Publisher London: Chapman & Hall
Originally published 1859
Genre Historical drama
Country United Kingdom
Pages 341 Pages (Paperback)
Playwright Charles Dickens
Original language English
|Illustrator Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz)|
Cover artist Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz)
Characters Sydney Carton, Charles Darnay, Alexandre Manette
Adaptations A Tale of Two Cities (1935)
Similar The Frozen Deep, No Thoroughfare, Hamlet, The Little Prince, The Scarlet Pimpernel
A tale of two cities by charles dickens full audio book greatest audio books book 1 of 3
A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same period.
- A tale of two cities by charles dickens full audio book greatest audio books book 1 of 3
- A tale of two cities by charles dickens full audio book greatest audio books book 3 of 3
- Book the First Recalled to Life
- Book the Second The Golden Thread
- Book the Third The Track of a Storm
- Darkness and light
- Social justice
- Autobiographical material
- Stage productions
- Stage musicals
- Works cited
A tale of two cities by charles dickens full audio book greatest audio books book 3 of 3
Book the First: Recalled to Life
Dickens's famous opening sentence introduces the universal approach of the book, the French Revolution, and the drama depicted within:
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—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
In 1775, a man flags down the nightly mail-coach on its 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, a passenger and one of the bank's managers. Mr. Lorry sends Jerry back to deliver a cryptic response to the bank: "Recalled to Life." The message refers to Alexandre Manette, a French physician who has been released from the Bastille after an 18-year imprisonment. Once Mr. Lorry arrives in Dover, he meets with Dr. Manette's daughter Lucie and her governess, Miss Pross. Lucie has believed her father to be dead, and faints at the news that he is alive; Mr. Lorry takes her to France to reunite with him.
In the Paris neighborhood of Saint Antoine, Dr. Manette has been given lodgings by his former servant Ernest Defarge and his wife Therese, owners of a wine shop. Mr. Lorry and Lucie find him in a small garret, where he spends much of his time making shoes—a skill he learned in prison, which he uses to distract himself from his thoughts, and which has become an obsession for him. He does not recognize Lucie at first but does eventually see the resemblance to her mother through her blue eyes and long golden hair, a strand of which he found on his sleeve when he was imprisoned. Mr. Lorry and Lucie take him back to England.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread
In 1780, French émigré Charles Darnay is on trial for treason against the British Crown. The key witnesses against him are two British spies, John Barsad and Roger Cly, who claim that Darnay gave information about British troops in North America to the French. Barsad states that he would recognize Darnay anywhere, at which point Darnay's defense counsel, Stryver, directs attention to Sydney Carton, a barrister present in the courtroom who looks almost identical to him. With Barsad's eyewitness testimony now discredited, 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 the child of a peasant, Gaspard. The Marquis throws a coin to Gaspard to compensate him for his loss, and Defarge comforts the distraught father, having observed the incident. As the Marquis's coach drives off, the coin is flung back into his coach by an unknown hand, enraging the Marquis.
Arriving at his country château, the marquis meets with his nephew and heir, Darnay. Out of disgust with his aristocratic family, Darnay has shed his real surname and adopted an anglicized version of his mother's maiden name, D'Aulnais. The following passage records the Marquis' principles of aristocratic superiority:
"Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend," observed the Marquis, "will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof," looking up to it, "shuts out the sky."
That night, Gaspard, who followed the Marquis to his château by riding on the underside of the carriage, stabs and kills him in his sleep. Gaspard leaves a note on the knife saying, "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from JACQUES." After nearly a year on the run, he is caught and hanged above the village well.
In London, Darnay gets Dr. Manette's permission to wed Lucie; but Carton confesses his love to Lucie as well. Knowing she will not love him in return, Carton promises to "embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you". Stryver, the barrister who defended Darnay and with whom Carton has a working relationship, considers proposing marriage to Lucie, but Mr. Lorry talks him out of the idea.
On the morning of the marriage, Darnay reveals his real name and family lineage to Dr. Manette, a detail he had been asked to withhold until that day. In consequence, Dr. Manette reverts to his obsessive shoemaking after the couple leave for their honeymoon. He returns to sanity before their return, and the whole incident is kept secret from Lucie. Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross destroy the shoemaking bench and tools, which Dr. Manette had brought with him from Paris.
