A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Tellson & Co

Tellson & Co. English merchant bank with branches in London and Paris. The bank’s London office is dark, ugly, and staffed by old-fashioned bankers. Dickens describes the bank as resembling both a prison and a grave. As the oldest bank in England, Tellson’s is a symbol not only of English economic dominance but also of resistance to change. The bank’s London office is located “in the shadow” of Temple Bar, a large stone gateway which was used until 1780 to display on spikes the heads of executed criminals. The London office becomes a place of refuge for French aristocrats fleeing the violence of the revolution. In the yard of the bank’s Paris branch, the mob sharpens its weapons on a large grindstone, while the blood of already-executed victims drips from their clothes.

For Dickens, England is peaceful only on the exterior. Like France, it suffers from cruelty and widespread oppression of the majority of its population. The Old Regime in Europe comprises an upper class resistant to change and high-handed kings attempting to maintain the status quo. Dickens models Tellson’s Bank on Child and Company (founded in the seventeenth century on 1 Fleet Street and Thelusson’s Bank in Paris, in which a major financial adviser to King Louis XVI named Jacques Necker once worked).

*Saint Antoine

*Saint Antoine (sah[n]-tahn-twahn). Poor and densely populated district in Paris’s eastern suburb, where the attack on the Bastille takes place. It is an emotionally charged setting in which actions of violence and vengeance take place during the revolution. Descriptions of streets and buildings in Saint Antoine take on the character of the residents. It is at the main fountain in St. Antoine that a child is accidentally hit by the speeding coach of the marquis, who offers a few coins as a compensation for the child’s life.

Defarge’s Wine Shop

Defarge’s Wine Shop. Parisian wine shop which for Dickens is the eye of the storm that becomes the French Revolution. The shop serves as a meeting place for the leaders of the revolution. It is in front of the wine shop that one of the most memorable scenes in the novel takes place. A broken casket of wine results in neighborhood people rushing to salvage the precious drops of wine from the casket with their earthenware mugs, thus establishing not only an intoxicating brotherhood of blood but also one of wine.

*Bastille

*Bastille. Massive fortification in Paris that served as an armory and a prison for the four centuries preceding the French Revolution. Although it houses only four prisoners in 1789, the Bastille stands as a gargantuan symbol of the oppression of the Old Regime. In Cell 105, North Tower (a fictional creation), Dr. Manette languishes for eighteen years. As the revolution begins, a great firestorm surrounds the Bastille. Dickens borrows from Thomas Carlyle’s history The French Revolution (1837) in describing the storming of the Bastille in minute detail. It was at the Bastille that...

(The entire section is 5,391 words.)