A Tale of Two Cities: Wikis


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A Tale of Two Cities  
Tales serial.jpg
Cover of serial Vol. V, 1859
Author Charles Dickens
Illustrator Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz)
Cover artist Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Weekly: 30 April 1859 - 26 November 1859 [1]
Genre(s) Novel
Social criticism
Publisher London: Chapman & Hall
Publication date 1859
Media type Print (Serial, Hardback, and Paperback)
OCLC Number 21196349
Dewey Decimal 823/.8 20
LC Classification PR4571.A2 S56 1990
Preceded by Little Dorrit
Followed by Great Expectations

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. With 200 million copies sold, it is the most printed original English book, and among the most famous works of fiction.[2]

It depicts the plight of the French peasantry under the demoralization of the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and a number of unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same time period. It follows the lives of several protagonists through these events, most notably Charles Darnay, a French once-aristocrat who falls victim to the indiscriminate wrath of the revolution despite his virtuous nature, and Sydney Carton, a dissipated British barrister who endeavours to redeem his ill-spent life out of love for Darnay's wife, Lucie Manette.

The novel was published in weekly installments (not monthly, as with most of his other novels). The first installment ran in the first issue of Dickens' literary periodical All the Year Round appearing on 30 April 1859; the thirty-first and final ran on 25 November of the same year.


Plot summary

Book the First: Recalled to Life

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

—Opening line of A Tale of Two Cities[3]

It is 1775. Jarvis Lorry, an employee of Tellson's Bank, is travelling from England to France to bring Dr. Alexandre Manette to London. At Dover, before crossing to France, he meets seventeen-year-old Lucie Manette and reveals to her that her father, Dr. Manette, is not really dead (as she had been told) but has been a prisoner in the Bastille for the last 18 years.

Lorry and Lucie travel to Saint Antoine, a suburb of Paris, where they meet the Defarges. Monsieur Ernest and Madame Therese Defarge own a wine shop. They also (secretly) lead a band of revolutionaries, who refer to each other by the codename "Jacques" (drawn from the name of an actual French revolutionary group, the Jacquerie).

Monsieur Defarge (who was Dr. Manette's servant before Manette's imprisonment, and now has care of him) takes them to see Dr. Manette. Manette has withdrawn from reality due to the horror of his imprisonment. He sits in a dark room all day making shoes, a trade he had learned whilst imprisoned. At first he does not know his daughter, but eventually recognizes her by her long golden hair which resembles her mother's. Dr. Manette had long kept a strand of his wife's hair which was found on his sleeve at the time of his imprisonment. Lucie's eyes are blue also just like his. Lorry and Lucie take him back to England.

Book the Second: The Golden Thread

It is now 1780. French emigrant Charles Darnay is being tried at the Old Bailey for treason. Two British spies, John Barsad and Roger Cly, are trying to frame the innocent Darnay for their own gain. They claim that Darnay, a Frenchman, gave information about British troops in North America to the French. Darnay is acquitted when a witness who claims he would be able to recognise Darnay anywhere is unable to tell Darnay apart from a barrister present in court (not one of those defending Darnay), Sydney Carton, who just happens to look almost identical to him.

In Paris, the Marquis St. Evrémonde (Monseigneur), Darnay's uncle, runs over and kills the son of the peasant Gaspard; he throws a coin to Gaspard to compensate him for his loss. Monsieur Defarge comforts Gaspard. As the Marquis's coach drives off, Defarge throws the coin back into the coach, enraging the Marquis.

Arriving at his château, the Marquis meets with his nephew: Charles Darnay. (Darnay's real surname, therefore, is Evrémonde; out of disgust with his family, Darnay has adopted a version of his mother's maiden name, D'Aulnais.[4]) They argue: Darnay has sympathy for the peasantry, while the Marquis is cruel and heartless:

"Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend," observed the Marquis, "will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof," looking up to it, "shuts out the sky."[5]

That night, Gaspard (who has followed the Marquis to his château, hanging under his coach) murders the Marquis in his sleep. He leaves a note saying, "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from JACQUES."[6]

In London, Darnay gets Dr. Manette's permission to wed Lucie. But Carton confesses his love to Lucie as well. Knowing she will not love him in return, Carton promises to "embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you".[7]

On the morning of the marriage, Darnay, at Dr. Manette's request, reveals who his family is, a detail which Dr. Manette had asked him to withhold until then. This unhinges Dr. Manette, who reverts to his obsessive shoemaking. His sanity is restored before Lucie returns from her honeymoon; to prevent a further relapse, Lorry destroys the shoemaking bench, which Dr. Manette had brought with him from Paris.

It is 14 July 1789. The Defarges help to lead the storming of the Bastille. Defarge enters Dr. Manette's former cell, "One Hundred and Five, North Tower".[8] The reader does not know what Monsieur Defarge is searching for until Book 3, Chapter 9. (It is a statement in which Dr. Manette explains why he was imprisoned.)

In the summer of 1792, a letter reaches Tellson's bank. Mr. Lorry, who is planning to go to Paris to save the French branch of Tellson's, announces that the letter is addressed to Evrémonde. The letter turns out to be from Gabelle, a servant of the former Marquis. Gabelle has been imprisoned, and begs the new Marquis to come to his aid. Darnay, who feels guilty, leaves for Paris to help Gabelle without disclosing his true identity.

