Set in London and Paris at the time of the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is both a love story and a tale of political intrigue. The narrative depicts the corruption of the French aristocracy, the violence of the French Revolution, and the fate of a family swept up in circumstances and events beyond their control. Dickens’s novel is one of injustice and revenge, love and loss; at its conclusion, it is a story of rebirth and redemption.
At the time A Tale of Two Cities was published in 1859, Charles Dickens was the most popular novelist in Victorian England, and the novel initially attracted a hundred thousand readers. It first appeared in serial installments in Dickens’s literary magazine, All the Year Round; his reading public followed the story as it unfolded and eagerly awaited the next chapters. Some critics of the day dismissed the novel out of hand, contending that it could not be very good because it was so enormously popular. In subsequent literary criticism, Dickens’s historical narrative is most usually viewed as being masterfully crafted, filled with suspense and rich in symbolism.
A Tale of Two Cities is structured in three books and begins in 1775. Doctor Manette has been imprisoned for eighteen years in the abhorrent Bastille for having witnessed a crime committed by members of the aristocracy. Released and “recalled to life,” Manette is taken to London and cared for by his daughter Lucie and his good friend, Jarvis Lorry. Years pass, and Lucie marries Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat who has renounced his heritage and lives in London, his personal history unknown. Meanwhile, revolutionary fervor is building in France.
Returning to Paris on a mission of mercy after the revolution has begun, Charles is arrested; Lucie, her father, and Sydney Carton, who is devoted to Lucie, rush from London to Paris to rescue him. Briefly, Doctor Manette is considered a hero within the revolution because of his imprisonment in the Bastille at the hands of the aristocracy, but he is unable to save Charles from the ruthless and vengeful Madame Defarge. A central figure in the revolution, Madame Defarge holds power in the New Republic and is determined to destroy Darnay. Finally, Sydney Carton saves Charles by trading places with him in prison on the day of his execution. Throughout the novel, Dickens is sympathetic to the political and social ideals of the French Revolution, but he is critical of the terror it unleashed.
A Tale of Two Cities is a typical Victorian Gothic novel in that it describes a fallen world, ruined and decaying, and evokes an atmosphere of dread and deterioration. Famous for creating characters and literary caricatures noted for their idiosyncratic speech and exaggerated mannerisms, Dickens writes A Tale of Two Cities with less focus on the characters’ distinguishing traits and more attention to what they do in the historical context of the revolution. Dickens abandons his typically “Dickensian” characterizations, with the exception of the minor characters Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross, in order to tackle the scope of an era and its major historical event. Most critics agree that A Tale of Two Cities is an innovative departure from Dickens’s previous work.
Rich in the imagery of the French revolution, the novel can be interpreted as a cautionary tale, although readers in Dickens’s day may have interpreted it differently since his audience was not limited to a particular social class. The poor no doubt found the tale of violent revolution to be a warning to the English ruling class who enjoyed great wealth while workers often starved. Dickens identified with the suffering of the English lower class, having grown up in poverty as the son of a father imprisoned for his debts, but his novel does not glorify political revolution or call for it. Dickens’s emphasis on the horrors of the French Revolution suggests that A Tale of Two Cities is instead a warning against the continuing violence spawned by revolution and its effects upon the innocent and the guilty alike.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Identify and describe the central conflict and the subplots in A Tale of Two Cities.
2. Discuss the influence of women on the evolution of the novel’s plot.
3. Identify the primary themes and motifs.
4. Discuss the effects of violence and oppression and the ideas developed through them.
5. Explain the causes and consequences of the French Revolution.
6. Identify the symbols in the novel, explain the ideas they communicate, and discuss their significance.
7. Identify the various representations of love presented in the text and explain how love affects character development.
8. Show how suspicion, lack of privacy, imprisonment, and loss of memory or the burden of memory contribute to the personal tragedies described in the novel.
9. Explain how love triumphs over hate and goodness triumphs over evil in the novel.
10. Recognize literary techniques, such as parody, anaphora, first-person and third-person narratives, foreshadowing, and the suspension of disbelief.
11. Determine and define those elements that make A Tale of Two Cities a celebrated classic.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Lesson Guide
- The Lesson Guide is organized for study of the book in sections as indicated by chapters. Lesson Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
- Lesson Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each section of the book and to acquaint them generally with its content.
