"The Golden Thread" redirects here. For the 1965 Indian film, see Subarnarekha (film).
A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities is an historical novel published in 1859 by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris, and his release to live in London with his daughter Lucie whom he had never met. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. In the Introduction to the Encyclopedia of Adventure Fiction, critic Don D'Ammassa argues that it is an adventure novel because the protagonists are in constant danger of being imprisoned or killed.
As Dickens's best-known work of historical fiction, A Tale of Two Cities is said to be one of the best-selling novels of all time. In 2003, the novel was ranked 63rd on the BBC's The Big Read poll. The novel has been adapted for film, television, radio, and the stage, and has continued to influence popular culture.
Book the First: Recalled to Life
Dickens opens the novel with a sentence that has become famous:
Plot of the first book
In 1775, a man flags down the nightly mail-coach en route from London to Dover. The man is Jerry Cruncher, an employee of Tellson's Bank in London; he carries a message for Jarvis Lorry, one of the bank's managers. Lorry sends Jerry back with the cryptic response "Recalled to Life", referring to Alexandre Manette, a French physician who has been released from the Bastille after an 18-year imprisonment. On arrival in Dover, Lorry meets Dr Manette's daughter Lucie and her governess, Miss Pross. Believing her father to be dead, Lucie faints at the news that he is alive. Lorry takes her to France for a reunion.
In the Paris neighbourhood of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Dr Manette has been given lodgings by his former servant Ernest Defarge and his wife Therese, the owners of a wine shop. Lorry and Lucie find him in a small garret where he spends much of his time distractedly and obsessively making shoes – a skill he learned in prison. Lorry and Lucie take him back to England.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread
"The Sea Still Rises", an illustration for Book 2, Chapter 22 by "Phiz"
Plot of the second book
In 1780, French émigré Charles Darnay is on trial in London for treason against the British Crown. The key witnesses against him are two British spies, John Barsad and Roger Cly. Barsad claims that he would recognise Darnay anywhere, but Darnay's lawyer points out that his colleague in court, Sydney Carton, bears a strong resemblance to the prisoner. With Barsad's testimony thus undermined, Darnay is acquitted.
In Paris, the hated and abusive Marquis St. Evrémonde orders his carriage driven recklessly fast through the crowded streets, hitting and killing a child. The Marquis throws a coin to the child's father, Gaspard, to compensate him for his loss; as the Marquis drives on, a coin is flung back into the carriage.
Arriving at his country château, the Marquis meets his nephew and heir, Darnay. Out of disgust with his aristocratic family, the nephew has shed his real surname (St. Evrémonde) and anglicised his mother's maiden name, D'Aulnais, to Darnay. He despises the Marquis' views that "Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery ... will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof [looking up to it] shuts out the sky." That night, Gaspard creeps into the château and stabs and kills the Marquis in his sleep. He avoids capture for nearly a year, but is eventually hanged in the nearby village.
In London, Carton confesses his love to Lucie, but quickly recognises that she cannot love him in return. Carton nevertheless promises to "embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you". Darnay asks for Dr Manette's permission to wed Lucie, and he agrees. On the morning of the marriage, Darnay reveals his real name and lineage to Dr Manette, facts that Manette had asked him to withhold until that day. The unexpected revelation causes Dr Manette to revert to his obsessive shoemaking. He returns to sanity before their return from honeymoon, and the whole incident is kept secret from Lucie.
As the years pass, Lucie and Charles raise a family in England: a son (who dies in childhood) and a daughter, little Lucie. Lorry finds a second home with them. Carton, though he seldom visits, is accepted as a close friend and becomes a special favourite of little Lucie.
In Paris in July 1789, the Defarges help to lead the storming of the Bastille, a symbol of royal tyranny. Defarge enters Dr Manette's former cell, One Hundred and Five, North Tower, and searches it thoroughly. Throughout the countryside, local officials and other representatives of the aristocracy are slaughtered, and the St. Evrémonde château is burned to the ground.
In 1792, Lorry travels to France to save important documents stored at Tellson's Paris branch from the chaos of the French Revolution. Darnay receives a letter from Gabelle, one of his uncle's former servants who has been imprisoned by the revolutionaries, pleading for the Marquis to help secure his release. Without telling his family or revealing his position as the new Marquis, Darnay also sets out for Paris.