Book the Third: The Track of a Storm

"The Sea Rises", an illustration for Book 2, Chapter 21 by "Phiz"

In France, Darnay is denounced for emigrating from France, and imprisoned in La Force Prison in Paris.[9] Dr. Manette and Lucie—along with Miss Pross, Jerry Cruncher, and "Little Lucie", the daughter of Charles and Lucie Darnay—come to Paris and meet Mr. Lorry to try to free Darnay. A year and three months pass, and Darnay is finally tried.

Dr. Manette, who is seen as a hero for his imprisonment in the hated Bastille, is able to get him released. But that very same evening Darnay is again arrested, and is put on trial again the next day, under new charges brought by the Defarges and one "unnamed other". We soon discover that this other is Dr. Manette, through the testimony of his statement (his own account of his imprisonment, written in the Bastille in the "last month of the tenth year of [his] captivity"); Manette does not know that his statement has been found, and is horrified when his words are used to condemn Darnay.

On an errand, Miss Pross is amazed to see her long-lost brother, Solomon Pross, but Pross does not want to be recognised. Sydney Carton suddenly appears (stepping forward from the shadows much as he had done after Darnay's first trial in London) and identifies Solomon Pross as John Barsad, one of the men who tried to frame Darnay for treason at his first trial in London. Carton threatens to reveal Solomon's identity as a Briton and an opportunist who spies for the French or the British as it suits him. If this were revealed, Solomon would surely be executed, so Carton's hand is strong.

Darnay is confronted at the tribunal by Monsieur Defarge, who identifies Darnay as the Marquis St. Evrémonde and reads the letter Dr. Manette had hidden in his cell in the Bastille. Defarge can identify Darnay as Evrémonde because Barsad told him Darnay's identity when Barsad was fishing for information at the Defarges' wine shop in Book 2, Chapter 16. The letter describes how Dr. Manette was locked away in the Bastille by the deceased Marquis Evrémonde (Darnay's father) and his twin brother (who held the title of Marquis when we met him earlier in the book, and is the Marquis who was killed by Gaspard; Darnay's uncle) for trying to report their crimes against a peasant family. The younger brother had become infatuated with a girl. He had kidnapped and raped her and killed her husband, the knowledge of which killed her father, and her brother died in the act of fighting to protect her honor. Prior to his death, the brother of the raped peasant had hidden the last member of the family, his younger sister, "somewhere safe". The paper concludes by condemning the Evrémondes, "them and their descendants, to the last of their race".[10] Dr. Manette is horrified, but his protests are ignored—he is not allowed to take back his condemnation. Darnay is sent to the Conciergerie and sentenced to be guillotined the next day.

Carton wanders into the Defarges' wine shop, where he overhears Madame Defarge talking about her plans to have the rest of Darnay's family (Lucie and "Little Lucie") condemned. Carton discovers that Madame Defarge was the surviving sister of the peasant family savaged by the Evrémondes. The only plot detail that might give one any sympathy for Madame Defarge is the loss of her family and that she has no (family) name. "Defarge" is her married name, and Dr. Manette is unable to learn her family name though he asks her dying sister for it.[11] The next morning, when Dr. Manette returns shattered after having spent the previous night in numerous failed attempts to save Charles' life, he reverts to his obsessive shoemaking. Carton urges Lorry to flee Paris with Lucie, her father and "Little Lucie".

That same morning Carton visits Darnay in prison. Carton drugs Darnay, and Barsad (whom Carton is blackmailing) has Darnay carried out of the prison. Carton—who looks so similar to Darnay that a witness at Darnay's trial in England could not tell them apart—has decided to pretend to be Darnay, and to be executed in his place. He does this out of love for Lucie, recalling his earlier promise to her. Following Carton's earlier instructions, Darnay's family and Lorry flee Paris and France with an unconscious man in their coach who carries Carton's identification papers, but is actually Darnay.

Meanwhile Madame Defarge, armed with a pistol, goes to the residence of Lucie's family, hoping to catch them mourning for Darnay (since it was illegal to sympathise with or mourn for an enemy of the Republic); however, Lucie, her child, Dr. Manette and Mr. Lorry are already gone. To give them time to escape, Miss Pross confronts Madame Defarge and they struggle. In the fight, Madame Defarge's pistol goes off, killing her; the noise of the shot and the shock of Madame Defarge's death cause Miss Pross to go permanently deaf.

The novel concludes with the guillotining of Sydney Carton. Carton's unspoken last thoughts are prophetic:[12] Carton foresees that many of the revolutionaries, including Defarge, Barsad and The Vengeance (a lieutenant of Madame Defarge) will be sent to the guillotine themselves, and that Darnay and Lucie will have a son whom they will name after Carton: a son who will fulfill all the promise that Carton wasted. Lucie and Darnay have a first son earlier in the book who is born and dies within a single paragraph. It seems likely that this first son appears in the novel so that their later son, named after Carton, can represent another way in which Carton restores Lucie and Darnay through his sacrifice.[13]

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

—Final sentence of A Tale of Two Cities[12]


A Tale of Two Cities is one of only two works of historical fiction by Charles Dickens (Barnaby Rudge is the other one). It has fewer characters and sub-plots than a typical Charles Dickens novel. The author's primary historical source was The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle: Charles Dickens wrote in his Preface to Tale that "no one can hope to add anything to the philosophy of Mr. Carlyle's wonderful book"[14] Carlyle's view that history cycles through destruction and resurrection was an important influence on the novel, illustrated especially well by the life and death of Sydney Carton.