As time passes in England, Lucie and Charles begin to raise a family, a son (who dies in childhood) and a daughter, little Lucie. Mr. Lorry finds a second home and a sort of family with the Darnays. Stryver marries a rich widow with three children and becomes even more insufferable as his ambitions begin to be realized. Carton, even though he seldom visits, is accepted as a close friend of the family and becomes a special favourite of little Lucie.
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 dragged from their homes to be killed, and the St. Evrémonde château is burned to the ground.
In 1792, Mr. Lorry decides to travel to Paris to collect important documents from the Tellson's branch in that city and bring them to London for safekeeping against the chaos of the French Revolution. Darnay intercepts a letter written by Gabelle, one of his uncle's 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 sets out for Paris.
Book the Third: The Track of a Storm
Shortly after Darnay arrives in Paris, he is denounced for being an emigrated aristocrat from France and jailed in La Force Prison. Dr. Manette, Lucie, little Lucie, Jerry, and Miss Pross travel to Paris and meet Mr. Lorry to try to free Darnay. A year and three months pass, and Darnay is finally tried.
Dr. Manette, viewed as a hero for his imprisonment in the Bastille, testifies on Darnay's behalf at his trial. Darnay is released, only to be arrested again later that day. A new trial begins on the following day, under new charges brought by the Defarges and a third individual who is soon revealed as Dr. Manette. He had written an account of his imprisonment at the hands of Darnay's father and hidden it in his cell; Defarge found it while searching the cell during the storming of the Bastille.
While running errands with Jerry, Miss Pross is amazed to see her long-lost brother Solomon, but he does not want to be recognized in public. Carton suddenly steps forward from the shadows and identifies Solomon as Barsad, one of the spies who tried to frame Darnay for treason at his trial in 1780. Jerry remembers that he has seen Solomon with Cly, the other key witness at the trial and that Cly had faked his death to escape England. By threatening to denounce Solomon to the revolutionary tribunal as a Briton, Carton blackmails him into helping with a plan.
At the tribunal, Defarge identifies Darnay as the nephew of the dead Marquis St. Evrémonde and reads Dr. Manette's letter. Defarge had learned Darnay's lineage from Solomon during the latter's visit to the wine shop several years earlier. The letter describes Dr. Manette's imprisonment at the hands of Darnay's father and uncle for trying to report their crimes against a peasant family. Darnay's uncle had become infatuated with a girl, whom he had kidnapped and raped; despite Dr. Manette's attempt to save her, she died. The uncle killed her husband by working him to death, and her father died from a heart attack on being informed of what had happened. Before he died defending the family honour, the brother of the raped peasant had hidden the last member of the family, his younger sister. The Evrémonde brothers imprisoned Dr. Manette after he refused their offer of a bribe to keep quiet. He concludes his letter by condemning the Evrémondes, "them and their descendants, to the last of their race." Dr. Manette is horrified, but he is not allowed to retract his statement. Darnay is sent to the Conciergerie and sentenced to be guillotined the next day.
Carton wanders into the Defarges' wine shop, where he overhears Madame Defarge talking about her plans to have both Lucie and little Lucie condemned. Carton discovers that Madame Defarge was the surviving sister of the peasant family savaged by the Evrémondes. At night, when Dr. Manette returns, shattered after spending the day in many failed attempts to save Darnay's life, he falls into an obsessive search for his shoemaking implements. Carton urges Lorry to flee Paris with Lucie, her father, and Little Lucie, asking them to leave as soon as he joins them in the coach.
Shortly before the executions are to begin, Solomon sneaks Carton into the prison for a visit with Darnay. The two men trade clothes, and Carton drugs Darnay and has Solomon carry him out. Carton has decided to be executed in his place and has given his own identification papers to Mr. Lorry to present on Darnay's behalf. Following Carton's earlier instructions, the family and Mr. Lorry flee to England with the unconscious Darnay, but not before receiving a note from Carton which allows them to pass the France border.
