, personality?
NOTE: THE FOUNTAIN RUNS ITS COURSE Gaspard's baby is killed near the
communal fountain of Saint Antoine. In the upcoming chapter two more
fountains flow--one in the Marquis' village, and the other at his
country house. Dickens' use of water imagery follows a pattern. The
Saint Antoine and village fountains are, first of all, centers of
neighborhood activity and sources of life-sustaining water. But,
already, the Saint Antoine fountain suggests fate: "The water of the
fountain ran, the swift river ran,... all things ran their course."
Later the water swells into a sea (II, 22) and metamorphoses into
fire (II, 23). Flood and fire, both natural disasters, become apt
metaphors for the raging destructiveness of the Revolutionary mobs.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 8
This "Monseigneur" is Monsieur the Marquis, driving through worn-out
country to his worn-out village. Near the fountain the Marquis
recognizes a grizzled mender of roads who earlier had been gaping at
his carriage. The Marquis has the little man brought forward. In a
polite voice the mender of roads describes seeing a man--"white as a
spectre, tall as a spectre"--hanging from the drag of the carriage
(the drag was used to slow the vehicle as it went downhill). Angered
at not being told of this sooner, the Marquis orders Gabelle, his
postmaster and tax collector, to keep an eye on the mender of roads.
The Marquis next rejects a desperate petition from a peasant woman
and drives on to his high-roofed chateau. There he awaits a visitor
from England, a "Monsieur Charles."
NOTE: A PUN Monsieur Gabelle's name contains a pun: the gabelle was
the despised salt-tax, a leading cause of the Revolution. Again,
notice how Dickens takes every opportunity to prepare you for the
Revolution in 1789.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 9
It's important to understand the action of Chapter 9 in order to
follow plot twists ahead. What happens is basically simple: Charles
Darnay (by now we've guessed he's the Marquis' nephew) arrives at the
chateau, a large stone building with carved faces decorating it. He
and his uncle share an elegant dinner while renewing old hostilities.
The Marquis argues that repression is the only lasting philosophy,
and swears to uphold the honor of his family through cruelty.
Charles deplores his family's past wickedness, and renounces France
and the chateau, which will be his after the Marquis dies. The men
part for the night.
Dawn arrives with a great commotion. Another "stone face" has been
added to the many stone faces that already adorn the great house:
the Marquis is dead, stabbed in the heart. A note is attached to the
killer's knife: "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from JACQUES."
A straightforward and electrifying series of events, but you might
pay attention to several details for future reference.
Charles Darnay's father and the current Marquis were brothers--again,
on instance of doubles. Darnay is certain that his father's time was
a wicked one.
Darnay is bound by his mother's dying words to administer the family
estate, and to do so mercifully. The death of his father had left
Darnay and his uncle joint inheritors.
The Marquis asks Darnay if he knows any other French refugees in
England, particularly "a Doctor with a daughter." "Yes," answers
Darnay, and on the Marquis' face we see an evil smile.
The Marquis has fallen out of favor at court. If he were better
connected, he might well attempt to imprison his nephew secretly with
a lettre de cachet. You'll remember that the lettre is the same
"little instrument of correction" that sent Dr. Manette to the
Bastille. The Marquis seems quite familiar with its uses.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 10
A year has passed since the assassination of Charles Darnay's uncle.
His great stone chateau seems, to Darnay, "the mere mist of a dream."
Now employed successfully as a tutor of French language and
literature, Darnay decides to tell Dr. Manette of his deep love for
Lucie. Darnay asks one favor: that the doctor put in a good word
for him, if, and only if, Lucie reveals she loves Darnay.
Noticeably shaken, Dr. Manette finally promises Lucie to Darnay only
on the condition he is "essential to her perfect happiness." In a
mysterious but significant speech, the doctor states that anything
held against the man Lucie loves, "any fancies... any
apprehensions," will be dissolved for her sake.
Darnay tries to reveal his true name and explain why he's in England.
