From April to November, 1859, Charles Dickens wrote “A Tale of Two Cities” in weekly installments. This method of writing a novel was genius. The suspense kept the readers excited about the next installment and it made a lot of money. Also, the regular person could read it. At the time most books were owned and read by the wealthy, but, since the newspaper could be passed around and afforded by almost everyone, it opened up Dickens’ reader demographic.
“A Tale of Two Cities” is a beautiful story about love, requited and unrequited, set during the French Revolution. Two men, a Frenchman named Charles Darnay, and an Englishman named Sidney Carton are both in love with the same woman, Lucie Manette. But. it is also the story of the love of a daughter to her father. After eighteen years of unlawful imprisonment in the Bastille, Alexander Manette is finally released. His daughter, Lucie is there for him. Rehabilitation is difficult. A former brilliant doctor has been reduced to a cobbler. He makes shoes as a form of self-therapy.
A few years later, the story opens onto a court case. Charles Darnay is being tried as a suspected spy. His lawyer uses the mistaken identity argument. He points out that Darnay’s looks are too ordinary to be a deciding factor. Sidney Carton, another lawyer, even looks like Darnay. So, he is acquitted.
Darnay and Carton become friends. They even fall in love with the same girl, Lucie. She decides to accept Darnay’s wedding proposal, and Carton pledges his undying and devoted love to her. Neither Lucie nor Darnay know of Carton’s devotion and how far he will go to make Lucie happy.
Meanwhile, there is a revolution brewing in France. Many years ago, Darnay left France and disowned his uncle, the Marques St. Evremerde. The aristocracy of France treated the lower classes horribly, and the Marques was a prime example of the thoughtless, abusive nature of the aristocracy at the time. Darnay objected to the actions of his uncle, and other aristocrats. This is why he fled Paris for England, and changed his name.
Of course, before Darnay can marry Lucie, he must tell her the truth about his identity. She marries him anyway, and they go on to start a family. Carton becomes a good friend to them both and is adored by their daughter, Little Lucie. He is still devoted to Lucie and now, to her daughter.
Darnay intercepts a letter from a servant of his hated uncle. She has been arrested and is begging the Marques for help. Not telling anyone he is now the new Marques, Darnay travels to Paris to help. But, as soon as he arrives, he is arrested. His wife, daughter, father-in-law, Miss Pross and her friend, Jerry go to Paris to help him. After a year and three months, Darnay finally comes to trial. Alexander Manette, who is considered a hero of the revolution because of his imprisonment, testifies for his son-in-law and Darnay is released. But, later that same day he is arrested again.
While going through papers left by Manette in his cell, it was discovered that Darnay’s father and his uncle, the former Marquis had had Manette thrown in prison. It seems that the two men had raped a young peasant girl years ago. When Manette, who was then a doctor, couldn’t save her. Then the Marquis killed her husband by working him to death, and her father died after being informed of all the horror, with a heart attack. Before being killed defending his family’s honor, the girl’s brother hid his youngest sister. When Manette refused the bribe to keep quiet, he was imprisoned. In the papers found, Manette explained the whole story and cursed the two men and all their children. The French court used this letter to convict Darnay for his father and uncle’s crimes. He is scheduled for the guillotine. Manette is horrified, and can’t withdraw his accusations.
Meanwhile, Carton has arrived in Paris. He has been searching for the men that falsely accused Darnay of espionage. He finds one of them with Miss Pross. He is her long lost brother, and is posing as a citizen of France to escape persecution in England. Carton offers the man a way out. If he will help him to switch places with Darnay, Carton will let him go. The next day Carton goes to visit Darnay. He drugs his friend, switches clothes with him, and has the man carry Darnay out, while Carton stays in the prison in his place. Carton resembles Darnay enough to pose as him. A drugged Darnay is taken away from Paris with his family. The story ends with Carton going to the guillotine.
In the preface of “A Tale of Two Cities” Charles Dickens confides on of the reasons he is writing this book is to educate people on the French revolution. Not just the romance of the time, but the realities of it.
