A Tale of Two Cities Characters
The main characters in A Tale of Two Cities are Sydney Carton, Charles Darnay, and Lucie Manette.
- Sydney Carton is an outwardly cynical barrister who believes he has wasted his life. He ultimately sacrifices himself out of love for Lucie Manette and dies by guillotine in Charles Darnay’s place.
- Charles Darnay is a French aristocrat who has severed ties with his family, the cruel Saint Evremondes. He risks his life to save Gabelle and is saved from execution by Sydney Carton.
- Lucie Manette is a compassionate young woman who devotes herself to caring for her father, Dr. Manette, and eventually marries Charles Darnay.
Last Updated on January 27, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1054
Sydney Carton is an improbable hero who hides a noble and rather romantic nature beneath a carapace of hard-bitten cynicism. Carton is a barrister of high intelligence and considerable abilities whose career has nonetheless been unsuccessful, largely due to his lack of application and self-belief. He drinks a great deal and regards his life as worthless and wasted, which is one of the reasons why he decides to sacrifice it. The primary reason for his sacrifice, however, is his love for Lucie Manette, and it is his selfless concern for her happiness that finally elevates his deeply flawed character to the level of heroism.
Charles Darnay is a French aristocrat, a member of the Saint Evrémonde family, who has renounced his title and taken the name of Darnay in disgust at the cruel and oppressive conduct of the other Sainte Evrémondes. Darnay is physically very like Sydney Carton but psychologically quite dissimilar, as his character is open, honest, and quite free from cynicism. He is also less intelligent than Carton and seems not to grasp that Carton dislikes him principally because they both love Lucie Manette, and Darnay is able to marry her. Darnay is courageous and altruistic, risking his life when he returns to Paris to save Gabelle.
Lucie Manette is, in many ways, the archetypal Dickens heroine: young, beautiful, and so perfectly pure and good that she seems practically angelic. This is clearly the impression she makes on Sydney Carton, who loves Lucie but regards her as too far above him for him to think of marrying her. Lucie’s compassion and concern for Carton are a sign of her purity of heart, as is her selfless devotion to her father.
Dr. Alexandre Manette
After eighteen years of unjust imprisonment in the Bastille at the instance of the Sainte Evrémonde brothers, Dr. Manette is a physical and mental wreck, pitifully weak and perpetually terrified. The care of Lucie, the daughter he never met before his release from prison, gradually restores him to health and contentment.
Monsieur Defarge is the former servant of Dr. Manette, who now keeps a wine shop in Paris. He is also a leader of the revolution, to which he has a strong ideological commitment. Defarge is strong, brave, and principled. He hates the aristocracy, and the Sainte Evrémonde family in particular, partly out of loyalty to Dr. Manette. Nonetheless, he is more moderate in his attitude to the revolution than many of his comrades, including his wife. The Defarges take a leading role in the storming of the Bastille, and Sydney Carton foresees that he will eventually die by the “retributive instrument” of the guillotine.
Madame Defarge, wife of Ernest, shares his commitment to the revolution, though her attitude is far more extreme and bloodthirsty than her husband’s. She is fearless and ruthless, and utterly implacable in her hatred of the Sainte Evrémonde family. Madame Defarge is one of the leading tricoteuses, the women who sit placidly knitting as they watch the public executions.
Jarvis Lorry is an orderly, methodical, and slightly vain old gentleman of about sixty. He is a manager at Tellson’s Bank and takes charge of the Paris branch during the revolution. Lorry is a loyal friend of the Manette family, providing them with practical, and eventually life-saving, help and support.
Jerry Cruncher is a messenger for Tellson’s Bank who also turns out to be a body snatcher (or “Resurrection-Man”). He is a rough, even violent character, though he shows loyalty toward Jarvis Lorry and his friends, the Manettes.
The Marquis de Sainte Evrémonde
The Marquis de Sainte Evrémonde is Charles Darnay’s uncle, a haughty and corrupt French aristocrat with a face like a sardonic mask. In his cruelty, arrogance, and complete lack of remorse for a lifetime of oppressive exploitation, including assault and murder, the Marquis symbolizes everything that is wrong with the French aristocracy and which causes the revolution.
Monseigneur is a generic French aristocrat of a similar type to the Marquis de Sainte Evrémonde, though the two are not on good terms, as it becomes clear that Sainte Evrémonde is out of favor in court circles. Monseigneur also symbolizes the extreme decadence of the French aristocracy and the luxury in which they live. He has four gorgeously-liveried footmen to serve him his chocolate every morning, and Dickens sardonically observes that he would have been terribly ashamed to be waited on by only three servants and “must have died of two.” When the revolution begins, he has to escape ignominiously, disguised as a cook.
Stryver is a pompous and talentless barrister, always shown pushing and shouldering his way to greater professional success through a throng of other lawyers. He relies on the intelligence of Sydney Carton, who “devils,” or prepares cases, for him.
John Barsad is a spy whose real name is Solomon Pross. He is an obviously unreliable witness at Charles Darnay’s trial in London and later serves as a police spy in Paris. Dickens describes him as a terrible scoundrel, comparing him to Judas Iscariot. He cynically exploits his sister, the kind-hearted Miss Pross, who is Lucie Manette’s governess.
Roger Cly is a collaborator of John Barsad’s, also a spy and also untrustworthy, though less fully described. Cly is thought to have died, and his funeral procession is described, but when Jerry Cruncher digs up his coffin, it turns out to be full of rocks, meaning that Cly is alive and probably still working as a spy. Sydney Carton foresees his eventual death by guillotine.
Gabelle is an employee of the Sainte Evrémonde family whose letter to Charles Darnay, written from prison, brings Darnay to Paris. He is named after the gabelle, a very unpopular tax on salt, which was repealed in 1790, in the midst of the revolution, but reinstated by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806.
Miss Pross is the sister of Solomon Pross, also known as John Barsad, and governess to Lucie Manette. Her principal quality is her loyalty: she is strongly attached to Lucie and continually defends her brother, who shows her no consideration in return.