Dr. Manette stops him short, extracting the second of "Two
Promises": Darnay swears not to tell his secrets until the morning
he marries Lucie.
Arriving home from errands, Lucie hears a "low hammering sound" from
her father's bedroom--the sound of shoemaking. The encounter with
Charles Darnay has had the worst possible effect on Dr. Manette,
throwing him into amnesia. Lucie is terribly worried, but by walking
and talking with her father is able to restore his normal
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTERS 11 AND 12
In the midst of gathering momentum, these two chapters provide a
pause. Do you know people who consider their friendship a valuable
prize? Then perhaps you'll smile at Stryver's belief that his wish
to marry Lucie does her great honor.
For readers familiar with most of Dickens' work, A Tale of Two Cities
seems untypical. These readers cite the novel's rapid pace, lighter
than usual detail, and sparing use of humor and dialogue as
departures from Dickens' usual style. These two chapters, however,
come closer to "traditional" Dickens. Their contribution to the plot
is relatively small, and they depend on humorous dialogue (such as
Stryver's sudden reversal at the end of Chapter 12).
Yet Stryver the man isn't especially humorous. Dickens describes him
sharply, in terms of his size and obnoxious "shouldering" ability.
Stryver is the new man, making social and financial strides in
Victorian society; he's a "fellow of delicacy" in no one's eyes but
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 13
Stryver is out of town for the summer, and Sydney Carton's spirits
have sunk to an all-time low.
One day in August he calls on Lucie Manette to reveal his secret: he
loves her, but realizes she can never love him in return. Carton
admits that Lucie's pity and understanding have had a good effect on
him. Still he can never change his "self-wasting" ways.
Agitated and weeping, Lucie promises not to tell anyone of Carton's
declaration, the "last confidence" of his life.
As he leaves, Carton foresees Lucie married and with a child. He
swears he would do anything, even give his life, to keep a life Lucie
loved beside her.
NOTE: DICKENS' SENTIMENTALITY Dickens has been accused of excessive
sentimentality, especially when one of his young heroines is
involved. Sydney Carton's address to Lucie Manette is a case in
point: he praises her "pure and innocent breast," and exclaims, "God
bless you for your sweet compassion!"
Dickens means us to take this chapter seriously. Faced with his
intentions, you should decide whether the emotional fireworks help or
hinder the novel. On one hand, you can accept Carton as a man of
extremes--a self-destructive alcoholic--who can carry off extravagant
speeches. On the other hand, his dramatics may impress you as a
little overdone. You may also succumb to modern taste, and grow
somewhat weary of Lucie's unchanging goodness.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 14
At last we're let in on Jerry Cruncher's secret profession. He
unearths recently buried bodies and sells them to doctors for medical
Leaving their post outside Tellson's, Cruncher and son join a funeral
procession. The crowd has turned out to jeer, for the dead man,
Roger Cly, was an unpopular spy at the Old Bailey. (You met Cly at
Darnay's trial--he was the faithless servant.) Cly has one proper
mourner, who flees the growing mob. The uncontrolled crowd riots on
to Cly's graveside, gradually dispersing. Observing that Cly was "a
young 'un and a straight made 'un," Jerry Cruncher visits a surgeon
on his way back to Tellson's.
That night Cruncher and two companions trudge to the graveyard, with
young Jerry following secretly at a distance. Through young Jerry's
fearful eyes we watch the men dig up Cly's grave and apply a large
corkscrewlike device to the coffin. Young Jerry has seen enough;
thoroughly terrified, he races home.
The next morning Cruncher is out of sorts. He beats his wife,
accusing her of praying against his "honest trade." Cruncher has
turned no profits on the night's "fishing expedition." (We're not
told what he turned up until Book III.)
