A Tale of Two Cities - Published in weekly parts Apr 1859 - Nov 1859
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Dickens' twelfth novel was published in his new weekly journal, All the Year Round, without illustrations. Simultaneously with the weekly parts, the novel was also published in monthly parts with illustrations by Hablot Browne. An American edition was also published, in slightly later weekly parts (May to December 1859), in Harper's Weekly.
The novel, which begins It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and Dickens researched the historical background meticulously, using his friend Thomas Carlyle's History of the French Revolution as a reference. This historical accuracy, with less reliance on character development and humor, led to the rather un-Dickensian feel of the book.
Plot (contains spoilers)
The year is 1775 and Dr. Manette, imprisoned unjustly 18 years ago, has been released from the Bastille prison in Paris. His daughter, Lucie, who had thought he was dead, and Jarvis Lorry, an agent for Tellson's Bank, which has offices in London and Paris, bring him to England.
Skip ahead 5 years to 1780. Frenchman Charles Darnay is on trial for treason, accused of passing English secrets to the French and Americans during the American Revolution. He is acquitted when eyewitnesses prove unreliable partly because of Darnay's resemblance to barrister Sydney Carton.
In the years leading up to the fall of the Bastille in 1789 Darnay, Carton, and Stryver all fall in love with Lucie Manette. Carton, an irresponsible and unambitious character who drinks too much, tells Lucie that she has inspired him to think how his life could have been better and that he would make any sacrifice for her. Stryver, Carton's barrister friend, is persuaded against asking for Lucie's hand by Mr. Lorry, now a close friend to the Manettes. Lucie marries Darnay and they have a daughter.
Meanwhile, in France, Darnay's uncle the Marquis St. Evremonde is murdered in his bed for crimes committed against the people. Charles has told Dr. Manette of his relationship to the French aristocracy, but no one else.
By 1792 the revolution has escalated in France. Mr. Lorry receives a letter at Tellson's Bank addressed to the Marquis St. Evremonde whom no one seems to know. Darnay sees the letter and tells Lorry that he knows the Marquis and will deliver it. The letter is from a friend, Gabelle, wrongfully imprisoned in Paris and asked the Marquis (Darnay) for help. Knowing that the trip will be dangerous, Charles feels compelled to go and help his friend. He leaves for France without telling anyone the real reason.
On the road to Paris, Darnay (St Evremonde) is recognized by the mob and taken to prison in Paris. Mr. Lorry, in Paris on business, is joined by Dr. Manette, Lucie, Miss Pross, and later, Sydney Carton.
Dr. Manette has influence over the citizens due to his imprisonment in the Bastille and is able to have Darnay released but he is retaken the next day on a charge by the Defarges and is sentenced to death within 24 hours.
Sydney Carton has influence on one of the jailers and is able to enter the cell, drug Darnay, exchange clothes, and have the jailer remove Darnay, leaving Carton to die in his stead.
On the guillotine Carton peacefully declares 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.
| Principal Characters:
Character descriptions contain spoilers
Dr. Alexandre Manette
Marquis de St Evrémonde
John Barsad/Soloman Pross
Mender of Roads
| A Tale of Two Cities Links:|
The Dickens Page
The Victorian Web
A Far Better Rest - by Susanne Alleyn
Teaching A Tale of Two Cities
SparkNotes - Excellent!
Wikipedia - A Tale of Two Cities
The Two Cities
Places in the novel
Tellson's Bank - Temple Bar
Tellson's Bank, in A Tale of Two Cities, is situated at Temple Bar where the City of London meets the City of Westminster and Fleet Street becomes the Strand. Child & Co bank has operated from this site since the 1660s and Dickens used the bank as a model for Tellson's.
Temple Bar, an archway designed by Christopher Wren, was erected on the spot in 1672, replacing a wooden archway damaged in the great fire of 1666. By 1878 Temple Bar had become a impediment to the increasing traffic in the area and was removed to a private residence. It was brought back to the City of London in 2003 and installed in St. Pauls Churchyard. A monument with a dragon atop marks the spot where Temple Bar stood in Dickens' time.