Background: Did You Know?

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E2SH-02 / E2SH-03 / Ms. O’Connell Due Feb. 1, 2011

Before You Read

A Tale of Two Cities

Book the First

A Tale of Two Cities, like all of Dickens’s novels, was published serially, or in weekly or monthly installments in popular magazines. The installments usually included one or two chapters and an illustration of an important or dramatic scene. The novels were then published in book form after the serial was finished. Although some novels had been published serially before Dickens’s time, his first novel, The Pickwick Papers (1836–37), set the standard for serial publishing in nineteenth-century Britain. Dickens chose A Tale of Two Cities as the first serial to be published in his own new magazine, All the Year Round. The serial form allowed Dickens to introduce a large number of characters and develop the reader’s familiarity with them. It also allowed the author to respond to the likes and dislikes of the audience as he was writing the novel. Finally, serial publication required Dickens to end each installment with a “cliffhanger.” He hoped this technique would leave the audience in suspense, hungry for more of the story and willing to buy the next issue. For example, Chapter 5 ends with a glimpse at a mysterious, unknown man in a darkened attic room. Anxious readers had to wait a week to find out who he was. This technique proved successful for Dickens in this novel as well as his others. A Tale of Two Cities sold thousands of copies of his magazine each week. As you read, pay attention to how Dickens ends each chapter.

Background for A Tale of Two Cities

For the historical background of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens relied on a massive history of the French Revolution written by his friend Thomas Carlyle. Many incidents in the novel are based on real life occurrences described by Carlyle. Dickens was also influenced by Carlyle’s belief that the revolution was inspired by the centuries of cruelty and poverty the French poor had to endure at the hands of the corrupt nobility.


countenance n. face; appearance

doleful adj. sad; gloomy

flounder v. to struggle to move

prevalent adj. common

sagacity n. wisdom

sublime adj. elevated

tedious adj. boring; dull

tremulous adj. trembling

Answer the following questions on looseleaf. For each question, include quotations (with page numbers) from the book to help prove your point.

Analyzing Literature

Recall and Interpret

1. What is the significance of the title of Book the First, “Recalled to Life”?

2. What is the subject of Jarvis Lorry’s dream? How does this relate to the literal events of the story?

3. With whom has Dr. Manette been staying since his release from prison? In what activity does his hostess constantly engage?

Evaluate and Connect

4. What is your opinion of the scene in which Dr. Manette meets Lucie in the attic room? Do

you find it real and convincing, or sentimental and corny? Explain your answer, citing evidence

from the text.

5. Think of the scene in which the residents of Saint Antoine scurry after the spilled wine.

What does the behavior of the residents suggest to you about them?

Literature and Writing

Analyzing Key Passages

6. The opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most famous in all of English literature. It is an example of parallelism, the repeated use of words, phrases, or sentences that have similar grammatical form. On your answer paper, analyze how Dickens uses parallelism to

state themes that might be developed in the novel. Point out some examples from Book the First that continue the development of themes introduced in the opening paragraph. Remember to include page numbers as you cite the examples.

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