Dickens uses many literal translations of French idioms (such as "What the devil do you do in that galley there?!!"), which are presumably intended to make Paris seem more foreign in comparison to London. The Penguin Classics edition of the novel notes that "Not all readers have regarded the experiment as a success."[15]


Dickens is renowned for his humor, but A Tale of Two Cities is one of his least comical books. Nonetheless, Jerry Cruncher, Miss Pross, and in particular Mr. Stryver provide much comedy. Dickens also uses sarcasm as humour in the book to show different points of view. The book is really full of tragic situations, therefore, leaving little room for intended humor provided by Dickens.


A Tale of Two Cities contains much foreshadowing. Carton's promise to Lucie, the "echoing footsteps" heard by the Manettes in their quiet home, and the wine spilling from the wine cask are only a few of dozens of instances. Carton promises Lucie he would die for her because he loves her so much. Echoing footsteps can either be the people coming into their lives or the revolutionaries. The wine spilling in the streets can be blood running through the streets of France. The wine cask breaking is a corrupted government, freedom, or blood from guillotine. The negro cupids show danger, and death from the guillotine.


"Recalled to Life"

In Dickens' England, the idea of resurrection always sat firmly in a Christian context. Most broadly, it is Sydney Carton who is resurrected in spirit at the novel's close (even as he, paradoxically, gives up his physical life to preserve Darnay's—just as, in Christian belief, Christ died for the sins of all mankind.) More concretely, "Book the First" deals with the rebirth of Dr. Manette from the living death of his incarceration.

Resurrection appears for the first time when Mr. Lorry replies to the message carried by Jerry Cruncher with the words "Recalled to Life". Resurrection also appears during Mr. Lorry's coach ride to Dover, as he constantly ponders a hypothetical conversation with Dr. Manette: ("Buried how long?" "Almost eighteen years." ... "You know that you are recalled to life?" "They tell me so.") He believes he is helping with Dr. Manette's revival, and imagines himself "digging" Dr. Manette up from his grave.

Resurrection is the main theme in the novel. In Jarvis Lorry's thoughts of Dr. Manette, resurrection is first spotted as a theme. It is also the last theme: Carton's sacrifice. Dickens originally wanted to call the entire novel Recalled to Life. (This instead became the title of the first of the novel's three "books".)

Jerry is also part of the recurring theme: he himself is involved in death and resurrection in way that the reader does not yet know. The first piece of foreshadowing comes in his remark to himself: "You'd be in a blazing bad way, if recalling to life was to come into fashion, Jerry!" The black humour of this statement becomes obvious only much later on. Five years later, one cloudy and very dark night (in June 1780[16]), Mr. Lorry reawakens the reader's interest in the mystery by telling Jerry it is "Almost a night ... to bring the dead out of their graves". Jerry responds firmly that he has never seen the night do that.[17]

It turns out that Jerry Cruncher's involvement with the theme of resurrection is that he is what the Victorians called a "Resurrection Man", one who (illegally) digs up dead bodies to sell to medical men (there was no legal way to procure cadavers for study at that time).

The opposite of resurrection is of course death. Death appears quite frequently in the novel as well as resurrection. Dickens is angered that in both France and England, courts hand out death sentences for insignificant crimes. In France, peasants are even put to death without any trial, at the whim of a noble. The Marquis tells Darnay with pleasure that "[I]n the next room (my bedroom), one fellow ... was poniarded on the spot for professing some insolent delicacy respecting his daughter—his daughter!"[18]

Interestingly, the demolition of Dr. Manette's shoe-making workbench by Miss Pross and Mr. Lorry is described as "the burning of the body".[19] It seems clear that this is a rare case where death or destruction (the opposite of resurrection) has a positive connotation, since the "burning" helps liberate the doctor from the memory of his long imprisonment. But Dickens' description of this kind and healing act is strikingly odd:

"The Accomplices", an illustration for Book 2, Chapter 19 by "Phiz"

So wicked do destruction and secrecy appear to honest minds, that Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross, while engaged in the commission of their deed and in the removal of its traces, almost felt, and almost looked, like accomplices in a horrible crime.[20]

Sydney Carton's martyrdom atones for all his past wrongdoings. He even finds God during the last few days of his life, repeating Christ's soothing words, "I am the resurrection and the life".[21] Resurrection is the dominant theme of the final part of the novel. Darnay is rescued at the last moment and recalled to life; Carton chooses death and resurrection to a life better than that which he has ever known: "it was the peacefullest man's face ever beheld there ... he looked sublime and prophetic".

In the broadest sense, at the end of the novel Dickens foresees a resurrected social order in France, rising from the ashes of the old one.


Many in the Jungian archetypal tradition might agree with Hans Biedermann, who writes that water "is the fundamental symbol of all the energy of the unconscious—an energy that can be dangerous when it overflows its proper limits (a frequent dream sequence)."[22] This symbolism suits Dickens' novel; in A Tale of Two Cities, the frequent images of water stand for the building anger of the peasant mob, an anger that Dickens sympathises with to a point, but ultimately finds irrational and even animalistic.

Early in the book, Dickens suggests this when he writes, “[T]he sea did what it liked, and what it liked was destruction.”[23] The sea here represents the coming mob of revolutionaries. After Gaspard murders the Marquis, he is “hanged there forty feet high—and is left hanging, poisoning the water.”[24] The poisoning of the well represents the bitter impact of Gaspard's execution on the collective feeling of the peasants.