- Before Lesson Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading...
(The entire section is 1326 words.)
1. Why does Dickens choose Paris and London for the locale of his novel? How does he depict each city? Are they more different or more similar? To what end?
2. Identify the subplots within A Tale of Two Cities. Discuss how they contribute to the novel, particularly its conclusion.
3. What is the significance of the names of each of the chapter titles? How do the chapter titles throughout A Tale of Two Cities foretell the action?
4. Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities in installments, as a serial contribution to a magazine. Identify and discuss where these breaks are evident. Do they coincide with action that leaves the reader in suspense? Discuss how serialization contributes to or...
(The entire section is 833 words.)
blunderbusses: muskets with a large bore and a broad, flaring muzzle, accurate only at close range
epoch: an event or a period of time marked by an event that begins a new period of time and development
gaols: British jails
highwayman: archaic a man, usually on horseback, who robbed travelers on a highway
incredulity: the quality or state of being incredulous; disbelief
mire: wet spongy earth
potentate: one who wields great power or sway
prophetic: predictive; foretelling events
retinue: a group of attendants
revelation: an act of revealing to view or making known
(The entire section is 894 words.)
adjuration: earnest urging or advising
arm-chest: a chest containing weapons
capitulate: to cease resisting; archaic to negotiate
cutlass: a short, curving sword, originally used by sailors
jack-boots: heavy, sturdy military boots that extend above the knees
tinder-box: a metal box used to hold tinder, flint, and steel for striking a spark
Dover: the English port for travelers to and from France
flint and steel: Flint is a fine-grained, hard rock that produces sparks when struck against a piece of steel. Before the invention of matches, people used flint and steel to start...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
alehouse: a place where ale is served; a tavern
awfulness: awesomeness, magnitude (in context)
coach and six: a coach drawn by six horses
cocked-hat: a three-cornered hat with a turned-up brim
evanescence: the process or fact of evanescing, which is to dissipate like vapor
inexorable: not to be persuaded, moved, or stopped
sonorous: producing sound (as when struck); full and loud in sound
supplicatory: humble in entreaty
unfathomable: impossible to understand
1. In the beginning of chapter 3, the narrator speaks of “a wonderful fact to reflect upon, that...
(The entire section is 971 words.)
admonitory: expressing warning
besmirched: to have sullied, soiled
cadaverous: suggestive of corpses
expostulation: the act or instance of discussing, examining
farthing: archaic a former British monetary unit equal to one fourth of a penny
gaunt: excessively thin or angular
homage: an expression of high regard
lee-dyed: soaked with the dregs of wine
offal: the waste or by-product of a process; the waste that remains after butchering an animal for food
porringer: a low usually metal bowl with a single and usually flat and pierced handle (the) window of dormer shape: a window set vertically in a sloping roof...
(The entire section is 972 words.)
adieu: French “farewell”; the nuance is a “goodbye” in which one will not meet again
box: the driver’s seat of a coach
coercion: the act of dominating by force
frock: a long, loose garment
garret: a room or unfinished part of a house just under the roof
haggard: having a worn or emaciated appearance
lethargy: the quality or state of being drowsy, sluggish, lazy
pallet bed: a small bed or pad filled with straw and placed directly on the floor
parchment: the skin of a sheep or goat prepared for writing on it
sagacity: keenness and intelligence
swoon: to faint; to become...
(The entire section is 605 words.)
aphorism: a pithy observation that contains a general truth
asunder: divided into pieces, broken apart
extemporised (extemporized): improvised something, such as speech or a piece of music
incommodious: causing inconvenience
insensate: lacking feeling or compassion
obstinacy: stubbornness, the trait of being difficult to reason with
pillory: archaic a wooden framework with holes for the head and hands in which an offender was imprisoned and exposed to public abuse
purloiner: a larcenist, a criminal, a bandit
quartering: archaic a brutal punishment in which a person’s...
(The entire section is 1025 words.)
antipathy: a deep-seated feeling of dislike, aversion
immolate: to kill or offer as a sacrifice, especially by burning
infamy: a state of extreme dishonor
pernicious: having a harmful effect
Providence: the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power
refection: refreshment of food and/or drink
sublime: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe
1. Why is Darnay in court?
He is accused of treason and is being prosecuted for giving the French information about the British armies during the war against the American...
