illustration of a guillotine

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

Start Free Trial

Essential Quotes by Character: Sydney Carton

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1454

Essential Passage 1: Book II (Chapter 4)

“Do you particularly like the man?” he muttered, at his own image; “why should you particularly like a man who resembles you? There is nothing in you to like; you know that. Ah, confound you! What a change you have made in yourself! A good reason for taking to a man, that he shows you what you have fallen away from, and what you might have been! Change places with him, and would you have been looked at by those blue eyes as he was, and commiserated by that agitated face as he was? Come on, and have it out in plain words! You hate the fellow.”


Sydney Carton has had dinner with Charles Darnay, the man whom Sydney helped acquit for treason. Sydney, however, has stated that doing so was just part of his job, that it was in no way a personal favor. Charles is very grateful but a bit shocked when Sydney states his dislike of him. Charles nevertheless is the perfect gentleman and does not retaliate and continues on good terms with Sydney. As Charles leaves Sydney to his alcoholic stupor, the latter reflects on his ambivalent feelings for the Frenchman. He questions why he should be expected to like Charles simply because they resemble each other physically. In fact, to Sydney this is an excellent reason to feel the opposite. Charles is a reminder of what Sydney could have been if he had applied himself. Charles is also a reminder that it is the Frenchman, rather than the Englishman, to whom Lucie Manette is evidently drawn.

Essential Passage 2: Book II (Chapter 13)

“My last supplication of all, is this; and with it, I will relieve you of a visitor with whom I well know you have nothing in unison, and between whom and you there is an impassable space. It is useless to say it, I know, but it rises out of my soul. For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. If my career were of that better kind that there was any opportunity or capacity of sacrifice in it, I would embrace any sacrifice for at some quiet times, as ardent and sincere in this one thing. The time will come, the time will not be long in coming, when new ties will be formed about you—ties that will bind you yet more tenderly and strongly to the home you so adorn—the dearest ties that will ever grace and gladden you. O Miss Manette, when the picture of a happy father’s face looks up in yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!”


Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette are to be married, with Dr. Manette’s blessing. Although Sydney Carton has been in love with Lucie since Darnay’s trial, he has come to accept the inevitable—that she would choose a stable person such as Darnay rather than a dissolute slacker such as himself. Rather than separate himself from the new couple, Sydney desires to continue their relationship, even if it is only as a friend. While he does not desire to change his ways, he does want to offer himself as a sacrifice for Lucie, should the occasion arise. Sydney, meeting Lucie prior to her wedding, asks her solely to accept him as a friend, with the pledge that he is at her service for whatever reason. He promises that he will do...

(This entire section contains 1454 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

anything for her or for anyone she loves. He simply asks that, when she is married with children, she would remember that there is someone who would gladly give up his life to save her or her loved ones.

Essential Passage 3: Book III (Chapter 15)

“I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it, faded away. I see him, foremost of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name with a forehead that I know and golden hair, to this place—then fair to look upon, with not a trace of this day’s disfigurement—and I hear him tell the child my story, with a tender and faltering voice.“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”


Sydney Carton has devised a plan by which he can fulfill his promise to Lucie: he will sacrifice his life to save the life of anyone she loved. Charles Darnay is in prison and sentenced to be executed on the guillotine. Having procured drugs, Sydney goes into the prison, telling Charles to write a letter that he will dictate (it is from Sydney to Lucie, reminding her of his pledge). As Charles writes, Sydney uses an inhalant to render him unconscious, changing clothes with him, and has him carried out in the disguise of Sydney himself. Sydney takes Charles’s place on the guillotine, sacrificing his life out of his love for Lucie. Moments before his death, as he approaches the guillotine, he envisions the future, when Lucie will have another child. She will name him after Sydney. The child will grow to be an honorable man, thereby redeeming the memory of Sydney. With this, Sydney submits himself to a sacrificial death, knowing that he is bound for a better place because of the tremendous act of love that he is about to commit.

Analysis of Essential Passages

Sydney Carton is first presented as a foil for Charles Darnay, similar in physical appearance yet opposites in character. Sydney’s intemperance, aimlessness, and cynicism highlight Charles’s honor, purpose, and hope. Yet in spite of these differences, they are joined in their love for Lucie Manette and their eventual willingness to make great sacrifices for the benefit of others. Charles gives up his title and property, refusing to gain through the toil of others. Sydney gives up his life so that Charles and Lucie may live in happiness.

From the beginning, at the trial in which Sydney and Lucie meet, Sydney presents himself as an alcoholic slacker, content to let his brilliance shine only accidentally. He is content to drift through life, indifferent to success, but his life is changed when he encounters Lucie and Charles.