NOTE: A MOB SCENE A London mob escorts Roger Cly's coffin to its
grave. Most of the participants have no idea what they're jeering
and rioting; any excuse for breaking windows and looting taverns
suffices. This mob is tame compared to those you'll meet in Paris,
but the scene is a prelude to the unbridled violence to come.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 15
This is a dramatic chapter of murder and sworn revenge. The scene
has shifted to Saint Antoine and the Defarge wine shop, where secret
activity is in the air. Defarge arrives with a little mender of
roads, introducing him to the shop patrons as "Jacques," the code
word for a revolutionary sympathizer.
Defarge leads the little man up to the very garret that once housed
Dr. Manette. There, before an audience of Jacques One, Two, and
Three (the same men who earlier surveyed the doctor through chinks in
the door), the little mender of roads vividly recounts the story of
Gaspard. The killer of Monsieur the Marquis, Charles Darnay's uncle,
has been put to death. Soldiers drove him to the prison on the crag,
then hung him on a forty-foot gallows above the town fountain.
Gaspard hangs there still, frightening away the people, and casting a
shadow that seems to strike across the earth.
Defarge and his fellow Jacques confer. Defarge announces that "the
chateau and all the race" are "registered, as doomed to destruction."
The keeper of the register? None other than Madame Defarge, who
knits a record of all those condemned to die for their crimes. Into
Madame Defarge's register now go the descendants of the dead Marquis.
Think of the implication: the only descendant you've met is Charles
His duty carried out, the provincial mender of roads makes a day trip
with the Defarges to the great royal palace at Versailles. The
Defarges' purpose is political indoctrination. They teach the mender
of roads to recognize the rich and powerful he'll one day destroy.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 16
A spy infiltrates the Defarges' wine shop. John Barsad is now
working for the French monarchy. As Barsad enters, Madame Defarge
pins a rose in her headdress, warning off the people of Saint
Antoine. Barsad praises the house cognac, trying to sound out the
Defarges on Gaspard's death. How has Saint Antoine reacted? Madame
and Monsieur Defarge answer the spy's questions politely but coldly.
All the while Madame is knitting the name Barsad into her register of
Barsad does score one telling point. When he mentions that Lucie
Manette is about to marry Charles Darnay, nephew of the murdered
Marquis, Defarge starts noticeably.
After Barsad leaves, Defarge expresses surprise that Lucie is about
to marry a man marked for death. He hopes destiny will keep Darnay
out of France. For her part, Madame Defarge feels no sympathy.
"Still Knitting" reveals her as stronger and more unshakable than
ever, untiringly patient for her day of justice. At nightfall she
moves among the women of Saint Antoine--each one knitting--spreading
her "missionary" creed of vengefulness.
NOTE: LIFE OF A "SAINT" Saint Antoine has come into its own as a
personification, a character in the story. In the last chapter the
arrival of Defarge and the mender of roads lights a "kind of fire in
the breast" of the suburb; here, when Barsad leaves the wine shop,
"the Saint took courage to lounge in."
The notion of a lifelike "saint" welds the citizens of Saint Antoine
into one, a collective force. An appropriate effect, since these
people will soon be acting as part of a single, unreasoning entity:
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTERS 17 AND 18
The marriage between Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay has deep
consequences for Dr. Manette.
The night before the wedding Dr. Manette seems reconciled to losing
his daughter. Not that he's losing her entirely; she and Charles
Darnay will be living in the Soho house. The doctor and Lucie sit
beneath their old plane tree, where for the first time since Darnay's
trial he talks of his imprisonment. Lucie is troubled, but her
father assures her he's recalling his old captivity only as a way of
"thanking God for my great happiness."
The actual wedding day brings a complete turnaround. As soon as the
couple drive off on their honeymoon, Dr. Manette lapses into
amnesia. He doggedly begins making shoes. Jarvis Lorry and Miss
Pross try without success to bring him back around, and the ninth
evening Lorry despairingly observes that the shoemaker's hands have
never been so skillful.
