Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sydney Carton, the legal assistant to Mr. Stryver, a successful London barrister. A drunkard and a misanthrope, he has no aim or purpose in his life until he meets Lucie Manette and falls secretly in love with her. Because of his remarkable physical resemblance to Charles Darnay, who becomes Lucie’s husband, he is able to sacrifice himself on the guillotine in Darnay’s place, a deed that finally gives a real meaning to his life in his own eyes.
Charles Darnay, in reality Charles St. Evrémonde (shahrl sah[n]-teh-vray-MOHN), an émigré and an antiaristocrat who has renounced his title. In England, where he becomes a teacher of languages, he finds happiness and success as the husband of Lucie Manette. When he returns to France to aid an agent of the St. Evrémonde family who has been captured by the revolutionists, he himself is arrested and condemned to the guillotine. He escapes because Sydney Carton takes his place in prison. Darnay returns to England with his wife and her father.
Lucie Manette (lew-SEE mah-NEHT), a beautiful young French woman, closely connected with political events in France. Her father, a physician, had been a prisoner in the Bastille for many years, sent there because he had acquired knowledge of the hidden crimes of the St....
(The entire section is 1097 words.)
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Themes and Characters
Just before writing A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens acted the leading role in a play called The Frozen Deep written by his friend Wilkie Collins. Dickens played a man in love with a woman who rejects him in favor of a rival. The character Dickens played sacrifices his own life to save the rival he despises—all because of his love for the woman who rejected him. A Tale of Two Cities works out a similar theme of self-sacrifice. Sydney Carton, a brilliant young lawyer, wastes his talents in drink and cynicism. Carton helps another lawyer, the self-centered and unintelligent Stryver, to win cases and "shoulder" his way up in the world, but he will not work for himself. "I am incapable of all the higher and better flights of men," Carton says. He describes himself as "a dissolute dog who has never done any good and never will." Yet, rejected by Lucie Manette in favor of the handsome Frenchman Charles Darnay, Carton tells her, "For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. . . . There is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!" At the novel's end, Carton does exactly that, exchanging places with Darnay, who looks remarkably like Carton, just before his execution by guillotine. In willingly giving his life for Lucie—even to save the rival he dislikes—Carton performs a sort of Christlike sacrifice; he saves Darnay through his own death, and at the same time he redeems himself from his own sins. Carton dies with the...
(The entire section is 1487 words.)
See Solomon Pross
Sydney Carton is a dissipated English lawyer who spends a great deal of his life drunk. Although he has a brilliant legal mind, his alcoholism keeps him from becoming a success. He first enters A Tale of Two Cities in 1780, during Charles Darnay's trial for espionage. Darnay is acquitted because of his uncanny resemblance to Carton, thus casting doubts on the testimony of his accusers. Carton works in an unofficial partnership with another lawyer, C. J. Stryver. Although Carton's legal mind was mostly responsible for Darnay's acquittal, his coarse manners and habitual drunkenness contrast with his double's refinement and politeness. Carton falls in love with Lucie Manette and, when she marries Darnay, asks to be considered a friend of the family with the privilege of visiting them from time to time. His devotion to Lucie is the major factor in his decision to take Darnay's place in prison and be guillotined in 1793.
Understanding the character of Carton is difficult for the reader. We know nothing of his past life or of the reasons that have kept him single into his forties (the age at which he enters the novel). His only major weakness is his alcoholism, which in Victorian times was regarded as a character flaw rather than a disease; his redeeming grace is his love for Lucie, which persuades him to sacrifice himself so that she and her...
(The entire section is 2143 words.)