The book begins with the iconic words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. As with all times, good things and bad things are happening, depending on where the person is in social ratings. Dickens wants his readers to see the correlations of the worlds of France and England during the time of the French revolution and the world they were in when he wrote his stories. He is also setting up the juxtaposition of alternating themes of good and evil.
One cold, dark night in late November of 1775 passengers depart from a coach, forced to walk a ways on their journey to Dover from London on foot beside the coach because the hill is too steep for the horses. While they are walking a rider approaches. At first they all think they are going to be robbed, but a passenger, Jarvis Lorry of Tellson’s Bank recognizes the rider as Jerry Cruncher, a messenger from his bank. The message tells Lorry to wait for the mademoiselle in Dover. Lorry’s return message is simply “Recalled to Life”.
After arriving in Dover, Lorry meets with a young woman, Lucie Manette. She is told that her father, long presumed dead, has been found alive. He has been taken to the home of an old servant in Paris to recuperate. Lorry asks her to accompany him to Paris to see the man. He must go to confirm identity and she to nurse her father and return him to health. She faints in shock and Miss Pross, her servant, who is fiercely loyal and protective of Lucie, rushes to help her. Lorry takes Lucie and Miss Pross to a small poor suburb of Paris, Saint Antoine. There Lorry and Lucie go to a wine shop run by Ernest Defarge and his wife, Therese. They are rough characters and in the underground revolution that is brewing. When Ernest leads them up to the room Manette is kept in they see a hole in the wall. He tells them that he lets people watch the man. The find Manette making shoes.
They can see that Manette’s mind is still in prison, where he has spent the last 18 years of his life. When they ask him his name, he says his cell number. But, as Lucie approaches, Manette notices her blond hair. He relates that he has a blond lock in a small bag hanging from his neck. He had taken it with him to recall happier times. The blond hair from his wife is a perfect match to Lucie’s. She wants to take her father away immediately, but, Lorry cautions the damage such a trip might do to Manette’s already precarious health. She insists his health and sanity would not improve in Paris. Ernest Defarge agrees with her, so they leave for England.
Five years later, we find Tellson’s Bank ready to check up on Manette. The bank is a dark and depressing place, especially because of it’s location, near where, until recently, heads of criminals were put on display by the government after execution. Jerry Cruncher and his son, little Jerry, wait outside the bank ready to run messages and errands for the bankers. They send him to the Old Bailey Courthouse to await any messages from Lorry, who is there for the case against Charles Darnay. Accused with divulging secret information to the King of France, Darnay is on trial for treason against the crown. His defense attorney, Mr. Stryver cross examines two men who have come to testify against Darnay, John Barsad and Roger Cly. He quickly discredits their testimonies because they are disreputable men. Then the prosecution calls Mr. Lorry up to the stand to say whether Darnay was on the coach with him from London to Dover from the beginning of the book. Mr. Lorry says he can’t be sure as everyone was bundled up with their heads covered. Then the prosecution calls Lucie up to the stand. She recounts that Darnay was on the ship with her coming back from Paris. He helped her tend to her father. Her testimony helps Darnay until she relates that he said Washington would be as famous as the King.
Next they call her father to the stand. He looks very respectable now, but, he doesn’t help either side as he was too ill to notice anything or anyone. The jury is still on the fence until they notice Stryver’s assistant attorney, Sidney Carton, hand a note to him. Stryver points out that it can be hard to point out the identity of someone years later, even his assistant, Carton could be mistaken for Darnay. They find Darnay innocent. As they are leaving the courthouse, Darnay praises Stryver for his defense and thanks Lucie and her father for testifying. From the shadows, Carton emerges. He’s been drinking and bemoaning his fate. He has no family or any one who cares about him or he cares about. The problems Darnay faced would be worth it for the attention of someone as wonderful as Lucie. He would like to change places with his look-alike. Carton is well educated brilliant man, but he lacks a purpose. He is idle with no ambition. Lorry has become a regular fixture in the Manette home. He converses with Miss Pross on the many suitors Lucie has, including, we find, Darnay and Carton. Of course, Miss Pross doesn’t think any of the suitors are worthy of Lucie. The only man she thinks might be good enough is her brother, Solomon. But, he has come to some bad luck. Lorry knows Solomon is not a good person. He robbed his sister, then disappeared.