Initially he expresses a hatred of Charles, simply because he is a pointed reminder of what Sydney could have been. It is only now that he expresses any regret at the life he has chosen, for in that choice he has made himself unacceptable as an appropriate suitor for Lucie Manette. Too late for him to change, Sydney resents Charles’s goodness, which eventually wins Lucie’s hand in marriage.

Rather than give up on himself, however, Sydney manages to find some purpose in life. Although he cannot be Lucie’s husband, he is content to be her friend. This indicates a depth of character that he has not previously shown. In a situation where he could have been petulant and resentful, he chooses honor by putting aside his self-centeredness and dedicating himself to the good of others. The eventual sacrifice of his life for Lucie reveals how much he is in fact Charles’s equal in honor and virtue.

Sydney’s infrequent appearance in the story does not indicate his importance in the daily lives of the Darnay family, however. Hints dropped by Lucie and Charles's children, who call Sydney “dear Carton,” indicate the love that he has engendered in the family and reveal that he has truly become part of it. Although he continues to live in a manner inconsistent with this new position, Sydney has begun a slow process of reformation. It is in part, at least, a selfish act, one in which he makes himself invaluable to the family simply to be near Lucie. Yet revealed through the eyes of children, Sydney’s character grows to make his ultimate sacrifice a believable act, the natural progression of his inner nobility and honor.

As an obvious Christ-figure, Sydney Carton lays down his life so that others might live. His sacrifice not only saves Charles Darnay: it also saves himself. His redemption is commenced by his dedication in friendship to the Darnay family; it is completed as he gives his life for another.

Essential Quotes by Theme: Resurrection

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1673

Essential Passage 1: Book I (Chapter 3)

...He was on his way to dig some one out of a grave.Now, which of the multitude of faces that showed themselves before him was the true face of the buried person, the shadows of the night did not indicate; but they were all the faces of a man of five-and-forty years, and they differed principally in the passions they expressed, and in the ghastliness of their worn and wasted state. Pride, contempt, defiance, stubbornness, submission, lamentation, succeeded one another; so did varieties of sunken cheek, cadaverous colour, emaciated hands and figures. But the face was in the main one face, and every head was prematurely white. A hundred times the dozing passenger inquired of this spectre:“Buried how long?”The answer was always the same. “Almost eighteen years.”“You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?”“Long ago.”“You know that you are recalled to life?”“They tell me so.”“I hope you care to live?”“I can’t say.”“Shall I show her to you? Will you come and see her?”The answers to this question were various and contradictory. Sometimes the broken reply was, “Wait! It would kill me if I saw her too soon.” Sometimes, it was given in a tender rain of tears, and then it was, “Take me to her.” Sometimes it was staring and bewildered, and then it was, “I don’t know her. I don’t understand.”


Jarvis Lorry, of Tellson’s Bank of London, is on his way to France to retrieve Dr. Alexandre Manette, an old customer and friend, who has been imprisoned in La Bastille, the notorious Paris prison, for eighteen years. He is to bring him to England, where he will be reunited with the daughter who thought that he had died long ago. Mr. Lorry envisions the possible scenarios of his meeting with Dr. Manette, not sure how someone who has been subjected to such an experience will react to his newfound freedom. In this hypothetical situation, Mr. Lorry points out to Dr. Manette that he has been “recalled to life.” Dr. Manette is unsure, his confidence shattered by his isolation in the dungeon. It is the possible multiplicity of responses from Dr. Manette to meeting his daughter that gives Mr. Lorry pause. Whether he will refuse to see her, beg to be taken to her immediately, or be mired in hesitation, Dr. Manette must come to accept the fact of his resurrection from the death of prison to the life of freedom.

Essential Passage 2: Book II (Chapter 13)

“If it had been possible, Miss Manette, that you could have returned the love of the man you see before you—self-flung away, wasted, drunken, poor creature of misuse as you know him to be—he would have been conscious this day and hour, in spite of his happiness, that he would bring you to misery, bring you to sorrow and repentance, blight you, disgrace you, pull you down with him. I know very well that you can have no tenderness for me; I ask for none; I am even thankful that it cannot be.”“Without it, can I not save you, Mr. Carton? Can I not recall you—forgive me again!—to a better course? Can I in no way repay your confidence? I know this is a confidence,” she modestly said, after a little hesitation, and in earnest tears, “I know you would say this to no one else. Can I turn it to no good account for yourself, Mr. Carton?”He shook his head.