(The entire section is 656 words.)
augere: a forewarning
cadence: a modulation or inflection of speech
deprecate: to express disapproval of
dexterous: skilled; clever
disconcerted: to have disturbed the composure of
dissipated: wasted, exhausted; scattered, dispersed
fervent: having or displaying a passionate tendency
hew: to make or shape (something) by cutting or chopping a material such as wood
pith: soft, spongy material, particularly in plants or animals
(the) reckoning: the bill (in context)
robing room: the room where judges and lawyers put on their official robes
staves: vertical wooden posts or planks in a building or other structure...
(The entire section is 697 words.)
compunction: a pricking of the conscience, a sense of guilt
fit of the jerks: an epileptic seizure
footpad: archaic a highwayman who travels by foot
paupers: very poor people
spectral: of or like a ghost
staid: sedate, respectable, and unadventurous
vivacity: characterized by high spirits, animation
lower regions: the area of a house where servants often resided and where one could find the kitchen
sons and daughters of Gaul: French men and women
The Tower of London: a fortress made up of several buildings on the Thames River in London where the English government...
(The entire section is 696 words.)
brigand: a bandit, a robber, a highwayman
cataleptic: having a condition in which consciousness and feeling seem to be temporarily lost and the muscles become rigid; may occur with epilepsy
Convulsionists: members of a religious group with physical practices similar to the Shakers or the Holy Rollers
Dervishes: members of any of various Muslim religious groups dedicated to a life of poverty and chastity; some Dervishes practice whirling and chanting as religious acts
ecclesiastic: a clergyman or priest
emulative: having a tendency to imitate; imitative
equidistant: at equal distance
escutcheon: a coat of arms
(The entire section is 1115 words.)
balustrades: railings supported by banisters
felicitous: pleasing, fortunate
flambeau: a torch
impenitently: unrepentedly, done without feeling shame or regret for one’s actions or attitudes
obsequiousness: cringing submissiveness
poniarded: stabbed (a poniard is a small, slim dagger)
propitiate: to win or regain the favor of a god, spirit, or person by doing something that pleases
smiting: striking with a firm blow
trenchant: vigorous, incisive in manner and style
vermin: parasitic worms, insects, and rodents
chain of the shoe: a chain beneath the carriage, attached to the brake...
(The entire section is 1034 words.)
adjure: to urge or request (someone) solemnly or earnestly to do something
deferential: showing deference, respect
fervent: having or displaying a passionate intensity
1. How does Darnay earn his living in England? Why does he prosper in this work?
Darnay teaches the French language and literature to men in Cambridge and London. He prospers because he does not shirk from work: “He had expected labour, and he found it, did it, and made the best of it. In this, his prosperity consisted.”
2. In what way has Doctor Manette lived since leaving prison in France?...
(The entire section is 613 words.)
arrears: money that is owed and should have been paid
complacent: unconcerned; showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements; being unaware of deficiencies or dangers
emissary: a person sent on a special mission
incorrigible: unable to be corrected, improved, or reformed
irresolute: showing or feeling hesitancy, uncertain.
laudable: deserving praise and commendation
magnanimous: very generous or forgiving, especially toward a rival or someone less powerful than oneself
mercenary: a professional soldier hired to serve in a foreign army
morose: sullen and ill-tempered
profligates: licentious, dissolute...
(The entire section is 832 words.)
cavalcade: a procession
eminent: famous and respected within a particular sphere or profession
heathen: one who adheres to the religion of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam
internment: confinement during wartime
pilotage: pay for work done as a pilot; Jerry escorts timid women from one side of the river to the other and is paid by them in return
public house: a tavern or inn that provides food and drink
refractory: stubborn, unmanageable
ubiquitous: present, appearing everywhere
Bear-leader: someone who led a trained bear from place to place as...