The next chapter opens in Paris. The Marquis St. Evremonde is at a party given by the Monseigneur, a lord of the royal French court. The party is extravagant, and the Monseigneur is a pompous, self-important, reprobate. He has three servants to help him drink his chocolate. When the Monseigneur snubs the Marquis he is furious. Leaving in a huff, he has his carriage driven fast and recklessly through the city streets, enjoying everyone rushing to get out of the way. Suddenly the coach stops, he has mowed down a little boy. Unfeelingly, the Marquis is only worried about his coach and doesn’t care at all about the death of a little boy. He throws the father a coin, just as another man comes up. It is Ernest Defarge, the wine shop merchant. He tells the father that at least his son died happy instead spending his life in the unhappiness his position in France would give him. The Marquis calls Defarge a philosopher and throws him a coin, too. As the Marquis is leaving, a coin is thrown back into his carriage. He is incensed, saying that he would kill all of the peasants if it was up to him.
As he travels on to his own land, more and more despair is prevalent. He asks a man who is staring at his coach what he is looking at. The man says he saw someone hanging on to the Marquis’ carriage. He scoffs at him, as well as the woman begging him to put a marker on her husband’s grave. The Marquis rushes into his stately manor inquiring of the servants if his nephew, Charles has arrived yet from England.
Charles Darnay is his nephew. When he arrives later that night, Darnay says he wants nothing to do with the title and plans to denounce it when his uncle dies. Darnay believes the title is linked to misery. The people under the Marquis have been treated shamefully, and he doesn’t want to link his future to such a title. The next morning the Marquis is found stabbed in his bed, with a note attached that read, “Drive him fast to his tomb. This from Jacques.” During the French revolution, the resistance identified each other by the name Jacques.
After a year has passed we find Darnay making a moderate living as a French teacher in England. His courtship of Lucie has progressed to the point where he feels safe to discuss his love of her with her father. He tells Manette his true name isn’t Darnay and offers to confess his name. But, Manette stops him, if his wishes come true, Darnay can tell him on his wedding day. That same evening Stryver and Carton are working together in Stryver’s apartment. Stryver tells Carton he plans on proposing to Lucie. Carton says he doesn’t care, but he proceeds to get drunk. Stryver suggests that Carton find an nice woman with some property and get married, too. Otherwise, he will end up poor and alone.
When Stryver does plan on making his big proposal he firsts stops at the bank to tell Lorry. He advises Stryver to wait until he can find out where the wind blows with Lucie’s affections and Stryver’s chances of an acceptance. The two men meet later and Lorry tells Stryder that if he had proposed, she would have said no. Stryver is angry, considering Lucie a vain idiot. He asks Lorry to forget he ever thought about asking her.
Meanwhile, Carton comes across Lucie in his regular nightly wanderings. He tells her of his wasted life. She thinks her friendship could save him, and urges him to make his life important. Although not admitting his love for her, he says he would do anything for her, even give his own life. He doesn’t feel he deserves her love, but her pity will do.
The next scene involves Jerry Cruncher. He comes across a funeral procession for Roger Cly. It erupts into a great party as people mock Cly’s reputation as a false accuser. That night Jerry tells his wife he is going fishing. But, actually he is going to dig up Cly’s body. Jerry’s son follows him where he discovers his father is a resurrection-man. He unearths bodies and sells them to science. Little Jerry wants to do that for a living when he grows up.
In Paris the revolution is simmering and ready to boil. The Defarges are having regular meetings in the room Manette stayed in while in their wine shop. Mrs. Defarge is knitting. She knits in the names of all the aristocrats the resistance intends to execute. They find out there is a spy living among them, John Barsad. He visits the wine shop, thinking they don’t know who he is, and tells them that the daughter of Alexander Manette is going to marry Charles Darnay, the nephew of the late Marquis. After he leaves, Mrs. Defarge knits Darnay’s name in, even though it saddens her husband who was a devoted servant to Manette.