Meanwhile, Madame Defarge, armed with a dagger and pistol, goes to the Manette residence, hoping to apprehend Lucie and little Lucie and bring them in for execution. However, the family is already gone and Miss Pross stays behind to confront and delay Madame Defarge. As the two women struggle, Madame Defarge's pistol discharges, killing her and causing Miss Pross to go permanently deaf from noise and shock.
The novel concludes with the guillotining of Carton. As he is waiting to board the tumbril, he is approached by a seamstress, also condemned to death, who mistakes him for Darnay (with whom she had been imprisoned earlier) but realizes the truth once she sees him at close range. Awed by his unselfish courage and sacrifice, she asks to stay close to him and he agrees. Upon their arrival at the guillotine, Carton comforts her, telling her that their ends will be quick but that there is no Time or Trouble "in the better land where ... [they] will be mercifully sheltered", and she is able to meet her death in peace. Carton's unspoken last thoughts are prophetic:I see Barsad, and Cly, Defarge, The Vengeance [a lieutenant of Madame Defarge], the Juryman, the Judge, long ranks of the new oppressors who have risen on the destruction of the old, perishing by this retributive instrument, before it shall cease out of its present use. I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy, in that England which I shall see no more. I see Her with a child upon her bosom, who bears my name. I see her father, aged and bent, but otherwise restored, and faithful to all men in his healing office, and at peace. I see the good old man [Mr. Lorry], so long their friend, in ten years' time enriching them with all he has, and passing tranquilly to his reward.I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. I see her, an old woman, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband, their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed, and I know that each was not more honoured and held sacred in the other's soul, than I was in the souls of both.I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it, faded away. I see him, fore-most of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name, with a forehead that I know and golden hair, to this place—then fair to look upon, with not a trace of this day's disfigurement—and I hear him tell the child my story, with a tender and a faltering voice.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.
A Tale of Two Cities is one of only two works of historical fiction by Charles Dickens (the second being Barnaby Rudge). Dickens relies much on The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle as a historical source. Dickens wrote in his Preface to Tale that "no one can hope to add anything to the philosophy of Mr. Carlyle's wonderful book".
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."
In Dickens's England, resurrection always sat firmly in a Christian context. Most broadly, Sydney Carton is resurrected in spirit at the novel's close (even as he, paradoxically, gives up his physical life to save Darnay's—just as Christ died for the sins of the world.) More concretely, "Book the First" deals with the rebirth of Dr. Manette from the living death of his incarceration.
Resurrection appears for the first time when Mr. Lorry replies to the message carried by Jerry Cruncher with the words "Recalled to Life". Resurrection also appears during Mr. Lorry's coach ride to Dover, as he constantly ponders a hypothetical conversation with Dr. Manette: ("Buried how long?" "Almost eighteen years." ... "You know that you are recalled to life?" "They tell me so.") He believes he is helping with Dr. Manette's revival and imagines himself "digging" up Dr. Manette from his grave.
Resurrection is a major theme in the novel. In Jarvis Lorry's thoughts of Dr. Manette, resurrection is first spotted as a theme. It is also the last theme: Carton's sacrifice. Dickens originally wanted to call the entire novel Recalled to Life. (This instead became the title of the first of the novel's three "books".) Jerry is also part of the recurring theme: he himself is involved in death and resurrection in ways the reader does not yet know. The first piece of foreshadowing comes in his remark to himself: "You'd be in a blazing bad way, if recalling to life was to come into fashion, Jerry!" The black humour of this statement becomes obvious only much later on. Five years later, one cloudy and very dark night (in June 1780), Mr. Lorry reawakens the reader's interest in the mystery by telling Jerry it is "Almost a night ... to bring the dead out of their graves". Jerry responds firmly that he has never seen the night do that.
It turns out that Jerry Cruncher's involvement with the theme of resurrection is that he is what the Victorians called a "Resurrection Man", one who (illegally) digs up dead bodies to sell to medical men (there was no legal way to procure cadavers for study at that time).
The opposite of resurrection is of course death. Death and resurrection appear often in the novel. Dickens is angered that in France and England, courts hand out death sentences for insignificant crimes. In France, peasants had formerly been put to death without any trial, at the whim of a noble. The Marquis tells Darnay with pleasure that "[I]n the next room (my bedroom), one fellow ... was poniarded on the spot for professing some insolent delicacy respecting his daughter—his daughter!"
