Biographical information about the author

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Major Works Data Sheet – A Tale of Two Cities


Biographical information about the author:

Charles Dickens was a Victorian author who wrote classics such as Oliver TwistA Christmas Carol, and David Copperfield. Born into a poor family in 1812, he was forced to work in a factory, where he was subjected to atrocious conditions, for three years when his father was imprisoned for bad debt. Those experiences inspired David Copperfield and Great Expectations. He married Catherine Hogarth, but they were estranged by 1858, by which point they had ten children. He did have a mistress, the actress Ellen Ternan. Dickens started writing as a journalist, and began his success with Sketches by Boz and the Pickwick Papers.  One of the reasons for his success was his insightful observations of character and society. Charles Dickens was one of the first to make serial publication of narrative fiction popular. The use of installments helped him modify his work according to public reactions and as he saw fit. He then went on to write many novels, short stories, non-fiction articles, and an autobiography, and edited weekly periodicals. Dickens also lobbied for children’s rights, education, and other social reforms. He died of stroke in 1870, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.


Plot Summary:

A Tale of Two Cities takes place in the time leading up to and during the French Revolution, in the cities of London and Paris. It revolves around the French peasants and the cruelties they faced up to the bloody, violent Reign of Terror in which France became a prison for all aristocrats. The first book tells the tale of Lucie Manette as she goes from London to France to recover her imprisoned father, Dr. Manette. Simultaneously, a group of insurgents who go by the name “Jacques” show the movement of the peasants towards rebellion. This book covers how Dr. Manette has been scarred by his long-term imprisonment, and how Lucie tries to bring her father back to life. The second book, “The Golden Thread”, we meet Sydney Carton as he successfully proves Charles Darnay innocent by taking advantage of their striking resemblance to each other. From there, Darnay and Lucie meet and fall in love, while Carton falls into unrequited love with her. In the third and final book, their happy marriage and new daughter little Lucie is threatened when Darnay travels to France, which is now in full-fledged revolution, to save a servant and ends up under arrest due to his aristocratic heritage. Lucie brings her family to France to try to save him, but to no avail. Although the imprisonment of Dr. Manette, who has mostly recovered from his fugue-like state, makes him powerful enough to free Darnay, he is again arrested. Throughout this dramatic turn of events, readers learn of the history of Darnay’s family, the Evremondes, and why he is so hated. Despite their attempts, Darnay is sentenced to la guillotine, and Madame Defarge, the only surviving ancestor of the victims of the Evremondes’ brutality, makes plans to kill the rest of Darnay’s family including little Lucie. The story ends with Carton’s final valiant act, one that will make up for his entire wasted life. He switches places with Darnay, made possible by their striking resemblance and his connections, and dies in his stead, keeping his promise to Lucie that he would die to keep the ones she loves happy. Thus the story ends with the Darnays memorializing Sydney and naming their son after him, and that Sydney growing up to be a great man, the man that the original Sydney Carton was unable to be.


Memorable Quotes:

-       Quotation: “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…” (Book I, Chapter I)

        This is the famous introduction of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, significant because it hints at the underlying themes of the story. The duality of each object is connected to the two cities which the title alludes to: London and Paris. The opposite natures also call attention to the change that is occurring at this point in history, the air of uncertainty and chaos that overwhelms France.

-       Quotation: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.” (Book III, Chapter XV)

        Spoken by Sydney Carton at the end of the book as he dies as Charles Darnay, making a sacrifice so that as he promised, Lucie Manette may keep the people she loves beside her, this line is another poetic classic. It speaks of the fact that for his whole life, Sydney Carton has been wasting away any potential that he has been given, instead becoming an alcoholic, sub-par barrister who allows his superior to take all the credit. Through this one noble act, Sydney Carton manages to find salvation for himself, to redeem himself and give his life meaning. It is the finest thing he will ever accomplish, and a form of atonement for the pointless existence he has led thus far. It also hints at the idea of faith, a belief in a heaven that he will find and the religious idea of resurrection that has been hinted at throughout the novel with phrases such as “recalled to life.”

-       Quotation: “When you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!” (Book II, Chapter XIII)

        Sydney Carton says this to Lucie Manette as he confesses his unrequited love for her, and he makes good on this promise when he makes the ultimate sacrifice for her – his life. This line also foreshadows the ending and the lengths to which Carton will go for Miss Manette. Carton’s love for Lucie is his redeeming quality, that which makes him worthy of saving.

-       Quotation: “The children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sign, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off…” (Book II, Chapter V)

        This personification of hunger is an example of Dickens’ social commentary of the times – of the hunger that permeated their society and the level of starvation many people experienced. It also speaks of the flight of the French peasants and the amount of suffering they are experiencing. It points out the utter disregard the aristocrats have for the problems of the people, and helps justify the reaction and the bloodshed.

