Title: a tale of Two Cities Author: Charles Dickens Date of Publication: 1859 Genre: Historical- fiction, Social Criticism

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Title: A Tale of Two Cities

Author: Charles Dickens

Date of Publication: 1859

Genre: Historical- Fiction, Social Criticism

Biographical information about the author

British novelist Charles Dickens was born February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, England. Over the course of his writing career, he wrote the beloved classic novels Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. He was the second of eight children. Growing up, despite his parents’ best efforts, his family was very poor. Nevertheless, they were happy in the early days. However, when Dickens was 12, his father was sent to prison for debt. Following his father’s imprisonment, Charles Dickens was forced to leave school to work at a boot-blacking factory as the eldest male child. He was seen as an economic resource to the family, even after his father was released and paid of his debts from a family inheritance. He felt abandoned and betrayed by the adults who were supposed to take care of him. These sentiments would later become a recurring theme in his writing.

He began his writing career as a journalist and had recognition with early works such as Sketches by Boz and the Pickwick Papers. Throught his life, Dickens lobbied for children’s rights, education, and other social reforms. He died of stroke in 1870, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Historical information about period of publication

Like many of Dickens's novels, A Tale of Two Cities was first published in installments in his magazine All the Year Round (Many Victorian novels at the time were first published in serial parts and then later collected into books.) The French Revolution, which raged from 1789 to 1793, involved an overthrow of the aristocratic ruling order by the lower classes and was followed by a period of terror. When Dickens was writing A Tale of Two Cities, the French Revolution was still the most dramatic issue in the public's recent memory. The revolution involved contentious issues for Dickens, a political radical who believed in poor law reform and who campaigned for a more equal society. He vividly portrays the hunger of the French people and the brutality of the French aristocracy and he seems to justify the lower class's desire for a revolution. Yet, he just as dramatically illustrates the barbarity of the revolutionaries when they do rise to power.


London, England and Paris, France. 1775-1790

Right in the middle of the French Revolution, Dickens chooses to put a face to history by telling this story on both a political and personal front. He successfully blends both areas to make this novel timeless.

Characteristics of the genre

The primary characteristic of historical fiction novels is a realistic historical setting. Like other fictional genres, historical fiction relies on an authentic sense of place. The setting of a historical novel is brought to life by detailed, factual portrayals of the setting's geography, culture, society and customs.

Plot summary
The novel starts with a English man by the name of Mr. Lorry making his way into the heart of Paris on a very unsettling mission. Eighteen years prior, a French doctor was imprisoned without any warning or any trial in the worst prison of all prisons, the Bastille. After almost two decades, he was released – again without any explanation – and he’s currently staying with an old servant of his, Ernst Defarge. Mr. Lorry is on a mission to bring the French doctor back to England, where he can live in peace with his daughter whom he has not seen for many years.

Although Dr. Manette is now free, he’s still a broken man and he seems doomed to live a pitiful life. Fortunately for Dr. Manette, he now has his wonderful Lucie, all grown-up, smiling, blond, acting as a beautiful ray of sunshine to illuminate these dark days. She somehow manages to bring Dr. Manette back into the everyday world within the space of five years, and Dr. Manette is a new man. He’s a practicing doctor again and he lives with Lucie in a small house. Though they don’t have much money they’re pretty happy. Then, Dr. Manette and Lucie are called upon as witnesses in a treason case. Apparently, a young man named Charles Darnay is accused of providing classified information to the French government. Thanks to Lucie’s compassionate testimony and some quick work by a man who looks strangely like Charles Darnay, Charles is off the hook. A free man, Charles Darnay immediately realizes just how perfect our perfect Lucie actually is. The Charles look-alike, a disreputable yet likeable guy called Sydney Carton, also takes a liking to Lucie. If Charles is shiny and good and perfect, Sydney is the opposite. Sydney loves Lucie with all his heart, but he’s convinced that he could never deserve her. Charles, meanwhile, marries Lucie.

On the day of his wedding, he tells Dr. Manette a secret: he’s actually a French nobleman in disguise- he’s to be the future Marquis Evrémonde. Ironically, the Evrémondes were the evil brothers who locked Dr. Manette up in the first place. The doctor is a bit shocked, but eventually realizes that Charles is nothing like his father or his uncle. Dr. Manette is willing to love Charles for the man he is, not the family he left behind.