After Gaspard’s death, the storming of the Bastille is led (from the St. Antoine neighbourhood, at least) by the Defarges; “As a whirlpool of boiling waters has a centre point, so, all this raging circled around Defarge’s wine shop, and every human drop in the cauldron had a tendency to be sucked towards the vortex...”[25] The crowd is envisioned as a sea. “With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into a detested word [the word Bastille], the living sea rose, wave upon wave, depth upon depth, and overflowed the city...”[25]

Darnay’s jailer is described as “unwholesomely bloated in both face and person, as to look like a man who had been drowned and filled with water.” Later, during the Reign of Terror, the revolution had grown “so much more wicked and distracted ... that the rivers of the South were encumbered with bodies of the violently drowned by night...” Later a crowd is “swelling and overflowing out into the adjacent streets ... the Carmagnole absorbed them every one and whirled them away.”

During the fight with Miss Pross, Madame Defarge clings to her with “more than the hold of a drowning woman”. Commentators on the novel have noted the irony that Madame Defarge is killed by her own gun, and perhaps Dickens means by the above quote to suggest that such vicious vengefulness as Madame Defarge's will eventually destroy even its perpetrators.

So many read the novel in a Freudian light, as exalting the (British) superego over the (French) id. Yet in Carton's last walk, he watches an eddy that "turned and turned purposeless, until the stream absorbed it, and carried it onto the sea"—his fulfilment, while masochistic and superego-driven, is nonetheless an ecstatic union with the subconscious.

Darkness and light

As is common in English literature, good and evil are symbolised with light and darkness. In particular, Lucie Manette is often associated with light and Madame Defarge with darkness.

Lucie meets her father for the first time in a room kept by the Defarges:." Lucie's hair symbolises joy as she winds "the golden thread that bound them all together". She is adorned with "diamonds, very bright and sparkling", and symbolic of the happiness of the day of her marriage.

Darkness represents uncertainty, fear and peril. It is dark when Mr. Lorry rides to Dover; it is dark in the prisons; dark shadows follow Madame Defarge; dark, gloomy doldrums disturb Dr. Manette; his capture and captivity are shrouded in darkness; the Marquis’s estate is burned in the dark of night; Jerry Cruncher raids graves in the darkness; Charles's second arrest also occurs at night. Both Lucie and Mr. Lorry feel the dark threat that is Madame Defarge. "That dreadful woman seems to throw a shadow on me," remarks Lucie. Although Mr. Lorry tries to comfort her, "the shadow of the manner of these Defarges was dark upon himself". Madame Defarge is "like a shadow over the white road", the snow symbolising purity and Madame Defarge's darkness corruption. Dickens also compares the dark colour of blood to the pure white snow: the blood takes on the shade of the crimes of its shedders.

Social injustice

Charles Dickens was a champion of the maltreated poor because of his terrible experience when he was forced to work in a factory as a child. His sympathies, however, lie only up to a point with the revolutionaries; he condemns the mob madness which soon sets in. When madmen and -women massacre eleven hundred detainees in one night and hustle back to sharpen their weapons on the grindstone, they display "eyes which any unbrutalised beholder would have given twenty years of life, to petrify with a well-directed gun".

The reader is shown the poor are brutalised in France and England alike. As crime proliferates, the executioner in England is "stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now hanging housebreaker ... now burning people in the hand" or hanging a broke man for stealing sixpence. In France, a boy is sentenced to have his hands removed and be burned alive, only because he did not kneel down in the rain before a parade of monks passing some fifty metres away. At the lavish residence of Monseigneur, we find "brazen ecclesiastics of the worst world worldly, with sensual eyes, loose tongues, and looser lives ... Military officers destitute of military knowledge ... [and] Doctors who made great fortunes ... for imaginary disorders".[26]

The Marquis recalls with pleasure the days when his family had the right of life and death over their slaves, "when many such dogs were taken out to be hanged". He won't even allow a widow to put up a board bearing her dead husband’s name, to discern his resting place from all the others. He orders Madame Defarge's sick brother-in-law to heave a cart all day and allay frogs at night to exacerbate the young man's illness and hasten his death.

In England, even banks endorse unbalanced sentences: a man may be condemned to death for nicking a horse or opening a letter. Conditions in the prisons are dreadful. "Most kinds of debauchery and villainy were practised, and ... dire diseases were bred", sometimes killing the judge before the accused.

So riled is Dickens at the brutality of English law that he depicts some of its punishments with sarcasm: "the whipping-post, another dear old institution, very humanising and softening to behold in action". He faults the law for not seeking reform: "Whatever is right" is the dictum of the Old Bailey.[27] The gruesome portrayal of quartering highlights its atrocity.

Without entirely forgiving him, Dickens understands that Jerry Cruncher robs graves only in order to feed his son, and reminds the reader that Mr. Lorry is more likely to rebuke Jerry for his humble social status than anything else. Jerry reminds Mr. Lorry that doctors, men of the cloth, undertakers and watchmen are also conspirators in the selling of bodies.

