Introduction to A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859, is a historical novel that contrasts the social and political events taking place in Paris and London prior to and during the French Revolution in the mid-to-late eighteenth century. The novel centers around a cast of characters of both English and French backgrounds who grapple with shifting social tides as revolutionary sentiment pervades France.

Dickens draws unsettling parallels between the two cities, describing abject poverty, appalling starvation, rampant crime, ruthless capital punishment, and aristocratic greed. The novel, which Dickens published in installments in his magazine All the Year Round, retrospectively questions the degree to which the French revolutionaries of the late eighteenth century upheld Enlightenment-era ideals of rational thought, tolerance, constitutional government, and liberty.

A Brief Biography of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was arguably the most prominent English novelist of the Victorian era, known as much for the epic sweep and realistic texture of his fiction as for his keen awareness of the social issues of his time. Raised in an impoverished family and forced to work in a factory from a young age, Dickens went on to work as a journalist as a young man and eventually began writing and selling fiction in the serialized format typical of the time. His first novel was The Pickwick Paperas, published in 1836, which quickly became an enormous success. Over the next three decades, Dickens produced a monumental body of work—including novels, plays, short stories, and nonfiction—with broad popular appeal and literary richness. By championing social causes in his works, creating vivid, unforgettable characters, and caring for his audience as much as he did for his pen, Dickens established himself as one of the greatest authors of nineteennth-century England. His best-known works include Oliver Twist (1838), A Christmas Carol (1843), and A Tale of Two Cities (1859).

Frequently Asked Questions about A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

The main idea of A Tale of Two Cities centers on transformation. Throughout the novel, both individual people and entire societies are transformed. However, transformation does not come without...

Latest answer posted April 8, 2021, 4:45 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens used water as a recurring motif to represent the French people’s rising anger about the political climate. Just like a powerful body of water, revolutionary...

Latest answer posted October 4, 2020, 3:20 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

A Tale of Two Cities

The phrase "recalled to life" occurs several times in A Tale of Two Cities and provides the title for the first book. It is always used in connection with Dr. Alexandre Manette, who has languished...

Latest answer posted October 4, 2020, 5:24 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

Doubles are used for the sake of contrast in A Tale of Two Cities. Most obviously, there is the case of the two titular cities: London is presented as civilized and stable, while Paris is violent...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 12:35 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

Dickens's The Tale of Two Cities opens with the following lines: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 12:38 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

Taking advantage of his physical similarity to Charles Darnay, Sydney Carton switches places with him in prison so that Darnay will be able to live and Carton will be executed in his place. Though...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 12:51 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

Dr. Manette's eighteen years of imprisonment in the Bastille are the result of his upholding his professional integrity in the face of corruption. When he answers the call of the St. Evermonde...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 1:05 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

Dickens was no revolutionary, although he spoke out strongly against the injustices of his age. A Tale of Two Cities is in part a cautionary tale about the dangers of a society spinning out of...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 1:12 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

Madame Defarge, the wife of the wine-shop keeper, Monsieur Ernest Defarge, is introduced in chapter 5, "The Wine-shop," of "Book the First—Recalled to Life," of A Tale of Two Cities, a historical...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 2:03 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

The guillotine was the machine used to carry out beheadings during the French revolution in the late eighteenth century. Its use normalized mass violence, particularly during the Reign of Terror,...

Latest answer posted October 4, 2020, 2:56 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

In book 2, chapter 10, Darnay visits Dr. Manette to tell him that he is in love with Manette's daughter, Lucie. During the course of their talk, two promises are exchanged. Manette promises that he...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 2:10 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

You might analyze the two parallel plots as a device to better educate England about revolutionary France. Remember, the revolutionary spirit wasn’t restricted to the French nation. The overthrow...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 4:26 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities is an 1859 historical fiction novel written by famed English writer and social critic Charles Dickens. In it, Dickens incorporates numerous socially and politically relevant...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 6:05 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

A Tale of Two Cities

In chapter 14 of book 3, Madame Defarge plans on having Lucie Manette arrested as an enemy of the revolution. She hopes to catch Lucie grieving for the condemned Charles Darnay, and since grieving...

Latest answer posted October 4, 2020, 1:13 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

A Tale of Two Cities

Sydney Carton's famous last words are technically never spoken aloud to any other character. It might even be more appropriate to call them his last thoughts. The narrator observes that a woman...

Latest answer posted October 4, 2020, 1:34 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

While a great many characters fall in love with Lucie Manette, Mr. Stryver seems to view her as a potential trophy more than anything else. When he describes his marriage plans to Sydney Carton,...

Latest answer posted October 4, 2020, 1:52 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

Because Charles Darnay is a man of conscience, he is troubled by the abuses he sees aristocrats of his class, especially from his own family, perpetrating in France before the French Revolution....

Latest answer posted October 4, 2020, 2:12 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

After Charles Darnay's acquittal, Carton notices that he looks faint and takes him to dinner. This seems to be an act of kindness, and Darnay receives it as such. As he drinks, however, Carton...

Latest answer posted October 4, 2020, 2:26 pm (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

The importance of A Tale of Two Cities lies on two fronts: firstly, it is perhaps the most influential presentation of the French Revolution in popular culture. Dickens drew heavily from Thomas...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 11:36 am (UTC)

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A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities is set during the French Revolution and mentions true historical events, such as the storming of the Bastille and the reign of terror which followed the upheaval of the...

Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 11:51 am (UTC)

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Summary