A Tale of Two Cities Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities is set against which backdrop?

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A Tale of Two Cities takes place against the backdrop of the French Revolution (1789–1799) and the years leading up to it. The revolution is generally considered to have begun with the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, when a mob of revolutionaries attacked and demolished brick by brick the Bastille, a state prison which had become a symbol for the corruption of the French monarchy. The Storming of the Bastille marks the approximate halfway point in A Tale of Two Cities (Chapter 21), and the pace of the novel picks up considerably from that chapter onward. The chapters leading up to the Storming of the Bastille establish the growing anger among the lower and middle classes about the social inequality in France, and the novel's later chapters depict the Reign of Terror, the bloodiest period of the revolution in which dozens of enemies of the revolution were put to death in daily public executions.

When discussing the backdrop of the novel, it is also important to take into account the time in which Dickens was writing. He published the novel 60 years after the end of the French Revolution, but there were a series of revolutions and revolts in Europe in the late 1840s and early 1850s (1848 is often referred to as the "year of the revolutions" in Europe), and Dickens feared that the political unrest would spread to England. It is likely that he wanted to remind his readers of how dangerous revolutionary movements can be. Think about the novel's famous first sentence, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." and remember that he ends that opening by stating that, "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." Dickens is saying that revolutionary France had experienced many of the same issues that were currently facing Victorian Britain.
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