Book the Third: The Track of a Storm
Plot of the third book
Shortly after Darnay's arrival in Paris, he is denounced as an illegal emigrated aristocrat and jailed in La Force Prison. Hoping to be able to save him, Dr Manette, Lucie and her daughter, Jerry, and Miss Pross all move to Paris and take up lodgings near those of Lorry.
Fifteen months later Darnay is finally tried, and Dr Manette – viewed as a popular hero after his long imprisonment in the Bastille – testifies on his behalf. Darnay is acquitted and released, but is re-arrested later that day.
While running errands with Jerry, Miss Pross is amazed to run into her long-lost brother Solomon. Now posing as a Frenchman, he is an employee of the revolutionary authorities and one of Darnay's gaolers. Carton also recognises him – as Barsad, one of the spies who tried to frame Darnay at his trial in 1780. Solomon is desperate to keep his true identity hidden, and by threatening to denounce him as an English spy Carton blackmails Solomon into helping with a plan.
Darnay's retrial the following day is based on new denunciations by the Defarges, and on a manuscript that Defarge had found when searching Dr Manette's prison cell. Defarge reads the manuscript to the tribunal. In it, Dr Manette had recorded that his imprisonment was at the hands of the Evrémonde brothers (Darnay's father and uncle) after he had tried to report their crimes. Darnay's uncle had kidnapped and raped a peasant girl. Her brother, first hiding his remaining younger sister, had gone to confront the uncle, who ran him through with his sword. In spite of the best efforts of Dr Manette, both the elder sister and the brother died. Dr Manette's manuscript concludes by denouncing the Evrémondes, "them and their descendants, to the last of their race." The jury takes that as irrefutable proof of Darnay's guilt, and he is condemned to die by the guillotine the next afternoon.
In the Defarges' wine shop, Carton discovers that Madame Defarge was the surviving sister of the peasant family, and he overhears her planning to denounce both Lucie and her daughter. He visits Lorry and warns him that Lucie and her family must be ready to flee the next day. He extracts a promise that Lorry and the family will be waiting for him in the carriage at 2 pm, ready to leave the very instant he returns.
Shortly before the executions are due to begin, Carton puts his plan into effect and, with Barsad's reluctant assistance, obtains access to Darnay's prison cell. Carton intends to be executed in Darnay's place. He drugs Darnay and trades clothes with him, then has Barsad carry Darnay out to the carriage where Lorry and the family are expecting Carton. They flee to England with Darnay, who gradually regains consciousness during the journey.
Meanwhile, Madame Defarge goes to Lucie's lodgings, hoping to apprehend her and her daughter. There she finds Miss Pross, who is waiting for Jerry so they can follow the family out of Paris. The two women struggle and Madame Defarge's pistol discharges, killing her outright and permanently deafening Miss Pross.
The seamstress and Carton, an illustration for Book 3, Chapter 15 by John McLenan (1859)
As Carton waits to board the tumbril that will take him to his execution, he is approached by another prisoner, a seamstress. Carton comforts her, telling her that their ends will be quick and that the worries of their lives will not follow them into "the better land where ... [they] will be mercifully sheltered." A final prophetic thought runs through his mind in which he visualises a better future for the family and their descendants.
Dickens closes with Carton's final prophetic vision as he contemplates the guillotine:
In order of appearance:
Book the First (November 1775)
Illustration from a serialised edition of the story, showing three tricoteuses knitting, with the Vengeance standing in the centre.
Book the Second (Five years later)
Book the Third (Autumn 1792)
While performing in The Frozen Deep, Dickens was given a play to read called The Dead Heart by Watts Phillips which had the historical setting, the basic storyline, and the climax that Dickens used in A Tale of Two Cities. The play was produced while A Tale of Two Cities was being serialised in All the Year Round and led to talk of plagiarism.
Other sources are The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle (especially important for the novel's rhetoric and symbolism); Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton; The Castle Spector by Matthew Lewis; Travels in France by Arthur Young; and Tableau de Paris by Louis-Sébastien Mercier. Dickens also used material from an account of imprisonment during the Terror by Beaumarchais, and records of the trial of a French spy published in The Annual Register.
Research published in The Dickensian in 1963 suggests that the house at 1 Greek Street, now The House of St Barnabas, forms the basis for Dr Manette and Lucie's London house.
