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.
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.