*A TALE OF TWO CITIES*
Book the First: Recalled to Life
|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.||”|
—Opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities
The first book of the novel takes place in 1775. Mr. Jarvis Lorry, an employee of Tellson's Bank, is travelling from England to France to bring Dr. Alexandre Manette to London on his return trip. Before crossing into France, he meets 17-year-old Miss Manette at Dover, and reveals to her that her father, Monsieur Manette, is not dead, as she had been told; instead, he was a prisoner in the Bastille, for eighteen years.
Mr. Jarvis Lorry and Miss Manette travel to Saint Antoine, a suburb of Paris and meet Monsieur Defarge and Madame Defarge. The Defarges operate a wine shop they use to lead a clandestine band of revolutionaries; they refer to each other by the codename "Jacques," which Charles Dickens drew from the Jacobins, an actual French revolutionary group.
Monsieur Defarge was Monsieur Manette's servant before his incarceration, and now has care of him, and he takes them to see the doctor. Because of his long imprisonment, Monsieur Manette entered a form of psychosis and has become obsessed with making shoes, a trade he had learned whilst he was incarcerated. At first, he does not recognize his daughter; but he eventually compares her long golden hair with her mother's, which he found on his sleeve when he was incarcerated and kept, and notices their identical blue eye colour. Mr. Jarvis Lorry and Miss Manette then take him back to England.
 Book the Second: The Golden Thread
Five years later, two British spies, Mr. Barsad and Roger Cly, are trying to frame French émigré Charles Darnay for their own gain; and Charles Darnay is on trial for treason at the Old Bailey. They claim, falsely, that Darnay gave information about British troops in North America to the French. Charles Darnay is acquitted when a witness who claims he would be able to recognize Darnay anywhere cannot tell Darnay apart from a barrister present in court, Sydney Carton, who looks almost identical to him.
In Paris, the despised Monsieur the Marquis, Charles Darnay's uncle, runs over and kills the son of the peasant Gaspard and throws a coin to Gaspard to compensate him for his loss. Monsieur Defarge comforts Gaspard. As the Marquis's coach drives off, Defarge throws the coin back into the coach, enraging the Marquis.
Arriving at his château, the Marquis meets with his nephew and heir Charles Evrémonde, now known as Charles Darnay. (Out of disgust with his family, Darnay shed his real surname and adopted an Anglicised version of his mother's maiden name, D'Aulnais.) They argue: Darnay has sympathy for the peasantry, while the Marquis is cruel and heartless:
"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, hanging under his coach, murders the Marquis in his sleep. He leaves a note saying, "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from JACQUES." He is later executed above the village's fountain, poisoning its water, which angers the peasants greatly.
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".
On the morning of the marriage, Darnay reveals his real name and who his family is, a detail which Dr. Manette had asked him to withhold until then. This unhinges Dr. Manette, who reverts to his obsessive shoemaking. His sanity is restored before Lucie returns from her honeymoon. To prevent a further relapse, banker Lorry destroys the shoemaking bench, which Dr. Manette had brought with him from Paris.
It is 14 July 1789. The Defarges help to lead the storming of the Bastille. Defarge enters Dr. Manette's former cell, "One Hundred and Five, North Tower". The reader does not know what Monsieur Defarge is searching for until Book 3, Chapter 9. It is a statement in which Dr. Manette explains why he was imprisoned.
In the summer of 1792, a letter reaches Tellson's bank. Mr. Lorry, who is planning to go to Paris to save the French branch of Tellson's, announces that the letter is addressed to someone named Evrémonde. Nobody in England knows who this is, because Darnay has kept his real name a secret there. Darnay acquires the letter by pretending Evrémonde is an acquaintance of his. The letter turns out to be from Gabelle, a servant of the former Marquis. Gabelle has been imprisoned and begs the new Marquis to come to his aid. Darnay, who feels guilty, leaves for Paris to help Gabelle.
 Book the Third: The Track of a Storm
In France, Darnay is denounced for emigrating from France and imprisoned in La Force Prison in Paris. Dr. Manette and Lucie—along with Miss Pross, Jerry Cruncher, and "Little Lucie", the daughter of Charles and Lucie Darnay—come to Paris and meet Mr. Lorry to try to free Darnay. A year and three months pass, and Darnay is finally tried.