The "golden arm" (an arm-and-hammer symbol, an ancient sign of the gold-beater's craft) is now housed at the Charles Dickens Museum, but a modern replica could be seen sticking out of the wall near the Pillars of Hercules pub at the western end of Manette Street (formerly Rose Street), until this building was demolished in 2017.
The 45-chapter novel was published in 31 weekly instalments in Dickens's new literary periodical titled All the Year Round. From April 1859 to November 1859, Dickens also republished the chapters as eight monthly sections in green covers. All but three of Dickens's previous novels had appeared as monthly instalments prior to publication as books. The first weekly instalment of A Tale of Two Cities ran in the first issue of All the Year Round on 30 April 1859. The last ran 30 weeks later, on 26 November.
The Telegraph and The Guardian claim that it is one of the best-selling novels of all time. WorldCat listed 1,529 editions of the work, including 1,305 print editions.
A Tale of Two Cities is one of only two works of historical fiction by Charles Dickens (the other being Barnaby Rudge).
Dickens uses literal translations of French idioms for characters who cannot speak English, such as "What the devil do you do in that galley there?!!" and "Where is my wife? … Here you see me." The Penguin Classics edition of the novel notes that "Not all readers have regarded the experiment as a success."
J. L. Borges quipped: "Dickens lived in London. In his book A Tale of Two Cities, based on the French Revolution, we see that he really could not write a tale of two cities. He was a resident of just one city: London."
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 platonic but certainly romantic. Lucie Manette has been noted as resembling Ternan physically.
After starring in a play by Wilkie Collins titled The Frozen Deep, Dickens was first inspired to write Two Cities. 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 among Charles Darnay, Lucie Manette, and Sydney Carton in Two Cities.
Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay may bear importantly on Dickens's 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. Carton is Darnay made bad. Carton suggests as much:
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". 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. He might have been quite aware that between them, Carton and Darnay shared his own initials, a frequent property of his characters. However, he denied it when asked.
Dickens dedicated the book to the Whig and Liberal prime minister Lord John Russell: "In remembrance of many public services and private kindnesses."
The reports published in the press were divergent. Thomas Carlyle was enthusiastic, which made the author "heartily delighted". On the other hand, Mrs. Oliphant found "little of Dickens" in the novel. The critic James Fitzjames Stephen called it a "dish of puppy pie and stewed cat which is not disguised by the cooking" and "a disjointed framework for the display of the tawdry wares, which are Mr Dickens's stock-in-trade.
John Martin-Harvey as Sidney Carton (1899)
Stage musical adaptations of the novel include:
At the 1984 Democratic National Convention in the US, the keynote speaker, Mario Cuomo of New York, delivered a scathing criticism of then-President Ronald Reagan's comparison of the United States to a "shining city on a hill" with an allusion to Dickens's novel, saying: "Mr President, you ought to know that this nation is more a Tale of Two Cities than it is just a 'Shining City on a Hill'."
A Tale of Two Cities served as an inspiration to the 2012 Batman film The Dark Knight Rises by Christopher Nolan. The character of Bane is in part inspired by Dickens's Madame Defarge: He organises kangaroo court trials against the ruling elite of the city of Gotham and is seen knitting in one of the trial scenes like Madame Defarge. There are other hints to Dickens's novel, such as Talia al Ghul being obsessed with revenge and having a close relationship to the hero, and Bane's catchphrase "the fire rises" as an ode to one of the book's chapters. Bane's associate Barsard is named after a supporting character in the novel. In the film's final scene, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) reads aloud the closing lines of Sydney Carton’s inner monologue—"It's a far far better thing I do than I have ever done, it's a far far better rest I go to than I have ever known"—directly from the novel.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
What happens in book 2 of A Tale of Two Cities?
In Book 2, Chapter 2 of A Tale of Two Cities, titled 'A Sight Summary,' Jerry and Jarvis Lorry go to court to take in a treason trial. It turns out two of the witnesses are Lucie and Dr. Manette, who we remember from Book 1. And the man on trial is someone who will become important later on: Charles Darnay.
What happens in A Tale of 2 Cities?
The novel tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris, and his release to live in London with his daughter Lucie whom he had never met. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
Who is the prisoner in Tale of Two Cities book 2?
The accused, Charles Darnay, stands quietly and calmly before the crowd until he catches sight of Lucie and Doctor Manette , who are witnesses against him.