While everything seems to be running smoothly once again in London, the same cannot be said about Paris. People are starving, the noblemen run over little children with their carriages, and everyone is pretty unhappy. In fact, they’re so unhappy that they’re beginning to band together as "citizens" of a new republic. Ernst Defarge and his wife are actually at the center of a revolutionary group. In the village of the Evrémondes, the Charles’s uncle, the Marquis has been stabbed in the night. The government hangs the killer, but tensions don’t ever really settle down. Even though Charles has thrown off his old title and his old lands entirely, he can’t help but feel responsible for the fate of this steward. Without telling his wife or his father-in-law anything about what’s been going on, he secretly sets off for France.

Unfortunately he picked a bad time for such a trip. By the time he arrives on the shores of France, the revolutionaries have overturned the country. The King is about to be beheaded and the Queen soon follows suit. Murder, vengeance and mob mentality are all boiling over. Immediately detained, Charles soon realizes that he’s made a big, big mistake. By the time he reaches Paris, he’s become a prisoner. New laws dictate that he’s going to be executed by La Guillotine. Dr. Manette hears about his fate and with Lucie and her daughter in tow, he rushes to Paris. He’s something of a celebrity there: anybody who was falsely arrested under the aristocratic rule of old is now revered as one of the heroes of the new Republic.

The doctor shows up at Charles's trial and wows the judges with his heroic plea to save his son-in-law. Even though it’s the middle of the French Revolution, the Manettes and Darney are in the seem to be in the clear. All too quickly, however, Charles is arrested again. This time, the Defarges have accused him of being a member of the nobility and a stain on the country’s name.Frantic, Doctor Manette tries to intervene. The court case for Charles’s second trial goes very differently from the first one, though. Ernst Defarge produces a letter, written by Dr. Manette himself, which seemingly condemns Charles to death. Turns out, long ago, Dr. Manette scribbled down the history of his own imprisonment and secreted it in a wall of the Bastille. The history tells a sordid tale of rape and murder – crimes committed by Charles’s father and brother. Incensed, the jury of French revolutionary "citizens" decides that Charles should pay for the crimes of his father. Before he can be executed, however, Sydney Carton comes to the rescue. A few good tricks and a couple of disguises later, Charles is a free man. He and his family head back to England in safety. Sydney, however, doesn’t fare so well. He takes Charles’s place in prison and dies on the guillotine keeping his promise to Lucie that he would die to keep the ones she loves happy. The story ends with the Darnays memorializing Sydney and naming their son after him, and growing up to be a great man, one that the original Sydney Carton was unable to be.

Possible Themes/Topics of Discussion

Resurrection- Book I, titled "Recalled to Life," concerns the rediscovery of Doctor Manette, who has been jailed in the Bastille for eighteen years- long enough for society to have long considered him dead. The most important "resurrections" in the novel however, are those of Charles Darnay which are surrounded with heavily religious language that compare Carton's sacrifice of his own life for others' sins to Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Family- The novel focuses attention on the preservation of family groups. After Lucie marries Charles Darnay, the novel tends to be concerned with their struggle to keep their family together. When Darnay laments his own death sentence, it is for the sake of his family, not for his own sake.

Class Struggle/Social Injustice- Dickens ultimately, shows opposition to the methods of (the French) Revolution due to the ruthless and uncontrolled force of its aroused mobs. Even so, the details of aristocratic mistreatment of the lower classes provide some justification for the goals of the mob.

Fate- This historical novel carefully marks the passage of time- and keeping track of time is important because time carries out fate, a significant presence in the novel. Dickens describes the revolution as something inevitable and individual characters seem to feel the “magnetic” pull of fate.

Memorable quotations
“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other” (Book One, Chapter Three).

Significance of quotations

This quotation emulates an important issue that affects all the characters in the novel. Inadvertently or not, people are not able to fully reveal their inner thoughts. Either they deliberately conceal certain things, or their ideas are incommunicable. Though we coexist, we are doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. These covert thoughts and feelings act as an obstacle for many of the characters by masking the true identities of some and pushing those who need help farther away.

“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind”

(Book Three, Chapter Fifteen).

Dickens proves to be ambivalent towards the poor throughout the novel. These lines serve both as justification for the poor to fight back and as a reminder that though they were previously oppressed, their acts are just as remorseless and virulent as those of the aristocracy. However, this quotation also indicates that oppression and violence join to form a vicious cycle that will be inevitable unless one of the classes decides to change.

“The grindstone had a double handle, and, turning at it madly were two men, whose faces, as their long hair flapped back when the whirlings of the grindstone brought their faces up, were more horrible and cruel than the visages of the wildest savages in their most barbarous disguise. False eyebrows and false moustaches were stuck upon them, and their hideous countenances were all bloody and sweaty, and all awry with howling, and all staring and glaring with beastly excitement and want of sleep” (Book Three, Chapter Two).