Interestingly, the demolition of Dr. Manette's shoe-making workbench by Miss Pross and Mr. Lorry is described as "the burning of the body". It seems clear that this is a rare case where death or destruction (the opposite of resurrection) has a positive connotation since the "burning" helps liberate the doctor from the memory of his long imprisonment. But Dickens's description of this kind and healing act is strikingly odd:
So wicked do destruction and secrecy appear to honest minds, that Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross, while engaged in the commission of their deed and in the removal of its traces, almost felt, and almost looked, like accomplices in a horrible crime.
Sydney Carton's martyrdom atones for all his past wrongdoings. He even finds God during the last few days of his life, repeating Christ's soothing words, "I am the resurrection and the life". Resurrection is the dominant theme of the last part of the novel. Darnay is rescued at the last moment and recalled to life; Carton chooses death and resurrection to a life better than that which he has ever known: "it was the peacefullest man's face ever beheld there ... he looked sublime and prophetic".
In the broadest sense, at the end of the novel, Dickens foresees a resurrected social order in France, rising from the ashes of the old one.
Hans Biedermann writes that water "is the fundamental symbol of all the energy of the unconscious—an energy that can be dangerous when it overflows its proper limits (a frequent dream sequence)." This symbolism suits Dickens's novel; in A Tale of Two Cities, the frequent images of water stand for the building anger of the peasant mob, an anger that Dickens sympathizes with to a point, but ultimately finds irrational and even animalistic.
Early in the book, Dickens suggests this when he writes, "[T]he sea did what it liked, and what it liked was destruction." The sea here represents the coming mob of revolutionaries. After Gaspard murders the Marquis, he is "hanged there forty feet high—and is left hanging, poisoning the water." The poisoning of the well represents the bitter impact of Gaspard's execution on the collective feeling of the peasants.
After Gaspard's death, the storming of the Bastille is led (from the St. Antoine neighbourhood, at least) by the Defarges; "As a whirlpool of boiling waters has a centre point, so, all this raging circled around Defarge's wine shop, and every human drop in the cauldron had a tendency to be sucked towards the vortex..." The crowd is envisioned as a sea. "With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into a detested word [the word Bastille], the living sea rose, wave upon wave, depth upon depth, and overflowed the city..."
Darnay's jailer is described as "unwholesomely bloated in both face and person, as to look like a man who had been drowned and filled with water." Later, during the Reign of Terror, the revolution had grown "so much more wicked and distracted ... that the rivers of the South were encumbered with bodies of the violently drowned by night..." Later a crowd is "swelling and overflowing out into the adjacent streets ... the Carmagnole absorbed them every one and whirled them away."
During the fight with Miss Pross, Madame Defarge clings to her with "more than the hold of a drowning woman". Commentators on the novel have noted the irony that Madame Defarge is killed by her own gun, and perhaps Dickens means by the above quote to suggest that such vicious vengefulness as Madame Defarge's will eventually destroy even its perpetrators.
So many read the novel in a Freudian light, as exalting the (British) superego over the (French) id. Yet in Carton's last walk, he watches an eddy that "turned and turned purposeless, until the stream absorbed it, and carried it onto the sea"—his fulfilment, while masochistic and superego-driven, is nonetheless an ecstatic union with the subconscious.
Darkness and light
As is frequent in European literature, good and evil are symbolized by light and darkness. Lucie Manette is the light, as represented literally by her name; and Madame Defarge is darkness. Darkness represents uncertainty, fear, and peril. It is dark when Mr. Lorry rides to Dover; it is dark in the prisons; dark shadows follow Madame Defarge; dark, gloomy doldrums disturb Dr. Manette; his capture and captivity are shrouded in darkness; the Marquis's estate is burned in the dark of night; Jerry Cruncher raids graves in the darkness; Charles's second arrest also occurs at night. Both Lucie and Mr. Lorry feel the dark threat that is Madame Defarge. "That dreadful woman seems to throw a shadow on me," remarks Lucie. Although Mr. Lorry tries to comfort her, "the shadow of the manner of these Defarges was dark upon himself". Madame Defarge is "like a shadow over the white road", the snow symbolising purity and Madame Defarge's darkness corruption. Dickens also compares the dark colour of blood to the pure white snow: the blood takes on the shade of the crimes of its shedders.