Finally Lucie and Darnay’s wedding day arrives. He goes into a private room with Manette who emerges afterwards pale and trembling. While the couple go away for their honeymoon, Manette stays with Jarvis Lorry. He notices Manette retreating into a depression. He is at his shoemaker’s bench again. But, on the tenth day, when the honeymooners are due home, Manette leaves his bench behind and seems much better. Miss Pross and Lorry convince Manette to allow them to destroy his shoemaker’s bench so he won’t be tempted to fall into the pattern again. The first visitor of the newlyweds is Carton. He apologizes for his drunkenness during Darnay’s trial and asks to become a more frequent visitor if they can stand him. After he leaves Darnay is reluctant, but gives into Lucie who wants to help Carton.
Five years progress. The world is changing. Lucie and Darnay have children. A little girl named Lucie and a boy that dies young. Lorry notices many of the French people are transporting their wealth to England.
Meanwhile, in Paris, at the Bastille, Defarge, his wife and their group of revolutionist storm the prison. Defarge demands to be shown to Manette’s cell. When he comes back, he sees his wife cutting off the head of the guard. The violence continues to escalate. They torch the home of the late Marquis. The group finds a wealthy man named Foulon who tried to hide in the country. Since he had said the poor could eat grass if they are starving, they fill his mouth with grass, after hanging him and cutting off his head. Afterwards, the group goes home to play with their children and make love.
Three years pass, and the violence in France is still stirring. Lorry’s boss wants him to go there and retrieve the papers from their branch in Paris before they are destroyed. Darnay tries to dissuade him from going, but, it’s Lorry’s job. He says he will bring Jerry Cruncher along as a body guard. Suddenly Lorry receives a letter addressed to the Marquis St. Evremonde. Darnay convinces Lorry that he knows the Marquis and can get the letter to him. When Darnay sees the letter is from a faithful servant of his uncle’s who is in trouble with the revolutionists, he makes plans to go to France to help the man. He leaves a note for Lucie and Dr. Manette.
Darnay is quickly arrested and put in solitary confinement in the jail known as La Force. Meanwhile, Lucie, Manette and Miss Pross head to Paris to rescue Darnay. Going straight to see Lorry at the bank, they beg for his help getting Darnay out of La Force. Manette tells Lorry he wants to use his status as a former prisoner of Bastille to help his son-in-law. Lorry shows him the people sharpening tools outside the window. They plan to kill the prisoners of La Force. Manette runs out into the middle of the group, asking for their help.
Lorry takes Lucie, her daughter and Miss Pross to a house for safekeeping. He sets Jerry Cruncher as guard. Back at the bank, Defarge brings a message from Manette to Lorry. Following Manette’s instructions, Lorry takes Defarge to where Lucie is staying. Defarge brings his wife so she can also ‘protect’ Lucie. After reading a note from her husband asking her to have courage, Lucie begs Mrs. Defarge to spare her husband. But, she responds with the comment that the revolution will stop for no one, including Lucie and her family.
Marnette returns with a new strength. He has seen Darnay and has persuaded the tribunal to spare him. Marnette has also arranged to be the physician for three prisons so he can keep an eye on Darnay. For a year and three months, Darnay stays in prison. Each day Lucie stands in the street in view of a window that Darnay can see her from. Even through the terrors around her, she remains. One day, her father arrives to tell her the next day is her husband’s trial and he knows it will turn out well.
At his trial Darnay does fare well. The testimonies of Lucie, Manette the martyr of the people, and Gabelle, the man Darnay came to France to help all come together to get his aquittal. Gabelle testifies that long before the revolution, Darnay relinquished his title because he didn’t agree the treatment of people by his uncle. The crowd of revolutionists applaud Darnay and carry him out on their shoulders. The next day soldiers come to arrest Darnay again. When Manette asks them who accuses him, the soldier replies that it is Defarge and his wife, and one other person. Manette will be told the identity of the other accuser. Things don’t look promising.
