To what does Dickens allude in his novel A Tale of Two Cities?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With the historical setting of the French Revolution, Charles Dickens's novel A Tale of Two Cities certainly alludes to the storming of In fact, Dickens makes a note to the reader regarding Thomas Carlysle's The French Revolution: A History. the Bastille and the guillotine which were parts of the revolution.  In one allusion to the revolution, for instance, after Dr. Manette returns to France in order to vindicate his son-in-law, Charles Darnay, ne Evremonde, the bonnets rouges, as the revolutionaries are called, refer to Manette as "the Bastille Captive." 

Of course, in the opening chapter of the novel, Dickens alludes to the respective kings of England, George III, and of France, Louis XVI, as he draws parallels between the two countries:

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France.

In this same chapter, Dickens alludes to Mrs. Southcott, a self-proclaimed prophetress, who alledgedly had many revelations,

Mrs. Southcott...had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminister.

In addition, there is an allusion to the "Cock-lane ghost," a reference to the haunting of the 1760s of an apartment on Cock Lane, an alleyway adjacent to the famous St. Paul's Cathedral in London.  William Kent from Norfolk married Elizabeth Lynes who died in childbirth; after her death, he became involved with the sister Fanny, whom he could not marry because of canon law.  When Kent had to leave, he asked the landlord's daughter to keep Fanny company.  It was then that a scratching was heard; this scrathcing continued even after Fanny died.  Some felt that Fanny died not of the reported smallpox, but was murdered by William Kent himself. In yet another allusion, that of "the sister of the shield and trident," Dickens refers to an English symbol associated with currency at the time of the writing of A Tale of Two Cities.

Other famous places such as Turnham Green, a public park that originally was a village on the main road between London and the west.  In 1642 there was a battle fought in the First English Civil War in which the Parlimentarians blocked the King's advance upon London.


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A Tale of Two Cities

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