Dickens wants his readers to be careful that the same sort of revolution that so damaged France won't happen in Britain, which (at least at the beginning of the book)[28] is shown to be nearly as unjust as France. But his warning is addressed not to the British lower classes, but to the aristocracy. He repeatedly uses the metaphor of sowing and reaping; if the aristocracy continues to plant the seeds of a revolution through behaving unjustly, they can be certain of harvesting that revolution in time. The lower classes do not have any agency in this metaphor: they simply react to the behaviour of the aristocracy. In this sense it can be said that while Dickens sympathises with the poor, he identifies with the rich: they are the book's audience, its "us" rather than its "them". "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 licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind".[29]

Relation to Dickens' personal life

Some have argued that in A Tale of Two Cities Dickens reflects on his recently begun affair with eighteen-year-old actress Ellen Ternan, which was possibly asexual but certainly romantic. The character of Lucie Manette resembles Ternan physically, and some have seen "a sort of implied emotional incest" in the relationship between Dr. Manette and his daughter.[30]

After starring in a play by Wilkie Collins entitled The Frozen Deep, Dickens was first inspired to write Tale. In the play, Dickens played the part of a man who sacrifices his own life so that his rival may have the woman they both love; the love triangle in the play became the basis for the relationships between Charles Darnay, Lucie Manette, and Sydney Carton in Tale.[31]

Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay may also bear importantly on Dickens' personal life. The plot hinges on the near-perfect resemblance between Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay; the two look so alike that Carton twice saves Darnay through the inability of others to tell them apart. It is implied that Carton and Darnay not only look alike, but they possess identical "genetic" endowments (to use a term that Dickens would not have known): Carton is Darnay made bad. Carton suggests as much:

'Do you particularly like the man [Darnay]?' he muttered, at his own image [which he is regarding in a mirror]; 'why should you particularly like a man who resembles you? There is nothing in you to like; you know that. Ah, confound you! What a change you have made in yourself! A good reason for talking to a man, that he shows you what you have fallen away from and what you might have been! Change places with him, and would you have been looked at by those blue eyes [belonging to Lucie Manette] as he was, and commiserated by that agitated face as he was? Come on, and have it out in plain words! You hate the fellow.'[32]

Many have felt that Carton and Darnay are doppelgängers, which Eric Rabkin defines as a pair "of characters that together, represent one psychological persona in the narrative".[33] If so, they would prefigure such works as Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Darnay is worthy and respectable but dull (at least to most modern readers), Carton disreputable but magnetic.

One can only suspect whose psychological persona it is that Carton and Darnay together embody (if they do), but it is often thought to be the psyche of Dickens himself. Dickens was quite aware that between them, Carton and Darnay shared his own initials.[34]


Many of Dickens' characters are "flat" rather than "round", in the novelist E. M. Forster's famous terms, meaning roughly that they have only one mood.[35] In Tale, for example, the Marquis is unremittingly wicked and relishes being so; Lucie is perfectly loving and supportive. (As a corollary, Dickens often gives these characters verbal tics or visual quirks that he mentions over and over, such as the dints in the nose of the Marquis.) Forster believed that Dickens never truly created rounded characters, but a character such as Carton surely at least comes closer to roundness.

  • Sydney Carton – A quick-minded but depressed English barrister alcoholic, and cynic; his Christ-like self-sacrifice redeems his own life as well as saving the life of Charles Darnay.
  • Lucie Manette – An ideal Victorian lady, perfect in every way. She was loved by both Carton and Charles Darnay (whom she marries), and is the daughter of Dr. Manette. She is the "golden thread" after whom Book Two is named, so called because she holds her father's and her family's lives together (and because of her blond hair like her mother's). She also ties nearly every character in the book together.[36]
  • Charles Darnay – A young French noble of the Evrémonde family. In disgust at the cruelty of his family to the French peasantry, he has taken on the name "Darnay" (after his mother's maiden name, D'Aulnais) and left France for England.[37]
  • Monsieur Ernest Defarge – The owner of a French wine shop and leader of the Jacquerie; husband of Madame Defarge; servant to Dr. Manette as a youth. One of the key revolutionary leaders, he leads the revolution with a noble cause, unlike many of other revolutionaries.
  • The Vengeance – A companion of Madame Defarge referred to as her "shadow" and lieutenant, a member of the sisterhood of women revolutionaries in Saint Antoine, and revolutionary zealot. (Many Frenchmen and women actually did change their names to show their enthusiasm for the Revolution[38])
  • Jarvis Lorry – An elderly manager at Tellson's Bank and a dear friend of Dr. Manette.
  • Miss Pross – Lucie Manette's governess since Lucie was ten years old. Fiercely loyal to Lucie and to England.
  • The Marquis St. Evrémonde[39] – The cruel uncle of Charles Darnay.
  • John Barsad (real name Solomon Pross) – A spy for Britain who later becomes a spy for France (at which point he must conceal that he is British). He is the long-lost brother of Miss Pross.
  • Roger Cly – Another spy, Barsad's collaborator.
  • Young Jerry Cruncher - Son of Jerry and Mrs. Cruncher. Young Jerry often follows his father around to his father's odd jobs, and at one point in the story, follows his father at night and discovers that his father is a resurrection man. Young Jerry looks up to his father as a role model, and aspires to become a resurrection man himself when he grows up.
  • Mrs. Cruncher - Wife of Jerry Cruncher. She is a very religious woman, but her husband, being a bit paranoid, claims she is praying against him, and that is why he doesn't succeed at work often. She is often abused verbally, and almost as often, abused physically, by Jerry, but at the end of the story, he appears to feel a bit guilty about this.
  • Mr. Stryver – An arrogant and ambitious barrister, senior to Sydney Carton.[40] There is a frequent mis-perception that Stryver's full name is "C. J. Stryver", but this is very unlikely. The mistake comes from a line in Book 2, Chapter 12: "After trying it, Stryver, C. J., was satisfied that no plainer case could be."[41] The initials C. J. almost certainly refer to a legal title (probably "chief justice"); Stryver is imagining that he is playing every role in a trial in which he browbeats Lucie Manette into marrying him.
  • The Seamstress – A young woman caught up in The Terror. She precedes Sydney Carton, who comforts her, to the guillotine.
  • Gabelle – Gabelle is "the Postmaster, and some other taxing functionary, united"[42] for the tenants of the Marquis St. Evrémonde. Gabelle is imprisoned by the revolutionaries, and it is his beseeching letter that brings Darnay to France. Gabelle is "named after the hated salt tax".[43]
  • Gaspard – Gaspard is the man whose son gets run over by the Monsieur. He then kills the Monsieur and goes into hiding for a year. He eventually is found, arrested, and executed.



