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A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. With well over 200 million copies sold, it ranks among the most famous works in the history of fictional literature. The novel depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy.

 

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Alex Ruth

Alex Ruth

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Everyone praised Lucie for her compassion and kindness, but sometimes regarded her as a child. For instance, when Charles went to Paris, he did not inform her. Similarly, because Dr. Manette loved her, he sheltered her from harm and spent countless hours working at the prisons to save Charles, who was persistently loving and loyal towards Lucie. However, Madame DeFarge loathed Lucie because of the misdeed Charles‘s family had done to her sister.

Article: A Tale of Two Cities: Luc...
Source: A Tale of Two Cities Luci...

As in many of Dickens' stories, prisons figure prominently in this novel. Imprisonment's ill effects upon the health of inmates is shown in Doctor Manette's mental illness and the pitiful state of shoemaking labor he is reduced to in order to survive. The oppressiveness of penal time is illustrated in the litany of "eighteen years" that Mr. Lorry dreams before retrieving the doctor, the count of the brutally tortured woman who lies bound and repeats her 12 count monologue until her death, and Charles Darnay's marking the hours by the chimes of the church bell. Dickens' descriptions of the harsh punishments given for minor offenses in both France and England connects the two regimes and serves as an implicit warning to Dickens' fellow countrymen that a bloody revolution is the result of wrongs done in the name of the people.

Article: A Tale of Two Cities: The...
Source: Novelguide

Dickens uses irony very effectively throughout the narrative. Almost all the characters and situations of the plot are touched in some way by irony. It is ironic that Dr. Manette, who seeks revenge against the Evremondes, should find himself the father-in-law to a member of the Evremonde clan. It is further ironic that his love for Lucie and Darnay destroys the vengeance he feels and restores him to health and wholeness. It is ironic that the evil and cruel Madame Defarge turns out to be the missing sister that Darnay has been seeking ever since his mother’s death. Darnay's dislike of Carton is also extremely ironic, since Carton is the man who becomes his savior. Similarly, Dr. Manette's letter, written while imprisoned, becomes the very instrument that condemns his son-in-law to death. There is irony at the end of the novel when the drugged and sluggish Darnay, the symbol of goodness and nobility, resembles the alcoholic Carton, the symbol of a wasted life, in such a realistic manner that he gets away safely. Madame Defarge’s end is also filled with irony. She goes to Lucie’s lodging, seeking evidence to imprison Darnay’s wife and sentence her to death; instead, she herself dies when her own gun discharges and kills her instantly. In these instances and many more, Dickens heightens the underlying meaning of his novel through his sophisticated use of irony.

Article: A Tale of Two Cities: THE...
Source: BestNotes

The major theme that runs through the story is that of resurrection. It is suggested by the title of the first book "Recalled to Life" and is present throughout the novel. Dr. Manette, who has been buried alive in prison is resurrected, when he is rescued and brought to freedom; then Lucie nurses him back to life, health, and happiness. Darnay is also saved from death on three different occasions, once by Dr. Manette and twice by Sydney Carton. Roger Cly, the police spy, fakes his own death and is then resurrected to play a part in the novel. Even Madame Defarge is, in a way, resurrected, when she ironically surfaces as the lost sister that Darnay has been seeking to find for many years. Sydney Carton is also resurrected through his death; he is brought back to wholeness from his wasted existence through his noble sacrifice. As he prepares to die, he says that he is doing the best thing ever in his life.

Article: A Tale of Two Cities: THE...
Source: BestNotes

Through the secrets kept by different characters, A Tale of Two Cities also explores a more general question about the human condition: what can we really know about other people, including those we’re closest to? Even Lucie cannot fathom the depths of Dr. Manette’s tortured mind, while Sydney Carton remains a mystery to everybody. Ultimately, through Lucie’s example, the novel shows that, in fact, you can’t ever know everything about other people. Instead, it suggests that love and faith are the only things that can bridge the gap between two individuals.

Article: A Tale of Two Cities: The...
Source: LitCharts.com
Alex Ruth

Alex Ruth

33 Knowledge Cards 

You never really know what people are going through if you don't know someone. This novel evinces that there are definitely hidden secrets that people have that can cause pain. Without the knowledge of what a person has gone through, you can't truly judge them or know them.