Dr. Manette, who is seen as a hero for his imprisonment in the hated Bastille, is able to have him released; but, that same evening, Darnay is again arrested. He is put on trial again the following day, under new charges brought by the Defarges and one "unnamed other". We soon discover that this "other" is Dr. Manette, through his own account of his imprisonment. Manette did not know that his statement had been found and is horrified when his words are used to condemn Darnay.
On an errand, Miss Pross is amazed to see her long-lost brother, Solomon Pross; but Solomon does not want to be recognised. Sydney Carton suddenly steps forward from the shadows much as he had done after Darnay's first trial in London and identifies Solomon Pross as John Barsad, one of the men who tried to frame Darnay for treason at his first trial in London. Carton threatens to reveal Solomon's identity as a Briton and an opportunist who spies for the French or the British as it suits him. If this were revealed, Solomon would surely be executed, so Carton's hand is strong.
Darnay is confronted at the tribunal by Monsieur Defarge, who identifies Darnay as the Marquis St. Evrémonde and reads the letter Dr. Manette had hidden in his cell in the Bastille. Defarge can identify Darnay as Evrémonde because Barsad told him Darnay's identity when Barsad was fishing for information at the Defarges' wine shop in Book 2, Chapter 16. The letter describes how Dr. Manette was locked away in the Bastille by Darnay's father and his 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 and then killed her husband. Before he died defending the family honor, the brother of the raped peasant had hidden the last member of the family, his younger sister. The paper concludes by condemning the Evrémondes, "them and their descendants, to the last of their race". Dr. Manette is horrified, but his protests are ignored—he is not allowed to take back his condemnation. 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 the rest of Darnay's family (Lucie and "Little Lucie") condemned. Carton discovers that Madame Defarge was the surviving sister of the peasant family savaged by the Evrémondes. The only plot detail that might give one any sympathy for Madame Defarge is the loss of her family and that she has no (family) name. Defarge is her married name, and Dr. Manette cannot learn her family name, though he asks her dying sister for it. At night, when Dr. Manette returns shattered after spending the day in many failed attempts to save Charles' life, he has reverted to his obsessive shoemaking. Carton urges Lorry to flee Paris with Lucie, her father, and Little Lucie.
That same morning, Carton visits Darnay in prison. Carton drugs Darnay, and Barsad (whom Carton is blackmailing) has Darnay carried out of the prison. Carton has decided to pretend to be Darnay and to be executed in his place. He does this out of love for Lucie, recalling his earlier promise to her. Following Carton's earlier instructions, Darnay's family and Lorry flee Paris and France. In their coach is an unconscious man who carries Carton's identification papers, but is actually Darnay.
Meanwhile, Madame Defarge, armed with a pistol, goes to the residence of Lucie's family, hoping to catch them mourning for Darnay, since it was illegal to mourn an enemy of the Republic; however, Lucie and Little Lucie, Dr. Manette, and Mr. Lorry are already gone. To give them time to escape, Miss Pross confronts Madame Defarge and they struggle. Pross speaks only English and Defarge speaks only French, so neither can understand each other. In the fight, Madame Defarge's pistol goes off, killing her; the noise of the shot and the shock of Madame Defarge's death cause Miss Pross to go permanently deaf.
The novel concludes with the guillotining of Sydney Carton. Carton's unspoken last thoughts are prophetic: Carton foresees that many of the revolutionaries, including Defarge, Barsad and The Vengeance (a lieutenant of Madame Defarge) will be sent to the guillotine themselves, and that Darnay and Lucie will have a son whom they will name after Carton: a son who will fulfil all the promise that Carton wasted. Lucie and Darnay have a first son earlier in the book who is born and dies within a single paragraph. It seems likely that this first son appears in the novel so that their later son, named after Carton, can represent another way in which Carton restores Lucie and Darnay through his sacrifice.
|“||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.||”|
—Final sentence of A Tale of Two Cities