There have been at least five feature films based on the book:

In the 1981 film History of the World, Part I, the French Revolution segment appears to be a pastiche of A Tale of Two Cities.

In the film A Simple Wish, the protagonist's father Oliver (possibly a reference to another of Dickens' famous novels, Oliver Twist) is vying for a spot in his theatre company's production of a musical of A Tale of Two Cities, of which we see the beginning and end, using the two famous quotes, including "It is a far, far better thing that I do", as part of a few solos.

Terry Gilliam also developed a film version in the mid-1990s with Mel Gibson and Liam Neeson. The project was eventually abandoned.


In 1938, The Mercury Theatre on the Air (aka The Campbell Playhouse) produced a radio adapted version starring Orson Welles.

In 1945, a portion of the novel was adapted to the syndicated program The Weird Circle as "Dr. Manette's Manuscript."

In 1950, a radio adaptation written by Terence Rattigan and John Gielgud was broadcast by the BBC. They had written it in 1935, as a stage play, but it was not produced.

In June 1989, BBC Radio 4 produced a 7-hour drama adapted for radio by Nick McCarty and directed by Ian Cotterell. This adaptation is occasionally repeated by BBC Radio 7. The cast included:

Television programs

An 8-part mini-series was produced by the BBC in 1957 starring Peter Wyngarde as "Sydney Carton", Edward de Souza as "Charles Darnay" and Wendy Hutchinson as "Lucie Manette".

Another mini-series, this one in 10 parts, was produced by the BBC in 1965.

A third BBC mini-series (in 8 parts) was produced in 1980 starring Paul Shelley as "Carton/Darnay", Sally Osborne as "Lucie Manette" and Nigel Stock as "Jarvis Lorry".

The novel was adapted into a 1980 television movie starring Chris Sarandon as "Sydney Carton/Charles Darnay". Peter Cushing as "Dr. Alexandre Manette", Alice Krige as "Lucie Manette", Flora Robson as "Miss Pross", Barry Morse as "The Marquis St. Evremonde" and Billie Whitelaw as "Madame Defarge".

In 1989 Granada Television made a mini-series starring James Wilby as "Sydney Carton", Serena Gordon as "Lucie Manette", Xavier Deluc as "Charles Darnay", Anna Massey as "Miss Pross" and John Mills as "Jarvis Lorry", which was shown on American television as part of the PBS television series Masterpiece Theatre.

In the 1970 Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "The Attila the Hun Show", the sketch "The News for Parrots" included a scene of A Tale of Two Cities (As told for parrots).

The children's television series Wishbone adapted the novel for the episode "A Tale of Two Sitters".


In Nicholas Meyer's novel The Canary Trainer, a descendant of Charles and Lucie, once more titled the Marquis de St. Evremonde, attends the Paris Opera during the events of The Phantom of the Opera.

American author Susanne Alleyn's novel A Far Better Rest, a reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities from the point of view of Sydney Carton, was published in the USA in 2000.

Diane Mayer self-published her novel Evremonde through iUniverse in 2005; it tells the story of Charles and Lucie Darnay and their children after the French Revolution.

Simplified versions of A Tale of Two Cities for English language learners have been published by Penguin Readers, in several levels of difficulty.

Stage musicals

There have been four musicals based on the novel:

A 1968 stage version, Two Cities, the Spectacular New Musical, with music by Jeff Wayne, lyrics by Jerry Wayne and starring Edward Woodward.

A Tale of Two Cities, Jill Santoriello's musical adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities, was performed at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida, in October and November 2007. James Stacy Barbour ("Sydney Carton") and Jessica Rush ("Lucie Manette") were among the cast. A production of the musical began previews on Broadway on 19 August 2008, opening on 18 September at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Warren Carlyle is the director/choreographer; the cast includes James Stacy Barbour as "Sydney Carton", Brandi Burkhardt as "Lucie Manette", Aaron Lazar as "Charles Darnay", Gregg Edelman as "Dr. Manette", Katherine McGrath as "Miss Pross", Michael Hayward-Jones as "Jarvis Lorry" and Natalie Toro as "Madame Defarge".[44][45][46]

In 2006, Howard Goodall collaborated with Joanna Read in writing a separate musical adaptation of the novel called Two Cities. The central plot and characters were maintained, though Goodall set the action during the Russian Revolution.

The novel has also been adapted as a musical by Takarazuka Revue, the all-female opera company in Japan. The first production was in 1984, starring Mao Daichi at the Grand Theater, and the second was in 2003, starring Jun Sena at the Bow Hall.


