A Tale of Two Cities

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A Tale of Two Cities is a novel by celebrated British novelist Charles Dickens.[1] Its total sales are about 200 million copies since its first publication in 1859, ranked number one among novels written in English and second overall to only Don Quixote among bestselling novels.[2]

This novel by Dickens mentions "heaven" 39 times, but "hell" only once, in contrast with the New Testament which talks more about hell than heaven.

The two cities are London and Paris, and the opening line of the book is perhaps the most famous in all of literature:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ....


This summary was adapted from the text as written by Charles Dickens and republished in the EMC Masterpiece Series.

Book the First (Recalled to Life)

Mr. Jarvis Lorry, an austere and aged banker of Tellson's Bank, is on a mission in the year 1775. He is traveling along the Dover mail, past a small station, along with two other people rendered invisible by fog. There he received a message from the spiky-haired messenger Jerry Cruncher: "Recalled to Life." Jerry cannot scrutinize its meaning. Lorry finds at an inn one Miss Lucie Manette, a young woman of beautiful golden hair, and informs her that her father, long thought dead, is alive. This startles her, and angers her caretaker the woman of great red hair, Miss Pross. He finds his way to the attic of an old shoemaker in Paris, who calls himself 105 North Tower, along with Lucie. He proves to this shoemaker that the girl Lucie is in fact his daughter, and upon comparing her hair to a hair he kept hidden for many years in a pendant, believes him and goes with her to England. Meanwhile, in Paris's suburb of Saint Antoine, the owners of a wine shop, Monsieur and Madame Defarge, revel in the abounding hunger and form a society of people known historically as the Jacquerie.

Book the Second (The Golden Thread)

Five years later, Jerry Cruncher is found at Tellson's Bank, an ugly and old-fashioned place. He, along with Mr. Lorry and the Manettes, is called to attend a trial. The man on trial is called Charles Darnay, and his crime is treason: he was suspected to have been involved with the Major-General George Washington, viewed as a traitor by the British. Defending him is one Mr. Stryver and his assistant, Sydney Carton. Testifying against him are one John Barsad and the "virtuous servant" Roger Cly. Lorry and the Manettes are required to give testimony: Lorry states that, perhaps he did accompany Darnay one foggy night along the Dover mail, perhaps not: it was five years past and impossible to remember. Lucie says that he was in fact on a ship traveling across the English Channel, proving he had been to France, a nation which supported Washington. Lucie nearly trips leaving the stand, and Carton is careful to ensure that she does not. Dr. Manette is found unable to remember anything. Sydney Carton, meanwhile, notes a resemblance between himself and Darnay, suggesting that it could easily have been him or anyone else with such a common face. To the disappointment of the blue flies, Darnay is acquitted.

Meanwhile, in France, the Marquis St. Evrémonde is attending the dance of one Monsieur the Marquis, an arrogant aristocrat who requires four servants to serve his chocolate. The Marquis St. Evrémonde is angered that the first Marquis does not greet him, and leaves the château angrily. His carriage, in leaving, crushes the child of a man named Gaspard, and the Marquis stops as his horses do not continue. He throws Gaspard a coin for the child, and ignores their pleas for food. Someone throws the coin back at him. That morning, it is found that he in his great stone mansion has been killed by the Jacquerie.

Meanwhile, in England, Sydney Carton, the drunken jackal, and his master lion, the arrogant and self-aggrandizing Mr. Stryver, along with the former prisoner Charles Darnay (now a teacher of French) vie for Lucie's love. Darnay is the only one to ask her father's permission (Carton not so out of self-pity, and Stryver out of the opposite), and he is granted this. He attempts to explain to Manette that he is not really called Charles Darnay, but Dr. Manette refuses to hear of it until the wedding day. Stryver, meanwhile, is rejected by Lucie herself, and by Miss Pross, who believes the only man ever fit for her Lucie (whom she calls Ladybird) is Pross's brother Solomon.

Also in England, Roger Cly is lynched as a spy and mocked at his funeral by a mob. That night, a young Jerry Cruncher, son of the aforementioned Jerry Cruncher, follows his father the grave robber to Cly's grave. Later, the day of the wedding, Darnay explains his identity to Manette, and he relapses into his old habit of shoemaking. This continues for nine days and nights while Charles and Lucie settle into their house and upon its conclusion, Lorry convinces him that they must destroy his shoemaking bench and tools.

Meanwhile, in France, revolts are worsening. The Defarges have bred an innocent mender of roads into a bloodthirsty killer, and shown him his prey, the aristocracy.<quote>How do quotes work in this?</quote>They manage to imprison Gabelle, the tax collector of the Marquis St. Evrémonde, and Gabelle writes to Mr. Darnay (who is the nephew and heir of the Marquis St. Evrémonde) for help.

Book the Third (The Track of a Storm)

The prisoner, Charles Darnay, flees to Paris to find that he has no rights as an emigrant, and that the land is exceedingly dangerous. Mr. Lorry is forced to follow him, and takes along with him Dr. Manette and his daughter. To defend Lucie from the mobs, he takes Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher as well. Darnay, meanwhile, is arrested in Paris and imprisoned, and only Manette's influence can save him. Meamwhile, during the storming and destruction of the Bastille, they force a jailer to show them the cell, 105 North Tower.

Darnay is acquitted with Manette's influence - but is then formally denounced and returned to jail. His denouncers: the Defarges, Madame Defarge being exceedingly cruel while her husband calms, and Dr. Manette, who wrote a letter while he was imprisoned in the Bastille, denouncing those who imprisoned him there, the Marquis St. Evrémonde brothers who are now Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton.

Carton, willing to die for Lucie, formulates a plan, drugging Charles and exchanging their clothes. He wins a game of metaphorical cards against the Defarges' pet spy, John Barsad, after discovering that he is Solomon Pross, and according to Jerry Cruncher, only pretended to murder Roger Cly. In jail at La Force, he befriends and innocent seamstress, and accompanies her to the guillotine.

See also

Dickens Novels

Historical Background


  1. The New York Public Library Student's Desk Reference. Prentice Hall, New York: 1991.
  2. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/best-selling-books.html