How can I approach a brief summary of Charles Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities?

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choucksolace eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Tale of Two Cities is a three part novel that takes place in London and Paris during the French Revolution.

As the novel opens, Lucie Manette travels to Paris to elicit the release of her father from prison. Due to his lengthy incarcertation, Dr. Manette is mentally ill and barely recognizes his daughter. Jarvis and Lucie return to England with her father.

Part Two takes place five years after Part One. Charles Darnay is on trial for treason, having been framed by British spies. The charges are dropped, however, when a witness is unable to identify him.

Meanwhile in Paris, a peasant named Gaspard swears vengeance against the Marquis St. Evremond, whose carriage fatally struck his child and who added insult to injury by tossing Gaspard a coin for his trouble. When the Marquis visits Darnay, his nephew and heir to his fortune, the Marquis is murdered by Gaspard, who later hangs for the crime.

Back in London, Darnay falls in love with Lucie and wishes to marry her. Dr. Manette gives his blessing, despite the presence of several other suitors. Darnay hides his true identity from Lucie as they marry and begin raising a family. 

Book Three begins with Darnay returning to Paris, where his aristocratic heritage is revealed, landing him prison. Although Dr. Mannette attempts to secure his release, his own words are used as evidence against Darnay. His letters reveal that the late Marquis abducted and raped a young woman, who later died, and then worked her husband to death.

Darnay is scheduled to be executed the following day, but Sydney Carton, a former suitor of Lucie, arranges for Darnay to be freed. Carton is then executed in his place. As he awaits the guillotine, Carton reflects on the many victims of the Revolution, remarking that giving his life to save another man is his greatest accomplishment.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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