While this is happening Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher come across her brother posing as Solomon. Cruncher recognizes him from Darnay’s trial in England, but can’t remember the name he used. Suddenly Carton appears and says it’s Barsad, and he is a spy. Carton has been laying low in case he was needed, but having heard Solomon speaking of the arrest of Darnay, he knows the time is now. Carton threatens to reveal Barsad’s true identity if he doesn’t go to the bank with him to see Lorry. When they reach Lorry Carton lets Barsard know that if he doesn’t help him with a plan to free Darnay he will reveal him to the revolutionaries and tell them he saw him talking to Cly, a well known British spy. Barsad contends that Cly is dead, but Cruncher retorts that the casket Cly was supposed to be in was full of rocks. Carton’s plan involves a stop by a pharmacists where he reminisces about his childhood priest and the lessons he was taught about life after death. He is at peace with his decision.
Darnay is on trial, again. His accusers are named, the Dr. Manette and the Defarges. Manette denies ever making an accusation against his son-in-law. But, Ernest Defarge produces the letter he found in Manette’s cell. The letter reveals the actions of the Marquis St. Evremonde, Darnay’s father and uncle. Manette was called to tend to a girl dying of a fever and her brother who was dying of a stab wound. Manette was unable to save the girl. She had been brutally raped by Darnay’s uncle, who also stabbed her brother and killed her husband. The next day Darnay’s mother came to find the girl’s little sister so as to help her and keep her safe, but she could not be found. Then the Marquis and his brother came to see Manette. He wouldn’t take it so he was tossed into Bastille for 18 years. While there he wrote a letter explaining what happened and cursing the Marquis and all his prodigy. After hearing this the jury sentenced Darnay to the guillotine to pay for his father and uncle’s sins.
The same crowd who had hailed Darnay the day before now roared against him as he is escorted back to prison. Darnay urges Manette to not blame himself for the outcome. Banard, who is charged with taking him to prison allows one last embrace between Darnay and Lucie. Carton tells Manette to try one last time to change the mind of the persecutors, while he assists Lucie back home. He also asks Manette to meet him at the bank afterward.
Carton stops by the Defarge’s wine shop. They are amazed at how much he resembles Darnay. Mrs. Defarge is ranting about the Marquis. She wants to accuse Manette, Lucie and little Lucie of espionage. Defarge tries to tell his wife she is going overboard, but she insists as the sister of the girl and boy killed by Darnay’s uncle it is her right to get revenge on his whole family. Carton pays for his wine and leaves.
Manette arrives at the bank almost out of his mind. He is frantically trying to find his shoemaker’s bench. Carton calms him and takes the papers from his pocket that allow them to leave France. He then gives them to Lorry to hold and includes his own papers. He insists that they must leave tomorrow. Mrs. Defarge plans on having them all arrested. Carton then leaves with a finale farewell to the absent Lucie.
Carton goes to visit Darnay in his cell. Fifty two people are scheduled to die the next day. Basard is undercover as a guard of the prison and gets Carton in. He convinces Darnay to change clothes with him, all the time Darnay is telling Carton there is no escape.Carton has Darnay write a note. He tells Darnay the note is to no one, but, it is obvious it is a note to Lucie. As Darnay is writing the note, he becomes dizzy. Carton has taken a drug he obtained from the pharmacists and is holding it by Darnay’s nose. After Darnay loses consciousness Barsad comes in to remove him. The men who help him think they are removing Carton who was overcome with his friends upcoming death and fainted. Barsad is to take Darnay to his family so they can leave that night. Carton keeps his face averted and all who see him think he is Darnay, except for a young seamstress who is also falsely accused. She asks him if he is dying for his friend and he replies, yes and for his family. She asks to hold his hand for courage.
