A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens was an English guy who wrote long books. Most people know his famous lines even if they haven’t read all of his books. He is the guy who wrote things like "Please Sir, I’d like some more" (Oliver Twist), "God Bless us, Everyone" (A Christmas Carol), and the really big one – "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…" (A Tale of Two Cities). Dickens is also famous for his descriptions, which are cool but he goes on and on. He uses ten words where other people use one. The good news is that his stories are action-filled. This book takes place in 1775 during the French Revolution when people were getting their heads cut off for even the smallest crimes. A Tale of Two Cities has a complicated plot; it’s about the crazy politics of the time, the isolation everyone feels at different times, and how being true is the best deal.
Jarvis Lorry: He’s a good guy, in a sort of grandfatherly way. He’s the one who gets Lucie’s dad from France. A bachelor, he works for Tellson’s Bank.
Jerry Cruncher: This dude works two jobs – at Tellson’s Bank he’s a driver/messenger, and at night he’s busy snatching up dead bodies. Creepy.
Lucie Manette: She’s the only babe in this story. She’s a little shy, very pretty, feels bad for people less fortunate than herself. Everyone wants her. She has a habit of being overdramatic (fainting, crying), which was very Victorian (the era when the book was written). She becomes Lucie Darnay after she marries Charles.
Dr. Alexandre: Lucie’s dad. He’s been in prison for 18 years because he witnessed the crime the Evremonde family committed. He is really screwed up from being in jail. Even though he’s pretty crazy, he loves his daughter.
Charles Darnay: This guy was born into the St. Evremonde (French) family, but didn’t want to be another shitty nobleman in France, so he walked away from his family, wealth, and name in France and moved to London where he changed his name. He and Lucie fall in love and get married. The past catches up with Charles, even though he tries to be moralistic.
Marquis St. Evremonde: The Evremondes are French aristocracy (sort of like kings and queens). He is Charles Darnay’s uncle. He is a mean dude. He is the one who is responsible for Madame Defarge’s family being killed. Wealthy and rude, he does whatever he wants to get his own way. He is murdered because he runs over a child.
Miss Pross: Lucie’s nanny. She’s a manly woman. She’s nice but she’s got a short fuse. She protects Lucie and helps the Darnays. Madame Defarge: She is a bitter woman. Her whole family died when she was a little kid, and the St. Evermonde family is to blame. Madame Defarge wants revenge on the upper class. She is twisted and sharp. She gets killed.
Ernest Defarge: Madame’s husband. He was Dr. Manette’s servant as a boy. He is basically under his wife’s control, but he goes back and forth between being bad and being okay.
Sydney Carton: A lawyer who falls in love with Lucie. He’s pretty down on himself since he doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot. He is kind of a hero in this book because he ends up getting his head cut off in the name of love. Also, he’s a lush.
C.J. Stryver: A lawyer who defends Darnay. He likes to drink.
Roger Cly: A police spy. He testifies against Darnay. He dies.
John Barsard: A spy. He’s also Miss Pross’s brother, Solomon Pross.
Gabelle: The Evremonde’s butler.
England and France are both filled with problems (poverty, violence, etc.). It’s 1775. Jarvis Lorry goes to Paris on a secret mission. He’s supposed to get Dr. Manette, who’s been locked up for 18 years in a prison called the Bastille, and bring him to London. Along the way, he meets Lucie and tells her that her dad’s not dead like she thought. Sure enough, in Paris, they find Dr. Manette, (he works with the Defarges) who is fucked in the head since being in prison. All he does is fix shoes. But he agrees to go back to London.
In 1780, Charles Darnay is being accused of treason. Mr. Lorry, Lucie, and Dr. Marnette have to go to court as witnesses against Darnay (they were all traveling in the same carriage in 1775). But Darnay is not convicted because no one can say for sure if it was Darnay that night or not – he looks so much like a lawyer in the courtroom, Sydney Carton. Carton and Darnay both want Lucie. Darnay gets her. They get married. Dr. Manette is worried after he learns of Darnay’s past (he was an Evremonde), but he deals with the wedding then looses it for a couple of weeks.
Things suck in France. Everything is dirty and people are poor. Except the rich people. They are so loaded they don’t care about anybody else. St. Evremonde runs over a child and then is murdered in his chateau (big, fancy house). Because Evremonde was his uncle, Darnay inherits the house and the money, but he doesn’t want it. He’s trying to be a normal guy who doesn’t take advantage of people. This is a good thing, because the poor people of France are sick and tired of being treated like shit so they revolt and burn the chateau and murder people.