NOTE: Can we isolate what's causing the doctor's amnesia? Partly,
separation from Lucie--ever since their meeting in Paris father and
daughter have been constantly together. But our most telling clue to
Dr. Manette's behavior is the closed-door meeting he held with
Charles Darnay just before the wedding. Recall that Darnay promised
to reveal his true name, and reason for living in England, on his
wedding morning. There's a connection between Charles Darnay's
family, and Dr. Manette's long period of darkness in the Bastille.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 19
On the tenth morning after Lucie's wedding, the doctor regains his
memory. Jarvis Lorry awakes to find his patient normally dressed and
reading, yet all is not normal. The doctor thinks that only a day
has passed, and his hands, stained from shoemaking, trouble him.
With the confidentiality and tact developed from his years as a "man
of business," Lorry approaches the doctor about what should be done.
Lorry is careful to refer to Dr. Manette in the third person. As
you may remember, he used the same third-person tactic back in 1775,
explaining the doctor's sudden "resurrection" to Lucie.
Believing his worst symptoms have been conquered, Dr. Manette
reluctantly allows his shoemaker's bench to be destroyed. Lorry and
Miss Pross wait until the doctor has left to join the honeymooners,
then they hack the bench to pieces and burn it. Dickens' description
of the process makes the faithful friends look like ritual murderers.
Indeed, Miss Pross and Lorry almost feel like accomplices in crime.
With this sinister description of innocence that looks like guilt,
Dickens may be telling us that it's often hard to tell reality and
unreality apart. Things aren't what they seem. On the other hand,
Dickens may simply be adding to the thickening atmosphere of
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 20
On a visit to the newlyweds, Sydney Carton takes Charles Darnay aside
and asks two favors: that Darnay forget the night of his Old Bailey
trial, when Carton was drunk and rude; and that Carton be allowed to
come and go in the Darnay household.
Darnay agrees to both requests. Later he refers to Carton as
"careless and reckless." This sparks an impassioned declaration from
Lucie that Carton is capable of great things.
Whose assessment of Carton are we to accept? Dickens endorses
Lucie's motive, if not her conclusion, when he echoes earlier praise
for her "sweet compassion." As for Carton, the jury is still
out--he's emerging as a complicated figure.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 21
The first half of the chapter, set in London, may remind you of the
passage-of-time sequences in old movies: you can almost see the
pages dropping off the calendar. Lucie establishes a calm, happy
home for her husband, father, and daughter, little Lucie. A son
dies--not tragically, but with a radiant smile. Sydney Carton drops
in six times a year, and little Lucie establishes a "strange
sympathy" with him. Stryver the lawyer marries a rich widow, and is
rejected in attempts to have her three dull sons tutored by Darnay.
In all, Dickens advances the action about seven years, to an evening
in mid-July 1789. Jarvis Lorry is visiting the Darnays, very
concerned about unrest in Paris.
Notice that the echoing footsteps of II, 6--"Hundreds of People"--are
back. In the first half of the chapter some are harmless, including
the tread of Lucie's child. But as the chapter shifts orientation
toward Paris, the footsteps grow menacing, and then "headlong, mad,
July 14, 1789: Saint Antoine and Paris rise in rebellion at last.
Led by Defarge, thousands storm the Bastille, the hated symbol of
government oppression. Seven dazed prisoners are released, seven
officials' heads are paraded on pikes. One of the heads, belonging
to the governor of the prison, has been hacked off by Madame Defarge.
In the tumult Defarge orders one old jailer to lead him and
revenge-hungry Jacques Three to One Hundred and Five, North Tower,
Dr. Manette's old cell. The wine keeper searches the cell
thoroughly. We don't learn what, if anything, he discovers.
The running-water imagery Dickens introduced earlier has been
expanded. The Bastille attackers are a "sea of black and threatening
waters... whose forces were yet unknown." More water follows, as the
endless waves of rioting Parisians spill into the next chapter.
NOTE: REVOLUTION! The taking of the Bastille on July 14, 1789
kicked off the long-simmering French Revolution. Conquering the
hated fortress-prison was a heady victory for the people, and July
14, Bastille Day, remains a national holiday in France, the
equivalent of our July 4.