(The entire section is 625 words.)
assiduously: with care and persistence
bacchanalian: from the Roman god of the harvest and grapes, Bacchus; characterized by singing, dancing, drinking, and revelry
catechist: a person who teaches, especially the principles of a religion, by the method of questions and answers, explanation and correction
crag: a steep, rugged rock that rises above others
glutinous: resembling glue, gummy
olfactory: of or relating to the sense of smell
parricide: the killing of a parent or other near relative
poltroon: a spiritless coward
precipitate: to cause
sallow: (regarding a person’s complexion) an unhealthy yellowish color
(The entire section is 697 words.)
apocryphal: of doubtful authorship or authenticity
chaise: any of several kinds of lightweight carriages used for leisure, having two or four wheels and drawn by one or two horses
consecrated: to have made or declared (something, typically a church) sacred
1. Why does Doctor Manette speak of his time in jail now?
Manette says he reveals his heart and speaks about his past in prison because it is his and Lucie’s last night alone before she is married to Darnay.
2. How does Doctor Manette respond to Lucie’s concern that her marriage will bring about a change in...
(The entire section is 633 words.)
dissolute: lax in morals, licentious
guineas, shillings, bank-notes: archaic forms of British currency in the eighteenth century
supplication: a prayer asking for something humbly and earnestly
1. After Doctor Manette has returned to his healthy self, how does Lorry approach him about the previous nine days in which he had reverted to the prisoner he once was?
Lorry approaches Manette as if it were the problem of a third party he was seeking advice about. The tools that Lorry claims are used in response to the trauma are a blacksmith’s, rather than a...
(The entire section is 582 words.)
begrimed: blackened with ingrained dirt
clamorous: marked by a confused din or outcry
execration: an object of abhorrence and curses
impracticable: impossible in practice to do or carry out
incoherencies: instances of a lack of cohesion, clarity, or organization
inundation: an overwhelming amount; an overflow
musket: a long-barreled firearm, used by infantry soldiers before the invention of the rifle
pikes: archaic weapons formerly used by foot soldiers, consisting of a metal spearhead and a long wooden shaft
prattling: talking at length in a foolish manner
tumult: confusion, disorder
(The entire section is 735 words.)
begirt: to surround, to enclose
benighted: in a state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance, typically owing to a lack of opportunity
chary: cautious, wary
conflagration: an extensive fire that destroys a great deal of land or property
craven: lacking in courage, cowardly
degenerate: an immoral, corrupt person
entreating: asking someone earnestly and anxiously for something
inviolate: free or safe from injury
loadstone rock: a rock containing loadstone (or lodestone), a naturally magnetic mineral
modicum: a small quantity of a particular thing, a shred
munificent: generous; larger and more generous than...
(The entire section is 1083 words.)
ambuscade: an ambush
capricious: given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior
cockades: rosettes or knots of ribbons worn in a hat as a badge of office or party, or as part of a livery
dragoon trot: the pace of a mounted military unit
egress: the action or right of going out or leaving a place; exit
equipages: carriages and horses with attendants
farrier: a person who shoes horses, a blacksmith
ingress: a place or means of access, entrance
wicket: a grated window in a door
La Force: a prison in Paris, demolished in the late eighteenth century
(The entire section is 1177 words.)
metempsychosis: the supposed transmigration at death of the soul of a human being or animal into a new body
repudiated: refused to accept or be associated with
sequestrated: isolated, hidden away
The Gazette: an English government publication that listed bankruptcy announcements
1. How is Lorry ensconced in Paris?
He is at Tellson’s Bank, now located in the Monseigneur’s old chalet, which has been confiscated though new decrees in the Republic.
2. Who arrives at Tellson’s Bank in the night? Why have they come...
(The entire section is 439 words.)
alluvial: relating to rich soil; a deposit of sand or mud made by flowing waters
avocations: hobbies or minor occupations
deluge: to inundate with a great quantity of something
dormant: alive but not actively growing
Carmagnole: a dance popular during the French Revolution
Conciergerie: a prison in the Palais de Justice, Paris, where many prisoners sentenced to die by the guillotine spent their last days
Dragon’s Teeth: from the Greek mythological tales of seeds that grow into armed men; seeds of strife
(the) head of the king . . . the head of his fair wife: Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette,...
(The entire section is 986 words.)
abhorrence: a feeling of repulsion, disgusted loathing
cant word: a term from the secret slang of thieves and beggars; meaningless jargon
cavalier: a gallant, courteous gentleman; originally a knight
corroborate: to confirm, to give support to
culpability: blame worthiness; a state of guilt
dumb: rendered speechless; mute
enumerated: mentioned (a number of things) one by one
fervour (fervor): the state of being emotionally excited, aroused
gregarious: fond of company, sociable
irresolutely: in a manner showing uncertainty about how to act or proceed
pestilence: something that...