12 years later, when he tries to help his old butler out of jail, Darnay is jailed. Bummer for Lucie and their daughter, who go to Paris with Dr. Manette to try and help. Mr. Lorry helps, too. After a while, Dr. Manette speaks on behalf of Darnay, and since Dr. Manette was a prisoner of the Bastille, he’s sort of a hero, so Darnay is let off the hook. But, wouldn’t you know, that same day, Darnay’s arrested again! Madame Defarge knows about Darnay’s past and since it was his rich family that had killed her poor family years before, she sets out for revenge. Darnay is sentenced to death. Dr. Manette looses it. Lucie’s a mess. Everything’s crap.
But wait! Remember Sydney Carton? Well, he not only knows about Darnay’s sentence, but he hears that Madame Defarge is planning on messing with Lucie and her daughter and Dr. Manette. So he arranges to swap places with Darnay – they look alike, remember!? So, with Mr. Lorry’s help, this plan works. Darnay, Lucie, their daughter and Dr. Manette go to London. Carton gets his head cut off by the guillotine (head cutting off machine). Why did Carton agree to this plan? Pure, honest love for Lucie.
BOOK BY BOOK
- It’s 1775.
- The famous opening line "It was the best of times , it was the worst of times…" – the rich people had a great time (drinking, hooking up all over the place, not thinking about anything – just like senior spring of high school!) but the poor people had it rough.
- France and England both are sucky places to be. France is filled with revolutionary terror and England is violent.
- Mr. Lorry is sent by Tellson’s Bank to get Dr. Manette, who was in jail. Jerry Cruncher gives him the message.
- Mr. Lorry meets Lucie Manette and tells her that her father’s alive. She freaks out. Miss Pross helps her.
- Paris sucks because everyone’s poor. When a big container of wine breaks open on the street, people are psyched and drink it with their hands. One guy writes the word "blood" with the red wine. This tells you how angry everyone was.
- Mr. Lorry and Lucie find Dr. Manette in the Defarge’s shop.
- Madame Defarge knits all day.
- Ernest Defarge feels bad that Dr. Manette was in prison.
- When Lucie sees her father she almost faints again.
- Dr. Manette is crazy. He looks old and doesn’t even know who or where he came from. But when he sees Lucie he suddenly remembers.
- Lucie dramatically tells her dad that it’s okay for him to cry since he went through so much shit.
- Mr. Lorry, Lucie, and Dr. Manette get ready to go to London.
- It is unclear if Dr. Manette will be okay.
- Five years later.
- Tellson’s Bank is a shithole.
- Tellson’s Bank figuratively kills the guys who there (makes them feel dead) and literally (really) kills a lot of people who commit crimes.
- Jerry Cruncher hits his wife in the head with his shoe because he thinks her prayers are against him. They’re not.
- Jerry and his son go out. Tellson’s sends Jerry to the Old Bailey (courthouse) where there’s a case of treason being tried.
- The punishment for treason is "quartering" – they pull all four limbs apart until the person rips. Gross!
- Charles Darnay is the accused guy.
- Mr. Lorry is at the Old Bailey with Lucie and Dr. Manette as witnesses since they saw Darnay when they were traveling to rescue Dr. Marnette.
- There’s not a lot of proof that Darnay is a traitor.
- No one really can tell if it was Darnay who was in France or not. When people notice that he looks just like one of the lawyers there, Sydney Carton, Darnay is free.
- Lucie almost faints again.
- Darnay falls in love with Lucie. He tells Jerry to let Lucie know he’s sorry if the trial upset her.
- In the Old Bailey, Darnay meets Lucie, Mr. Lorry, and Dr. Manette, who doesn’t like Darnay.
- Sydney Carton and Darnay go for a drink. Darnay feels weird being with a guy that looks so much like him but acts like such a drunk loser.
- When Carton gets wasted, Darnay feels good about himself.
- Carton wants Lucie.
- Darnay leaves Carton, drunk, alone, and falling asleep with a candle dripping on him.
- Carton and Stryver like to drink. Stryver just grooves on it but Carton drinks because he feels lame.
- Carton knows he doesn’t really stand a chance with Lucie. He thinks she’s a "golden doll."
