In A Tale of Two Cities, to what does the title of Chapter 1 refer?
"The Period" refers to the French and English societies in the 18th centuries illustrated by the lives of the peasants and aristocrats in a time of turbulence.
In France, there was Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI reigning supreme. The French court, as a result of the excess of their previous two monarchs Louis XIV and Louis XV, was extravagant, spendthrift, glamorous, and excessive.
While this was going on, the American Revolution was going on in the States, and France sent a lot of money and troops which left them broke. As a result of this, the people began to rebel into the angry words of Maximilian Robespierre who wanted basically to kill the entire French aristocracy and ended up in the French Revolution, where Marie Antoinette and Louis were beheaded.
In the same time, England was ruled by much milder, fatherly, and absolutely NOT extravagant King, which was George III (of Mad King George fame). His court was extremely different from the French in that it was frugal, simple, and minimalistic. That does not mean there were not crazy courtiers in the English court in fact there were plenty- but not the king.
When the rumbles of the French Rev came to George III the English court was trembling because their fates were also at risk. The importance here, however, is that when Dickens uses the economical words "The Period" he is referring to so much going on:Changes in philosophy, the fall of the French monarchy, the fears of Revolution everywhere, the savagery of the people, the fight to retain the rights of the aristocracy- it is a LOT of issues, all contained within two small words.