Summary of the Novel
A Tale of Two Cities is concerned with events in Paris and London before and during the French Revolution. The story focuses on Charles Darnay, the self-exiled nephew of French nobility, and his wife, Lucie Manette, daughter of Dr. Alexandre Manette. As the first of the novel’s three sections begins, Jarvis Lorry is on his way to Paris to reunite Dr. Manette with the daughter who thought he has been dead for the past 18 years. Over this time Dr. Manette has forgotten his past life; he sits in a small attic room and makes shoes. Slowly, Jarvis and Lucie Manette “recall (him) to life.”
The novel’s second section starts five years later. Lucie Manette marries Charles Darnay. Darnay confesses a secret to Dr. Manette on the eve of the wedding. This secret turns out to be that Darnay is really Charles Evremonde, a member of the French ruling class. Darnay has renounced his past and wishes to settle in England. Meanwhile, unrest is growing in the Paris suburb of St. Antoine. The center of this unrest is a wine-shop owned by the Defarges, who are shown leading the storming of the Bastille.
The final section of the novel opens with Darnay on his way to Paris at the entreaty of a former servant who is endangered. Darnay is arrested and sentenced to die. The Manettes and Lorry hurry to Paris and succeed in freeing Darnay, but he is soon arrested again. He is sentenced to the guillotine. Sydney Carton, who bears a striking resemblance to Darnay, sneaks into the prison and switches places with Darnay. Carton is on his way to the guillotine, willing to die for the love of Lucie, while Darnay, the Manettes and Lorry flee to London.
Estimated Reading Time
Like most Victorian authors, Dickens could be verbose. At roughly 400 pages, A Tale of Two Cities is actually one of his shorter novels. While the optimal way to read this novel would be to read one weekly installment at a time, this is impractical. As the novel is broken into three sections, a better reading plan would be to read the first section in one sitting, while devoting two sittings each to the final two longer sections. Total reading time should be approximately 12 hours.