- A couple of months after the trial, Mr. Lorry goes to the Manette’s house. He asks Miss Pross how Dr. Manette is doing. She says he goes up and down. Sometimes he’s normal, sometimes freaked out. He doesn’t like to think about his prison days when his whole identity was his cell number.
- Miss Pross is kind-of manly and is jealous of the guys who lust after Lucie.
- Lots of rain. Creepy. Stormy.
- Sydney Carton stops by. He’s still pretty lame.
- While seeing Monseigneur (a powerful rich dude) the Marquis St. Evremonde is dissed, so he hopes the Monseigneur goes to hell.
- The Marquis St. Evremonde is a cold bastard. He runs over a poor kid with his carriage and couldn’t give a shit about it.
- The Marquis St. Evremonde tells the poor people who see him run over the kid that they should take better care of their children and throws a couple of coins at them. Defarge is one of the people there.
- Defarge throws the coin back at the Marquis.
- The Marquis St. Evremonde goes home to his chateau (fancy big house) to wait for his nephew.
- The nephew arrives – it’s Charles Darnay!
- Darnay and the Marquis St. Evremonde don’t like each other.
- Darnay thinks the way the rich behave in France sucks. The Marquis St. Evremonde thinks his power and money rule and says that he’d rather have Darnay go to jail than loose face.
- The Marquis is murdered that night by angry villagers.
- A year goes by.
- Darnay teaches French, loves Lucie, and asks Dr. Manette if he can marry his daughter. He agrees, but he’s not thrilled. Darnay wants Dr. Manette to know his secret past, but Darnay agrees to wait to tell his secret until the wedding day.
- Dr. Manette has a relapse of shoe fixing, so you know he’s worried.
- Stryver tells Sydney Carton that he wants to marry Lucie. At Tellson’s Bank, Mr. Lorry tells Stryver he probably won’t be getting any Lucie booty.
- Stryver’s pissed since he thinks he’s all that. He then disses Lucie which annoys Mr. Lorry.
- Carton tells Lucie that she inspires him. Lucie first thinks, yuck. But then, since she’s so understanding, she feels bad for Carton since his life sucks.
- Carton says he would sacrifice his life for hers, or for someone she loved.
- After Roger Cly’s funeral procession, Jerry Cruncher goes to the graveyard. A mob scene occurs with people stealing stuff and harassing people.
- After he yells at his wife again, Jerry goes to the graveyard and digs up the grave. His son, "Young Jerry," follows him and gets the shit scared out of him so he goes home.
- Jerry beats his wife. Young Jerry sees and says he wants to steal bodies, too when he’s older. Fucked up!
- Gaspard, the guy who killed the Marquis St. Evremonde was found and hanged.
- At the Defarge’s wine shop, Madame Defarge knits the names of all the people who will be executed. Ernest Defarge is sick of the whole revolution deal, but his wife’s really into revenge.
- Barsard, a new spy, tells the Defarges that Lucie and Darnay are getting married. Ernest Defarge says he hopes they stay in England. Madame just keeps knitting because she is twisted and wants everyone dead.
- Before she gets married, Dr. Manette says wishes the best for Lucie. He loves her.
- When Dr. Manette learns of Darnay’s past, he’s upset. Of course, this makes him want to fix shoes.
- Darnay and Lucie get married.
- Dr. Manette has a shoe-fixing binge.
- When they get back from their honeymoon, Carton tells Darnay that he’s sorry for being so lame after the trial. He also says he wants to keep in touch with Lucie and the family.
- In 1789, Lucie gives birth. The daughter’s name is Lucie. Her son dies while he’s still a baby.
- The people of Paris have a riot and take over the Bastille. They release prisoners, kill guards. Defarge is one of the rioters and he goes to Dr. Manette’s old cell and looks around.
- At the wine shop, Madame Defarge leads an attack on an old political guy, Foulon, who they kill.
- The Evremonde chateau is burned down.
- Gabelle, the old porter for the Evremondes, is saved.
- Three years later, Mr. Lorry is working for Tellson’s in France.
- Darnay feels bad about deserting France. He gets a letter from Gabelle, who’s in jail, and goes to help him without telling Lucie.
- Darnay gets in a Paris jail called La Force. In his cell, he hears freaky voices.
- When they learn of Darnay’s imprisonment, Lucie and Dr. Manette go to see Mr. Lorry at Tellson’s Bank.
- The people of Paris are crazed and are killing prisoners from La Force.