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Madame Defarge with her knitting and Lucie Manette weaving her “golden thread” both resemble the Fates, goddesses from Greek mythology who literally controlled the “threads” of human lives. As the presence of these two Fate figures suggests, A Tale of Two Cities is deeply concerned with human destiny. In particular, the novel explores how the fates of individuals are shaped by their personal histories and the broader forces of political history. For instance, both Charles and Dr. Manette try to shape and change history. Charles seeks to escape from his family’s cruel aristocratic history and make his own way in London, but is inevitably drawn “like a magnet” back to France where he must face his family’s past. Later in the novel, Dr. Manette seeks to use his influence within the Revolution to try to save Charles’s life from the revolutionaries, but Dr. Manette’s own forgotten past resurfaces in the form of an old letter that dooms Charles. Through these failures of characters to change the flow of history or to escape their own pasts, A Tale of Two Cities suggests that the force of history can be broken not by earthly appeals to justice or political influence, but only through Christian self-sacrifice, such as Carton’s self-sacrifice that saves Charles at the end of the novel.

Article: A Tale of Two Cities: The...
Source: LitCharts.com

The poor of England have it pretty bad. The poor of France have it really, really bad. There’s no food, the noblemen press rural peasants to give up every cent they earn to fund exorbitant parties for the rich. And folks get locked up for decades without ever getting to go to trial. Though this is France in the 1780s, Dickens doesn't expect this sort of suffering to remain in the past: the causes of suffering, he claims, aren’t historical. In fact, the prime cause of human suffering might just be human nature itself.

Article: A Tale of Two Cities Them...
Source: Shmoop University, Inc.
Alex Ruth

Alex Ruth

33 Knowledge Cards 

Through Dickens' strong descriptions of the poor class and their struggles, he engages the reader so much. What is interesting about this novel is that it is non-fiction. The events in this book were real and the people affected by the Revolution were real people. Empathy from the reader helps to make this novel worth reading.

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This is a novel about war. But it’s also a novel about devotion. How much will you sacrifice to ensure that your family survives? Can you shoulder the blame for the actions of the past? Even if you can, should you? These questions and others like them become central to the workings of A Tale of Two Cities. Various types of family ties thread through this novel, offering multiple opportunities to compare the ways that families deal with difficult situations. Because the aristocracy in France passed on power through inherited titles and lands, entire families became the targets of the revolutionary uprisings which sparked the new regime. Of course, this quickly becomes a novel about how families fall apart, as well. But that’s another story.

Article: A Tale of Two Cities Them...
Source: Shmoop University, Inc.

Class struggle is inevitable in a novel concerning the French Revolution. Dickens chooses a side, ultimately showing opposition to the Revolution due to the ruthless and uncontrolled force of its aroused mobs. Even so, the story of the Marquis's rape of the peasant along with other details of aristocratic mistreatment of the lower classes provide some justification for the goals of the French mob. In the end, he portrays the mob as having moved beyond the pale to a degree beyond what happened in England; the French mob acts with such force that it resembles a natural element like fire or water.

Article: Tale of Two Cities Themes
Source: GradeSaver
Alex Ruth

Alex Ruth

33 Knowledge Cards 

This novel had a lot of hidden messages. For instance, the French Revolution was largely caused by the fault of the French government. The government was selfish and sifened off large amounts of money for themselves, resulting in a very big poor class. By making the dichotomy of class evident in the novel, Dickens shows the responsibility of the government for the Revolution.

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Resurrection is the overriding theme of this novel, manifest both literally and figuratively. Book I, named "Recalled to Life," concerns the rediscovery of Doctor Manette, who has been jailed in the Bastille for eighteen years. Code for the secret mission to rescue him from Paris is the simple phrase "recalled to life," which starts Mr. Lorry thinking about the fact that the prisoner has been out of society long enough to have been considered dead. This theme is treated more humorously through Jerry Cruncher's profession as a "Resurrection-Man." Although his trade of digging up dead bodies and selling their parts seems gruesome, it provides him with the crucial knowledge that a spy named Roger Cly has been literally resurrected--in that he was never buried at all.

The most important "resurrections" in the novel are those of Charles Darnay. First, Sydney Carton's resemblance to him saves him from being convicted and executed in England, and then, the same resemblance allows the latter to switch places with him in the Conciergerie. These resurrections are surrounded with heavily religious language that compare Carton's sacrifice of his own life for others' sins to Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Article: Tale of Two Cities Themes
Source: GradeSaver
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