-       Quotation: “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.” (Book III, Chapter XV)

        This is Dickens’ way of saying history will simply keep on repeating itself if any group of people insist on trying to oppress another. The act of rebellion, vengeance, and violence will be an unending cycle. The peasantry was pushed to the brink, shoved off the edge, until their only option was violence, until all they had in their hearts was anger and resentment. It is Dickens’ way of commenting on one of the many flaws of society and trying to teach us to avoid it.

-       Quotation: “Then tell the Wind and Fire where to stop, but don’t tell me.” (Book III, Chapter XII)

        This line is spoken by Madame Defarge and shows us how much the need for revenge has consumed her, that she has been blinded by the sins of Darnay’s ancestors and has directed that blame at Darnay who is an innocent. She represents those who led the French Reign of Terror; nothing could stop them. Only death was able to end Madame Defarge’s thirst for revenge.



Charles Darnay

Role in the story: He is the nephew of Marquis St. Evremonde. He is also accused for treason, later arrested, and soon sentenced for death.

Significance: He represents all that Carton could have been. He is different from his aristocratic counterparts because he disagrees with the way they treat the common people.

Adjectives: brave, candid, bold

Sydney Carton

Role in the story: He views life as worthless and acts as if he does not care about anything. He also loves Lucie Manette.

Significance: He sacrifices his own life for the happiness of Darnay and Lucie.

Adjectives: lazy, sarcastic, apathetic, altruistic, stoic

Doctor Manette

Role in the story: He is a prisoner of Bastille who is eventually released. He suffers mentally from his time spent in jail and makes shoes to distract himself from the pain. Once he is reunited with his daughter, he recovers.

Significance: He portrays the profound impact that others can bring to ones life. 

Adjectives: distressed, genuine, mysterious, gloomy

Lucie Manette

Role in the story: She is Dr. Manette’s daughter and the woman who both Darnay and Carton love. She eventually marries Darnay.

Significance: She is able to bring her father “back to life” again.

Adjectives: sympathetic, loving, devoted, virtuous, genuine

Monseiur Defarge

Role in the story: He is the owner of a wine shop and used to be a servant of Doctor Manette. He also is one of the leaders of the French Revolution fighting for the justice of the people.

Significance: He represents those who are a mixture of both good and bad. Although he is very kind to Doctor Manette, he is an active revolutionist.

Adjectives: intelligent, kind, loyal

Madame Defarge

Role in the story: She is one of the leaders of the revolution. She also knits the names of the aristocratic individuals she despises.

Significance: She represents how to poor suffered and reacted to the powers of the  aristocratic class in France.

Adjectives: ruthless, vengeful, determined

Jarvis Lorry 

Role in story: He is an English banker at Tellson’s Bank. He is also a good friend of the Manette’s.

Significance: He leads Doctor Manette and Lucie out of Paris after Doctor Manette is released from prison and also during the Revolution.

Adjectives: virtuous, dependable, faithful, trustworthy

Jerry Cruncher

Role in the story: He is the messenger for the Tellson’s Bank. He also digs up dead bodies and sells them to scientists.

Signficance: He finds out that Roger Cly is not really dead and this helps Carton in blackmailing John Barsad.

Adjectives: sly, ill-mannered, poor, superstitious, uneducated

Miss Pross 

Role in the story: She took care of Lucie while her father was in prison. She also kills Madame Defarge and thus becomes deaf from the gunshot.

Significance: Similar to Carton, she is willing to sacrifice her life for Lucie. She stops Madame Defarge so that Lucie and the others are able to escape.

Adjectives: loyal, protective, devoted, loving

Marquis Evrémonde 

Role in the story: He plays the role of the cruel French aristocrat who the common people despise.

Significance: He is the reason that Darnay is arrested and sentenced for death.

Adjectives: cold-blooded, heartless, ill-mannered, wealthy, shameless

Mr. Stryver 

Role in the story: He is a lawyer who is also a friend of Carton. For some time he is interested in marrying Lucie.

Significance: He defends Darnay in his trial in England.

Adjectives arrogant, daft, pompous

John Barsad 

Role in the story: He is a spy and the brother of Miss Pross.

Signficance: He ends up helping Carton rescue Darnay after Darnay is arrested in France.

Adjectives: sly, sneaky, patriotic

Roger Cly 

Role in Story: He is a spy who fakes his own funeral.

Significance: He testifies against Darnay at Darnay’s trial in England.

Adjectives: dishonest, determined, scheming, sly


Role in story: He is associated with the Evremonde family and is arrested by the


Signficance: He is the reason Darnay has to leave for France and consequently, gets arrested.