- Since Dr. Manette was a prisoner, he has some pull with the townspeople, so he tries to help Darnay.
- Jerry Cruncher watches over Lucie and her dad since Mr. Lorry worries that if they stay with him, they’ll all be at risk.
- When the Defarges bring Lucie a note from Darnay, Madame Defarge ignores Lucie’s requests for help and feels cruelly towards Lucie and her daughter.
- Four days later, Dr. Manette comes back and tells about the crazy executions that are happening. He says he didn’t have any luck getting Darnay out of jail.
- A year and three months go by.
- Lucie, who’s been living in Paris, worries all the time about Darnay getting his head cut off. She lives next to a woodcutter who harasses her.
- Lucie sees the Carmagnole, a big group of people wildly dancing.
- Darnay’s trial is the next day. Dr. Manette testifies and Darnay is freed. Dr. Manette is really glad he could help.
- Darnay is arrested later that same day on other charges.
- At the wine shop, Miss Pross and Jerry run into Solomon Pross, Miss Pross’s brother, who is really Barsard, who is scared that he has been recognized.
- Carton arrives and says Barsard is going to go to jail.
- Carton finds out that Darnay is in jail again.
- Carton has power over Barsard since Barsard is a spy and works for Roger Cly, who isn’t, but working in Paris. Jerry says Cly’s funeral was fake.
- Mr. Lorry tells Jerry to stop stealing bodies. He agrees.
- At Darnay’s trial, the Defarges are the accusers. They present papers they found in Dr. Manette’s jail cell which tell the story of Dr. Manette’s imprisonment. In 1757, the Evremondes made Dr. Manette come to their house where they had caused a whole family to die (they also raped the young woman of the family) except for a little girl who was safe. A wife of the Evremondes told her son (Charles Darnay) that he should try and be good since their family is so bad. Dr. Manette sent his letter to the courts saying how bad the Evremondes were but the Evremondes took the letter and sent Dr. Manette to prison.
- The jury decides that Darnay is the last of the evil Evremondes so he should die.
- Lucie is really upset. So is Dr. Manette. Darnay says not to feel bad.
- Surprise, surprise, Lucie faints. Carton picks her up.
- At the wine shop, Carton overhears plans to have Lucie, her daughter, and her dad executed. Madame Defarge wants this since she was that little girl whose family was killed by the Evremondes and she wants revenge.
- Dr. Manette needs a cobbling fix.
- Carton comes up with a plan to take Darnay’s place in jail, since they look so much alike.
- Carton drugs Darnay, gets into his clothes, and Barsard puts Darnay into Mr. Lorry’s carriage.
- Carton takes Darnay’s place and is lead to the guillotine. A shy seamstress knows Carton is not Darnay but she doesn’t do anything, she just wants to hold his hand before he gets killed.
- Mr. Lorry, Dr. Manette, Lucie, her daughter, and Darnay, using Carton’s passport, get out of Paris.
- Madame Defarge says she’s going to tell people that Lucie should have her head cut off.
- Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher wait behind to make sure everything’s okay.
- Jerry says that if the group gets back to London safely, he’ll stop being such an ass to his wife.
- Miss Pross and Madame Defarge have a fight when Madame Defarge wants to know where Lucie is. Madame Defarge is killed by her own bullet but Miss Pross is deaf from the sound.
- As Carton goes to the guillotine, he is kissed by the seamstress.
- Carton hopes for the future of Darnay and his family. He sees them naming a son after him who will go on and do great things.
- Carton gets his head cut off.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- Everyone is in some sort of prison – whether it’s a secret past, a cloud of alcohol, or just alone.
- This book was written in episodes, like a soap opera, that’s why there are so many mysteries, to make you read the next episode that came out, just like "scenes from next week’s show."
- Most characters have two sides or are represented in two characters. Dickens did this a lot. Miss Pross goes with Mr. Lorry, they are alone, protective, and good. Darnay has his good self, and the old Evremonde part. Carton has a side of him that does nothing, and a side that is selfless and heroic, etc. Barsard is also Solomon Pross, Etc.
- Dickens sets up a lot of mysteries and then explains them. This is good for moving the plot along.
- The first line, "It was best of times, it was the worst of times…" is really famous. It’s also a run-on sentence. Oops.
- The last line, "’Tis a far, far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before…" is really famous, too.
- Dickens was really popular in Victorian England. He was like the John Grisham of that time.