As this is happening, Miss Pross is getting the rest of their belongings together. Mrs. Defarge arrives hoping to find Lucie mourning the upcoming death of her husband, a prisoner. It is illegal, and she hopes to pile it on top of other made up charges in order to executed her and her daughter. But, she meets with Miss Pross, who has sent Cruncher down to the carriage so they won’t be seen leaving at the same time. Miss Pross and Mrs. Defarge fight, Mrs. Defarge pulls a gun and it accidentally goes off, killing Mrs. Defarge and deafening Miss Pross.
The time of the guillotine is at hand. Fifty two people are led to their deaths, among them Carton, who is posing as Darnay and a young seamstress. She is frightened, but gathering strength from the surety of Carton. The crowd watching is bloodthirsty, but as they call for Mrs. Defarge, she is not there to witness what she brought about, although she never misses the spectacle. Carton doesn’t hear the disparaging cries, after a cursory glance at the crowd for familiar faces, he begins to dream of the future of everyone he leaves behind. He sees Charles and Lucie Darnay growing old together, holding a special love for him in their hearts always, he sees a Manette happy and little Lucie growing to be a lovely woman. And, he sees another son for Lucie and Charles with his name. That young Sidney Carton will remove the stains from the name. Through them he will live on. Then the book closes with another iconic line; “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.”
Alexander Manette – a brilliant physician in France, and the father of Lucie. After refusing to take a bribe to keep silent about a terrible crime he witnessed by two aristocrats in France, he was incarcerated in the French prison, Bastille. He spent eighteen years there. The torture was so horrendous that he took up cobbling shoes to keep a semblance of his sanity. When he was finally released it took great care from his daughter, Lucie to help him recover. As the story progresses he recovers more and more of his self. Although he does have small relapses after emotional shocks, his recovery keeps progressing. By the end of the book, he is back to being the strong self-sufficient doctor.
Lucie Manette – a beautiful and accomplished young French woman raised in England. She is the golden thread that pulls everyone around her together. Her strength, love and compassion heal the souls of the men in her life. She helps her father return from the a virtual death and become a whole man,and she helps Sidney Carton go from being a ruthless, uncaring lawyer into the hero of the story. At the beginning of the story she is the ward of Tellson’s Bank because her parents are both presumed dead. After her father is found alive in the Bastille, the officers of the bank keep tabs and check up on her.
Charles Darnay – although tried multiple times for crimes involving dishonesty, he is the most honest and virtuous man in the story. He denies his birthright as an aristocrat in France because he despises the cruelties shown by the aristocracy to the common people. He chooses to live in England and work as a French teacher. He changes his name so no one can connect him with his family and title in France. He shows his honesty when he reveals who he is before he marries Lucie, and he shows his courage when he goes back to France to help his uncle’s servant who is in prison.
Sidney Carton – he is an indolent alcoholic lawyer. He doesn’t care about anyone in the beginning of the story. They call him the Jackel because he is a devious lawyer. He and Darnay look a lot alike, but their virtues are polar opposites, until they both fall in love with the same woman. The love he feels for Lucie brings out the best side of Carton. By the end of the story his character has changed so much, that he gives his life to make Lucie happy by saving her husband.
Miss Pross – Lucie’s maid. She is strong willed and loyal. Fiercely protective of Lucie, she is the epitome of order and is the perfect juxtaposition to Madame Defarge and the chaos of the revolution.
Ernest Defarge – a wine merchant in France. He was a servant to Manette before he was imprisoned and still bears feelings of kindness towards the man. His wife sees this kindness as a weakness. He believes in a better France whatever the cost. He is a natural leader.
Therese Defarge – the wife of Ernest. She is cruel and revengeful. She uses the revolution to exact her almost manic revenge on the aristocracy. She spends most of her time knitting names of people who must die for the revolution. Extremely bloodthirsty, she brings about the deaths of countless French people including women and children.
Jarvis Lorry – an officer at the Tellson’s Bank. He is an older bachelor with a strong sense of loyalty and moral duty. He becomes a good friend to Manette and his family, helping out whenever possible. Throughout the book, he provides the background needed to move the plot along.