Dickens' account of the battle, and of the massacre of old Foulon in
the next chapter, owe much to Thomas Carlyle's description in The
French Revolution (see Sources).
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 22
The slaughter of old Foulon, a notorious oppressor of the masses, and
of his son-in-law are depicted graphically.
NOTE: What is Dickens' attitude toward the mob he so vividly
creates? Consider several possibilities.
The "day's bad work" revolts him. Dickens characterizes Foulon as an
old man, begging pathetically for his life. The Revolutionary women
who desert their children and aged parents to snatch up weapons, are
worse, even, than the men. The Vengeance (the complimentary name
bestowed on the plump wife of a starved grocer) seems especially
The mob enthralls Dickens. He writes vigorously because he's
involved, and he puts himself in the place of the shrieking women and
stern men. The mob is a projection of Dickens' dark side, his
feelings of political and social powerlessness.
Dickens deplores the mob's action, yet he sympathizes with their
plight. The chapter's final scenes paint a picture of wailing,
hungry children waiting for their parents' return from the slaughter.
The men and women do their meager shopping, as usual. There is human
fellowship, and there are lovers who, with "such a world around them
and before them, loved and hoped."
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 23
The burning of the Marquis' great chateau--done by outsiders but
supported by all the villagers--marks a shift in Dickens' imagery.
The Revolutionary "sea" has changed to rising fire. As the chateau
flares, molten lead and iron boil in the fountain's marble basin.
The water has been consumed.
Notice how the fire obliterates all traces of Charles Darnay's dead
uncle: a stone face that resembles his is obscured, "as if it were
the face of the cruel Marquis, burning at the stake." The villagers
believe that the stone faces on the chateau have changed twice.
After the Marquis was stabbed, they were faces of pain; when Gaspard
died, they bore "avenging looks." The obliteration of these stone
faces marks the end of the Marquis' influence. In a way, the fire is
his second death--it shows that the Marquis' soldiers and
functionaries have finally lost their power to protect his interests.
Also notice Dickens' care, during this fiery night, to add plot
details. He tells us that Gabelle, the chief functionary, has been
collecting few taxes these days, and no rent at all. Even so, the
angry villagers surround Gabelle's house, hoping for vengeance. The
tax collector is fortunate to survive the night.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: CHAPTER 24
August 1792. Three years have passed since the storming of the
Bastille. France has overthrown its monarchy and many
nobles--collectively referred to as "Monseigneur"--have fled the
country. These emigrants gather regularly at Tellson's Bank in
London to mourn their past glory and curse the new order in France.
One day a letter arrives at the bank for "Monsieur heretofore the
Marquis St. Evremonde," that is, for Charles Darnay. St. Evremonde
is Darnay's true name. He confided it to Dr. Manette on his wedding
morning, and to no one else.
The mysterious letter has come from Gabelle, the tax collector.
Following Darnay's instructions, Gabelle had eased the burden on the
villagers; he has been arrested nonetheless and sent to L'Abbaye
prison in Paris, charged with the crime of working for an emigrant.
At once, Darnay resolves to go to Gabelle's aid. If you found
yourself in Darnay's place, would you make such a trip? Readers have
taken three conflicting perspectives on Darnay's decision.
Darnay's return to strife-filled France is sheer foolishness, akin to
jogging through a minefield. Darnay is so confident his good
intentions will protect him that he doesn't check out the current
situation in France, or consider that the people might feel hostile
toward any aristocrat, even a reformed one.
Courage, duty, and pride combine to send Darnay back to his homeland.
He has a duty to free Gabelle, and to dispose of his property once
and for all. What's more, his pride is touched by the insults of
Stryver and the collected emigrants at Tellson's. Finally, as a much
younger man than Jarvis Lorry, who is about to journey to Paris for
Tellson's, Darnay feels that he, too, should be brave enough to
handle the French situation.
Darnay is a tool of fate. France is his destiny; he's drawn to the
violence there as if to a lodestone rock, or magnet. Lucie's fantasy
of thundering footsteps is about to be realized.