Arthur Benjamin's operatic version of the novel, subtitled Romantic Melodrama in six scenes, was premiered by the BBC on 17 April 1953, conducted by the composer; it received its stage premiere at Sadler's Wells on 22 July 1957, under the baton of Leon Lovett.[47]


  1. ^ Facsimile of the original 1st publication of A Tale of Two Cities in All the year round
  2. ^ Broadway.com on A Tale of Two Cities: "Since its inaugural publication on 30 August 1859, A Tale of Two Cities has sold over 200 million copies in several languages, making it one of the most famous books in the history of fictional literature." (24 March 2008)
  3. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 5 (Book 1, Chapter 1)
  4. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 191 (Book 2, Chapter 16).
  5. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 128 (Book 2, Chapter 9). This statement (about the roof) is truer than the Marquis knows, and another example of foreshadowing: the Evrémonde château is destroyed by revolting peasants in Book 2, Chapter 23.
  6. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 134 (Book 2, Chapter 9)
  7. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 159 (Book 2, Chapter 14)
  8. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 330 (Book 3, Chapter 9)
  9. ^ Emigration is about to be made illegal, but is not yet illegal. See Dickens 2003, p. 258 (Book 3, Chapter 1)
  10. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 344 (Book 3, Chapter 10)
  11. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 340 (Book 3, Chapter 10)
  12. ^ a b Dickens 2003, p. 390 (Book 3, Chapter 15)
  13. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 219 (Book 2, Chapter 21)
  14. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 398
  15. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 455
  16. ^ Dickens 2003, p. xxxix
  17. ^ Dickens 2003, pp. 107-108 (Book 2, Chapter 6)
  18. ^ The daughter the Marquis is speaking of is surely the girl he raped and let die; it was to conceal this act that he had Dr. Manette imprisoned. The Marquis emphasises his because Dickens is alluding to the (probably mythical) Droit de seigneur, under which any girl from the Marquis's land would belong to the Marquis rather than to her parents. Dickens 2003, p. 127 (Book 2, Chapter 9)
  19. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 212 (Book 2, Chapter 19)
  20. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 214 (Book 2, Chapter 19)
  21. ^ John 11.25-6
  22. ^ Biedermann 1994, p. 375
  23. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 21 (Book 1, Chapter 4)
  24. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 178 (Book 2, Chapter 15)
  25. ^ a b Dickens 2003, p. 223 (Book 2, Chapter 21)
  26. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 110 (Book 2, Chapter 7)
  27. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 63 (Book 2, Chapter 2). Dickens is quoting Alexander Pope's Essay on Man of 1733.
  28. ^ Ruth Glancy has argued that Dickens portrays France and England as nearly equivalent at the beginning of the novel, but that as the novel progresses, England comes to look better and better, climaxing in Miss Pross's pro-Britain speech at the end of the novel.
  29. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 385 (Book 3, Chapter 15)
  30. ^ Dickens 2003, p. xxi
  31. ^ "Context of A Tale of Two Cities". http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/twocities/context.html. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  32. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 89 (Book 2, Chapter 4) p. 89
  33. ^ Rabkin 2007, course booklet p. 48
  34. ^ Schlicke 2008, p. 53
  35. ^ "In their purest form [flat characters] ... are constructed round a single idea or quality. ... Part of the genius of Dickens is that he does use types and caricatures, people whom we recognise the instant they re-enter, and yet achieves effects that are not mechanical and a vision of humanity that is not shallow. Those who dislike Dickens have an excellent case. He ought to be bad." Forster 1927, p. 67, 71-72
  36. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 83 (Book 2, Chapter 4)
  37. ^ After Dr. Manette's letter is read, Darnay says that "It was the always-vain endeavour to discharge my poor mother's trust, that first brought my fatal presence near you." (Dickens 2003, p. 347 [Book 3, Chapter 11].) Darnay seems to be referring to when his mother brought him, still a child, to her meeting with Dr. Manette in Book 3, Chapter 10. But some readers also feel that Darnay is explaining why he changed his name and travelled to England in the first place: in order to discharge his family's debt to Dr. Manette without fully revealing his identity. (See note to the Penguin Classics edition: Dickens 2003, p. 486.)
  38. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 470
  39. ^ The Marquis is sometimes referred to as "Monseigneur the Marquis St. Evrémonde." He is not so called in this article because the title "Monseigneur" applies to whoever among a group is of the highest status; thus, this title sometimes applies to the Marquis and other times does not.
  40. ^ Stryver, like Carton, is a barrister and not a solicitor; Dickens 2003, p. xi
  41. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 147
  42. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 120 (Book 2, Chapter 8)
  43. ^ Dickens 2003, p. 462
  44. ^ Playbill.com, 25 September 2008: "Best of Times: A Tale of Two Cities Opens on Broadway September 18"
  45. ^ Playbill.com, 25 March 2008: "Tale of Two Cities, the Musical, to Open on Broadway in September"
  46. ^ A Tale of Two Cities musical official site
  47. ^ Boosey & Hawkes page


  • Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism. New York: Meridian (1994) ISBN 978-0-452-01118-2
  • Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Edited and with an introduction and notes by Richard Maxwell. London: Penguin Classics (2003) ISBN 978-0-141-43960-0
  • Drabble, Margaret, ed. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 5th ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press (1985) ISBN 0-19-866130-4
  • Forster, E. M. Aspects of the Novel (1927). 2005 reprint: London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-144169-6
  • Orwell, George. "Charles Dickens". In A Collection of Essays. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1946) ISBN 0-15-618600-4
  • Rabkin, Eric. Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature's Most Fantastic Works. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company (2007)
  • Schlicke, Paul. Coffee With Dickens. London: Duncan Baird Publishers (2008) ISBN 978-1-84483-608-6

Further reading

  • Glancy, Ruth. Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities: A Sourcebook. London: Routledge (2006) ISBN 978-0415287609
  • Sanders, Andrew. The Companion to A Tale of Two Cities. London: Unwin Hyman (1989) ISBN 978-0048000507 Out of print.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is an historical novel by Charles Dickens. The plot centers on the years leading up to the French Revolution and culminates in the Jacobin Reign of Terror. It tells the story of two men, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, who look similar but are very different in traits.