(The entire section is 960 words.)
awaricious (Cruncher’s pronunciation of “avaricious”): greedy of gain; excessively acquisitive
cogitation: serious, deep thought; meditation
fardens: dialect farthings
gentility: courteous behavior and manners
infirmity: physical or mental weakness
peroration: the concluding part of a speech, typically intended to inspire enthusiasm in the audience
prevaricate: to lie or avoid telling the entire truth
rebuke: to express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions
solicitude: attentive care and protectiveness
(The entire section is 896 words.)
abated: lessened, decreased
anathematised: denounced, cursed
ascertain: to find something out for sure
benumbed: deprived of emotion and feeling
constraining: severely restricting the scope, extent, or activity of someone or something
denunciation: the action of informing against someone
doleful: expressing sorrow and grief
imperious: assuming authority without justification; arrogant
pinioned: to have bound or held the arms or legs of someone
presentiment: an intuitive feeling about the future; foreboding
prodigious: remarkably great in size, extent, degree
quay: a landing place along the bank of a river
(The entire section is 903 words.)
acquiesced: accepted something reluctantly but without protest
antipathy: lack of interest or concern
augment: to make something greater by adding to it
bereft: deprived of, lacking something
despond: to become dejected, lose confidence
(the) dock: the place where the accused stands or sits in court
inveteracy: long-standing, not likely to change
1. Melodrama is a style of drama characterized by high emotion. In what way is the behavior of Darnay, Lucie, and Doctor Manette melodramatic when Darnay is sentenced to death?
When the sentence is announced, Lucie cries to...
(The entire section is 897 words.)
assignation: the act of assigning a place or time for a meeting
betrothal: a mutual promise to marry
cravat: a neck kerchief, a scarf
entreaty: an earnest, humble request
gesticulation: deliberate and active gestures or movements
litter: a stretcher for carrying the wounded and sick
obtruded: to become noticeable in an unwelcome or intrusive way
overfraught: over-filled, laden
two score and twelve: fifty-two; a ‘score’ is twenty
1. What are the two metaphors in this passage and what do they mean? “Fifty-two were to roll...
(The entire section is 984 words.)
bed-winches: instruments for tightening up or loosening the screws of bedsteads
epicure: a person who takes particular pleasure in fine food and drink
erst: archaic long ago, formerly
evaded: escaped or avoided, especially through clever trickery
exordium: the introductory part, especially of a treatise or speech
vied: competed eagerly with someone in order to do or to achieve something
visage: facial features or facial expressions
1. Why does Madame Defarge tell her friends Vengeance and Jacques Three that Defarge cannot be trusted to help them exterminate Manette,...
(The entire section is 753 words.)
expiation: making amends, reparation for guilt or a wrongdoing
exponent: a person who has and demonstrates a particular skill to a high standard
furrow: to make a rut, groove, or trail
illustrious: well known, respected, and admired as a result of past achievements
insatiate: never satisfied
petulantly: peevishly, ill-temperedly
seers: people with the supposed power to foretell events; prophets
1. What is the purpose of the interaction between Carton and the young woman who dies immediately before he is to be executed?
There are several reasons...
(The entire section is 579 words.)
1. What is the setting of A Tale of Two Cities?
A. Paris and Berlin
B. Paris and London
C. London and Berlin
D. Paris and Edinburgh
E. London and Prague
2. What is Mr. Lorry’s response to the message, “Wait at Dover for Ma’amselle”?
A. “Recalled to life.”
B. “Recalled to death.”
C. “Recalled to the office.”
D. “Recalled to the bank.”
E. “Recalled to prison.”
(The entire section is 1411 words.)
1. Describe how Dickens depicts the aristocrats and the peasants in A Tale of Two Cities. What appears to be his attitude toward the French Revolution and the New Republic? Include specifics from the novel in your discussion.
Dickens describes the era of the French Revolution in the famous opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” The introduction establishes the era as one of compelling contrasts, and throughout the narrative, Dickens contrasts the forces that shaped the French Revolution: love and hatred; life and death; great wealth and abject poverty; tyrannical power and utter powerlessness. The central relationship in the...
(The entire section is 4273 words.)