Adjectives: helpless, faithful



The setting of this book basically takes place in two locations, Paris, France and London, England. Paris is where the wine shop is located along with where the French Revolution takes place. London is where the Manette’s house is located specifically in Soho, along with the Tellson Bank. London is also where Darnay is first tried.

Historical Information about the Publication Date:

A Tale of Two Cities was published in 1859.  At this time England was socially and politically stable. England was prospering with a grounded monarchy along with being a leader the Industrial Revolution. However, at the same time a group of French living in England plotted an assassination attempt on Louis Napoleon. This caused an increase of French-English tensions during the year before the publication. Fortunately, in the end, there were no major consequences for international disputes.



 A Tale of Two Cities is an historical fiction novel that takes place during the French Revolution. The plot is intertwined with many historically accurate events of the time period, such as the Storming of the Bastille and the execution of many by the guillotine. Yet, while the plot contains government scandals and political issues that serve to deepen intrigue, it also uses the twists and turns of the actions of characters to focus and blur the historical context into the background.


Author’s Style:


Dickens is a masterful author with an extremely unique writing style. In the novel, is he able to range from short and choppy sentences in one paragraph to long and continuous sentences in the next, depending on what type of writing the specific occurring action requires. At times it seems like he wants to bore you out of your mind, and then without warning he grabs you when you aren’t looking. He applies descriptive language to capture the reader, and that along with the fluidity of his words portrays the scenes in a way in which the reader is fooled into thinking they have actually been transported to 18th century France or England. The vivid detail he uses throughout each page is complemented with a fantastic display of rhetoric and repetition that emphasize certain details he thinks the reader should find pertinent.


        One example of how Dickens uses descriptive language to set the atmosphere and establish the mood is below:

"There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none."




Wine: The deep red wine represents the power of the revolutionaries as well as the blood of the people involved in the French Revolution. Defarge’s wine shop lies in the center of the town and as the powerful figures become intoxicated on the wine, the streets become soaked with blood and serve to symbolize the degrading condition of the time.


Madame Defarge's Knitting & Golden Thread: When Madame Defarge knits she essentially condemns people to a deadly fate. When Lucie weaves her golden thread it transforms people’s lives and serves as a uniting force able to bind them together for the greater good.


Guillotine: A large symbol present, it symbolizes the decay of life and how the value of living is slowly being taken away by the revolutionaries in this form of execution.


Shoes or Footsteps: Lucie hears the echo of footsteps coming into their lives, and Dr. Manette escapes to making shoes in his madness. This symbolizes fate and the inescapable past that the characters cannot hide from.



Revolution & Tyranny: Dickens effectively shows that one will always lead to the other- the thirst of the revolutionaries for power and the desire of the people for control of their own lives led to the conflict that sustained the plot of the novel.


Rebirth: The speaker suggests that Carton’s death has the potential to produce a new and better life for other characters in the novel, such as Lucie and Charles Darnay, and that his soul will be resurrected in a child that they will name after him. Lucie’s love also enables Dr. Manette’s spiritual renewal, and her maternal cradling of him also emphasizes this notion of rebirth, and living through the souls of others.


Necessity of Sacrifice: Dr. Manette sacrifices his freedom. Charles sacrifices his wealth and heritage. Sydney Carton ultimately sacrifices his life.


Significance of Opening Scene:

The opening scene is significant as it establishes the era; England and France in 1775. Dickens describes the time period with contradicting statements, beginning with the famous words "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," and continuing to account for wisdom and foolishness, belief and disbelief, optimism and doubt, light and darkness, hope and despair. We can infer that trouble is brewing when we learn that people will not stand to be taxed or starved to death, and this paradox sets the tone for the rest of the novel.


Significance of Closing Scene:

In the last scene, Sydney Carton is executed by the guillotine under the identity of Charles Darnay. The narrator states that he dies with the knowledge, "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.” Carton is observed to have a peaceful and prophetic look on his face when he is killed. The scene is significant because it suggests the possibility of the necessity of sacrifice for the benefit of others, in this case the beneficiaries being Lucie and her family. It also hints at the opportunity for rebirth or resurrection, as for Carton he will be remembered in the souls of Charles and Lucie and perhaps a child they will one day name after him. Yet, the conclusion of the novel is touching because it shows the length that love will travel, and the length that Carton went just to make Lucie happy. As he fades the future remains bright; evil does not prevail.



Works Cited


"Discovering Dickens - A Community Reading Project." Discovering Dickens - A Community Reading Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. . ;

"A Tale of Two Cities." Literature Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. . ;
"A Tale of Two Cities Setting." Shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. . ;

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