These words depict a scene in which two men are sharpening weapons at a grindstone. The horrific part is that despite the fact that they are not actually fighting, their mannerisms are inherent to blood-lusting beasts. This shows the poor’s strong desire to kill the aristocracy has driven them into a state of insanity and has even taken a task as menial as sharpening a knife and made it more grotesque.

“The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine, in Paris, where it was spilled. It had stained many hands, too, and many faces, and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes. The hands of the man who sawed the wood, left red marks on the billets; and the forehead of the woman who nursed her baby, was stained with the stain of the old rag she wound about her head again. Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth; and one tall joker so besmirched, his head more out of a long squalid bag of a night-cap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine-lees—BLOOD. The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street stones, and when the stain of it would be upon many there”

(Book One, Chapter Five).

This quotation describes the scene that unfolded after a cask of wine fell and broke on the street. This event is significant because it demonstrates two major concepts. The first being that, due to the unimaginable poverty, people are scouring the ground for every last drop of wine. This passage also foreshadows the bloodshed that is to occur during the revolution. Contextually, the wine can be replaced with blood, and since wine is something that the citizens of France crave, it implies that they are eager to kill as well. These two concepts come together because in the same way the people are starving for food and drink, they are yearning for their freedom and revenge.


Description of the Author’s Style:

Charles Dickens heavily emphasized his themes throughout the novel through being the underlying causes behind a character’s actions. His sentence structure varies from short, choppy ones to long run on sentences. He is very descriptive in portraying scenes and describing characters. He uses repetitive detailing in order to make sure the reader sees what he wants them to see.      


Example that Demonstrates Style and Explanation/ Character description:
“His message perplexed his mind to that degree that he was fain, several times, to take off his hat to scratch his head. Except on the crown, which was raggedly bald, he had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over it, and growing down hill almost to his broad, blunt nose. It was so like Smith’s work, so much more like the top of a strongly spiked wall than a head of hair, that the best of players at leap-frog might have declined him, as the most dangerous man in the world to go over. “

Character’s Name:



(What part does this person have in the story?):



(Why is this character significant to the story?):


Character Traits (What sort of person is this?):



Charles Darnay           



A descendant of the Evermondes,a French aristocratic family. However, he disassociates himself from the stigma of his family name and travels to England. He goes back to France to free Gabelle, despite the great risk at hand.

He is the exactly the opposite in comparison to the French aristocrats. He also represents everything that Sydney Carton should, but does not.   





Sydney Carton





A lawyer, Carton is an alcoholic pessimist. He sees no value in life but falls in love with Lucie Manette       


He’s known as the “jackal”. His striking resemblance to Charles Darnay allows him to switch places with him when Darnay gets arrested, thus, saving his life. He gives the ultimate sacrifice in order to save Lucie and her family.   





Doctor Manette




Rescued as a prisoner of the Bastille, Dr.Manette spent most of time making shoes to block out the mental and emotional pain of the horrors in the prison. Once reunited with his daughter Lucie, Dr.Manette recovers.
Dr. Manette is the reader’s portal to the terrors prisoners encountered during this time. His love for his daughter and later for Darnay and his granddaughter    also teaches the reader how much of an impact one can have on others.


    Genuine        Distressed


Lucy Manette           




Despite growing up with no family (she was raised as a ward on Tellson’s Bank) Lucy is described as “The Golden Thread”. She is the love interest of both Carton and Darnay, but ends up marrying Darnay.

Her love and care are what binds her family together. She brings out the best in people, including her father who is “recalled to life” and Sydney Carton.   






Monsieur DeFarge   



A leader of the rising French revolution, DeFarge is a dedicated man to will stop at almost nothing to achieve a “better society”. However, he does show a kindness to Doctor Manette and is viewed as weak for it.   
DeFarge is a good example in how each person has both light and dark in them. His kindness towards Doctor Manette shows his compassion but his actions in the revolution show his ruthlessness







Madame DeFarge   



Her hatred for the aristocracy is what drives her to be a revolutionary, and a cruel one at that. She knits a register that lists everyone that she claims must die for the revolutionary cause. Lucy Manette and her family are on that register.

She represents the anger of many of the peasants throughout the revolution and the bloodthirst for the aristocrats.            







Jerry Cruncher           



Besides doing odd jobs at Tellson’s Bank Jerry Cruncher is also the “Resurrection Man”. He digs up bodies from their graves and sells them to scientists   


Although his “job” at the cemetary is illegal, it is because of this that Cruncher discovers Roger Cly’s empty grave, which helps Carton blackmail John Barsad.