Charles Dickens was a champion of the poor because of his terrible experience when he was forced to work in a factory as a child. His father, John Dickens, continually lived beyond his means and eventually went to debtors' prison. Charles was forced to leave school and began working ten-hour days at Warren's Blacking Warehouse, earning six shillings a week. Dickens' sympathies, however, lie with the revolutionaries only up to a point; he condemns the mob madness which soon sets in. When mad men and women massacre eleven hundred detainees in one night and hustle back to sharpen their weapons on the grindstone, they display "eyes which any unbrutalized beholder would have given twenty years of life, to petrify with a well-directed gun".
The reader is shown that the poor are brutalized in France and England alike. As crime proliferates, the executioner in England is "stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now hanging housebreaker ... now burning people in the hand" or hanging a broke man for stealing sixpence. In France, a boy is sentenced to have his hands removed and be burned alive, only because he did not kneel down in the rain before a parade of monks passing some fifty yards away. At the lavish residence of Monseigneur, we find "brazen ecclesiastics of the worst world worldly, with sensual eyes, loose tongues, and looser lives ... Military officers destitute of military knowledge ... [and] Doctors who made great fortunes ... for imaginary disorders". (This incident is fictional, but is based on a true story related by Voltaire in a famous pamphlet, An Account of the Death of the Chevalier de la Barre.)
So riled is Dickens at the brutality of English law that he depicts some of its punishments with sarcasm: "the whipping-post, another dear old institution, very humanising and softening to behold in action". He faults the law for not seeking reform: "Whatever is, is right" is the dictum of the Old Bailey. The gruesome portrayal of quartering highlights its atrocity.
Dickens wants his readers to be careful that the same revolution that so damaged France will not happen in Britain, which (at least at the beginning of the book) is shown to be nearly as unjust as France. But his warning is addressed not to the British lower classes, but to the aristocracy. He repeatedly uses the metaphor of sowing and reaping; if the aristocracy continues to plant the seeds of a revolution through behaving unjustly, they can be certain of harvesting that revolution in time. The lower classes do not have any agency in this metaphor: they simply react to the behaviour of the aristocracy. In this sense it can be said that while Dickens sympathizes with the poor, he identifies with the rich: they are the book's audience, its "us" and not its "them". "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 licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind".
With the people starving and begging the Marquis for food, his uncharitable response is to let the people eat grass; the people are left with nothing but onions to eat and are forced to starve while the nobles are living lavishly upon the people's backs. Every time the nobles refer to the life of the peasants it is only to destroy or humiliate the poor.
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 Tale. 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 between Charles Darnay, Lucie Manette, and Sydney Carton in Tale.
Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay may also 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:
'Do you particularly like the man [Darnay]?' he muttered, at his own image [which he is regarding in a mirror]; 'why should you particularly like a man who resembles you? There is nothing in you to like; you know that. Ah, confound you! What a change you have made in yourself! A good reason for talking to a man, that he shows you what you have fallen away from and what you might have been! Change places with him, and would you have been looked at by those blue eyes [belonging to Lucie Manette] as he was, and commiserated by that agitated face as he was? Come on, and have it out in plain words! You hate the fellow.'
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 himself. Dickens 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.
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.
In a building at the back, attainable by a courtyard where a plane tree rustled its green leaves, church organs claimed to be made, and likewise gold to be beaten by some mysterious giant who had a golden arm starting out of the wall... as if he had beaten himself precious.
The "golden arm" (an arm-and-hammer symbol, an ancient sign of the gold-beater's craft) now resides at the Charles Dickens Museum but you can see a modern replica sticking out of the wall near the Pillars of Hercules pub at the western end of Manette Street (formerly Rose Street).
Many of Dickens's characters are "flat", not "round", in the novelist E. M. Forster's famous terms, meaning roughly that they have only one mood. For example, the Marquis is unremittingly wicked and relishes being so; Lucie is perfectly loving and supportive. (As a corollary, Dickens often gives these characters verbal tics or visual quirks that he mentions over and over, such as the dints in the nose of the Marquis.) Forster believed that Dickens never truly created rounded characters.