Book I - Recalled to Life

Chapter I - The Period

  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
    • The opening paragraph of the novel.

Chapter II - The Mail

  • The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.
  • Keep where you are because, if I should make a mistake, it could never be set right in your lifetime.
    • Said by a guard.
  • For I'm the devil at quick mistakes, and when I make one it takes the form of Lead.
  • "What did you make of it, Tom?"
    "Nothing at all, Joe."
    "That's a coincidence, too, for I made the same of it myself."
    • Said in response to a mysterious message that was heard : "Recalled to Life".

Chapter III - The Night Shadows

  • A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is preferable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life's end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

Chapter VI - The Shoemaker

  • “If you hear my voice – I don’t know that it is so, but I hope it is – if you hear in my voice any resemblance to a voice that once was sweet music in your ears, weep for it, weep for it! If you touch, in touching my hair, anything that recalls a beloved head that lay on your breast when you were young and free, weep for it, weep for it! If, when I hint to you of a Home that is before us, where I will be true to you with all my duty and with all my faithful service, I bring back the remembrance of a home long desolate, while your poor heart pined away, weep for it, weep for it!”....

Chapter V - The Wine-shop

  • "The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there."

Book II The Golden Thread

Chapter V - The Jackal

  • Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.

Chapter IX - The Gorgon's Head

  • Repression is the only lasting philosophy.

Chapter XXI - Echoing Footsteps

  • Deep ditch, single drawbridge, massive stone walls, eight great towers, cannon, muskets, fire and smoke. One drawbridge down! “Work, comrades all, work! Work, Jacques One, Jacques Two, Jacques One Thousand, Jacques Two Thousand; in the name of all the angels or the devils – which you prefer – work!”

Book III - The Track of a Storm

Chapter V - The Wood-Sawyer

  • Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death;-- the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!

Chapter X - The Substance of the Shadow

  • "I, Alexandre Manette, unfortunate physician, native of Beauvais, and afterwards resident in Paris, write this melancholy paper in my doleful cell in the Bastille, during the last month of the year 1767. I write it at stolen intervals, under every difficulty. I design to secrete it in the wall of the chimney, where I have slowly and laboriously made a place of concealment for it. Some pitying hand may find it there, when I and my sorrows are dust."

Chapter XII - Darkness

  • Defarge, a weak minority interposed a few words for the memory of the compassionate wife of the Marquis; but only elicited from his own wife a repititon of her last reply. "Tell the Wind and the Fire where to stop; not me!"

Chapter XV - The Footsteps Die Out For Ever

  • Do you think that it will seem long to me, while I wait for her in the better land where I trust both you and I will be mercifully sheltered?
  • I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.
  • I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy, in that England which I shall see no more.
  • I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. I see her, an old woman, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband, their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed, and I know that each was not more honoured and held sacred in the other's soul, than I was in the souls of both.
  • I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it, faded away. I see him, foremost of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name, with a forehead that I know and golden hair, to this place— then fair to look upon, with not a trace of this day's disfigurement— and I hear him tell the child my story, with a tender and a faltering voice.
  • 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.
  • It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
Note: These closing lines bring Dickens' motif of doubles into the story one last time. Dickens' uses the literary device anaphora, which is the repetition of a word or phrase over many lines (doubles), many times throughout A Tale of Two Cities. "It is a far, far better..." is repeated twice in these parting lines, as "It was the ____ of times, it was the epoch of _____," etc. is repeated in the opening lines. This motif of doubles makes up the entire plot of the novel: the two main characters, Darnay and Carton are doubles of each other; London and Paris are the 'two cities' to which the title refers. The very last thoughts attributed to Carton, in their poetic use of repetition, register this faith as a calm and soothing certainty: that both the name of Sydney Carton and of France will be reborn into glory and made "illustrious."

External links

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Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a historical novel by Charles Dickens; it is moreover a moral novel strongly concerned with themes of guilt, shame and patriotism. Dickens' primary source for this historical novel is Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History. The narrative is extraordinarily dependent upon correspondence as a medium for ensuring the flow of events, and while not an epistolary novel in the way that Pierre Choderlos de la Clos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses is, nevertheless, it is immediately apparent that the flow of letters forms a driving centre to much of the narrative development in this novel. The novel covers a period in history between 1775 and 1793, from the American Revolution until the middle period of the French Revolution.
— Excerpted from A Tale of Two Cities on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia.
PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

Welcome to the study guide for:

A Tale of Two Cities

By Charles Dickens


  1. Characters Development stage: 50% (as of May 2, 2007)(May 2, 2007)
  2. Themes

Note: This study guide assumes an educated reader; That is, one who has already read the novel. It makes no attempt at a plot synopsis, and should not be treated as such


Simple English

A Tale of Two Cities is a famous book written by Charles Dickens that was published (printed) in 1859. It is set during the time of the French Revolution, and the story happens in France and England.

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