Jarvis Lorry   




An elderly businessman for Tellson’s Bank. A dear friend to the Manettes       


Lorry acts as a guide throughout the novel. Leading the Manettes both when Doctor Manette was being rescued from prison and during the revolution.       






Miss Pross




The woman who raised Lucie Manette and the murderer of Madam DeFarge. She became deaf due to the gunshot she fired.       


While DeFarge represented violent, chaotic bloodlust, Miss Pross represented order and loyalty.        






Marquis Evermonde           



Charles Darnay’s uncle,Marquis Evermonde wishes that the entirety of the peasants would become extinct.   



He represents the cruel French aristocracy and the reason Darnay gets arrested and is sentenced to death.








Sydney Carton’s partner, Stryver takes all the credit for Sydney's work.All he cares about is climbing the social ladder

He is the one who defends Darnay in his trial in England and wins case by proving Darnay not guilty of espionage




John Barsad

A british spy who claims patriotism is the cause of his acts. He is Miss Pross’ brother

He ends up helping Carton rescue Darnay after Darnay is arrested in France

Sneaky Patriotic

Roger Cly

Another British spy like Barsad. They even share the same “patriotism” However, he participates in a number of schemes while claiming to be and honest man. He fakes his own funeral

He testified against Darnay at his trial




Significance of opening scene

A Tale of Two Cities begins with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and continues with a series of contradicting statements that embody the conflicting natures of different people, different places and different characterizations of the era in general. The fact that only extreme cases are listed shows that the concept of meeting halfway did not exist at the time. The first paragraphs of the novel give the reader a sense of the various tensions that were surfacing in England and France in 1775.

Significance of closing scene

The closing scene of the novel is the scene of Sydney Carton, under the façade of Charles Darnay, being executed. His death is extremely important for several reasons. His death is a sacrifice he makes in order to make his true love happy. It also serves as a form of redemption for his, in his opinion, wasted life. His last sentence, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known” shows that he is at peace with his death and he understands that sacrifices are necessary to help loved ones and give meaning to life.


The man in charge of looking after the Evermonde place after the Marquis dies.

He gets arrested by the revolutionaries and is the cause of Darnay’s return to France



The Marquis- He stands as one of the more apparent symbols in A Tale of Two Cities. The Marquis Evrémonde is completely indifferent to the lives of the peasants whom he exploits, (as evidenced by his lack of sympathy for the father of the child whom his carriage tramples to death). As such, the Marquis stands as a symbol of the ruthless aristocratic cruelty that the French Revolution seeks to overcome.

Shoes/Footsteps- Lucie hears the echo of footsteps coming into their lives, and Dr. Manette escapes to making shoes in his madness. This symbolizes fate and the inescapable past that the characters cannot hide from.
Madame Defarge’s Knitting-. As Madame Defarge sits quietly knitting, she appears harmless and quaint. In fact, however, she sentences her victims to death. Her knitting can be seen to represent the stealthy, cold-blooded vengefulness of the revolutionaries. French peasants, like Mdm. Defarge, may appear simple and humble figures, but they eventually rise up to massacre their oppressors. The knitting seems to have an association between vengefulness and fate, which, in Greek mythology, is traditionally linked (ie: The Fates)
The Broken Wine Cask- With his depiction of a broken wine cask outside Defarge’s wine shop, and with his portrayal of the passing peasants’ scrambles to lap up the spilling wine, Dickens creates a symbol for the desperate quality of the people’s hunger. This hunger is both the literal hunger for food—the French peasants were starving in their poverty—and the metaphorical hunger for political freedoms or even blood. The scene evokes the violent measures that the peasants take in striving to satisfy their cravings, noting that some of the peasants have acquired “a tigerish smear about the mouth” and portraying a drunken figure scrawling the word “blood” on the wall with a wine-dipped finger. Indeed, the blood of aristocrats later spills at the hands of a mob in these same streets. Not only is it a symbol but it also serves as a bit of a foreshadow of what’s to stain the streets red in the near future.

Significance of closing scene

The closing scene of the novel is the scene of Sydney Carton, under the façade of Charles Darnay, being executed. His death is extremely important for several reasons. His death is a sacrifice he makes in order to make his true love happy. It also serves as a form of redemption for his, in his opinion, wasted life. His last sentence, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known” shows that he is at peace with his death and he understands that sacrifices are necessary to help loved ones and give meaning to life.

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