Sydney Carton, who has long been in love with Lucie Manette, comes to visit her prior to her wedding to Charles Darnay. Sydney claims to hate Charles, simply because Charles's resemblance to himself is a constant r eminder of all that he threw away when he chose a dissolute lifestyle. Confessing his love to Lucie, Sydney nevertheless tells her that he knows a relationship with her would have been impossible. He knows that, due to the choices that he has made, he would only bring her sorrow. Lucie, acknowledging that she could not love him in his present circumstance, asks him if there is no way for her to “recall” him (echoing Mr. Lorry’s message concerning Dr. Manette’s release from prison: “recalled to life”) to a better course. She appreciates that Sydney has confided in her, and vows to keep his feelings secret. Yet she feels that in some way she needs to repay Sydney for his having saved Charles during the trial, the best way being to find a way to bring him back to a life of honor and purpose. Sydney rejects this possibility.

Essential Passage 3: Book III (Chapter 9)

The strong tide, so swift, so deep, and certain, was like a congenial friend, in the morning stillness. He walked by the stream, far from the houses, and in the light and warmth of the sun fell asleep on the bank. When he awoke and was afoot again, he lingered there yet a little longer, watching an eddy that turned and turned purposeless, until the stream absorbed it, and carried it on to the sea.—“Like me!”A trading-boat, with a sail of the softened colour of a dead leaf, then glided into his view, floated by him, and died away. As its silent track in the water disappeared, the prayer that had broken up out of his heart for a merciful consideration of all his poor blindnesses and errors, ended in the words, “I am the resurrection and the life.”


Sydney Carton has taken the place of Charles Darnay, sacrificing his life on the guillotine. Long ago, prior to Lucie’s marriage to Charles, Sydney promised that he would gladly sacrifice his life for her or for anyone she loved. This is the only gift he can give to the woman he loves. Rejecting the idea that he may himself be “resurrected” into a meaningful life, Sydney vows to willingly give his life for her, should the occasion arise. With Charles’s coming execution, Sydney recognizes the time is now. As he wanders the streets of Paris, he devises a plan by which he can take advantage of his resemblance to Lucie’s husband and thus switch places with him—he to the guillotine and Charles to the freedom of England. He stops and observes the river, noticing the waywardness and aimless direction of the water to the sea. He sees himself in this aimlessness. He realizes that his life for Charles's is the only way that he can amend his flaws. Although he will die, he can “be the resurrection” for Charles.

Analysis of Essential Passages

The theme of resurrection runs through the novel in many forms and through several characters: Jerry the “Resurrection Man,” who digs up graves for bodies to sell to doctors and medical students; Dr. Manette released from prison, both literally and mentally; Charles Darnay returned to life through the sacrifice of Sydney Carton; Sydney himself rising from his alcoholic stupor to a life of self-sacrifice; the people of France from their toil and torment to a dubious life of doubtful “liberty” in the revolution. The title of the first book, “Recalled to Life," may be said to be the theme of the entire novel. Rising from the pit, each character enters anew into a life that had previously been either denied them or in some way out of his or her reach.

Dr. Alexandre Manette is the first person who is “resurrected.” Having been imprisoned for knowing too much about the evil committed by the Evrémonde brothers, Dr. Manette has been “buried” for eighteen years. An innocent victim, he is permanently changed by his experience. In fact, Dr. Manette is evidence that no person remains the same once he is recalled to life. Resurrection irrevocably changes a person from what he was before. Nor is he completely free from death. Resurrection is not freedom from death, but only a temporary reprieve. Dr. Manette frequently returns to “death,” a mental retreat back into prison where he filled his time making shoes. The stench of death remains on him, affecting not only his own life but the lives of those around him. Yet it is through that death that he is able to present himself to the French revolutionaries as a hero. His imprisonment, his “death,” was the means by which he was able to “recall to life” Charles from his initial imprisonment in France.

Resurrection can also be resisted, as in the case of Sydney Carton. In his conversation with Lucie on the eve of her marriage, Sydney presents himself to her as an individual unworthy for any consideration due to his worthless life. In terms of honor, he is “dead.” Lucie offers him a means of resurrection by attempting to recall him to a life of a “better course.” Yet Sydney rejects the idea that he can return to the life that could have been his, a life that he is painfully reminded of by his similarity physically to Lucie’s husband. Despite his offer to lay down his life for Lucie and her family, Sydney chooses to remain “dead.”

However, it is in his final sacrificial death that Sydney reveals the truth of his existence. He cannot be resurrected, because he himself is resurrection. He is the resurrection, not of himself, but of Charles Darnay. His death recalls to life Lucie’s beloved husband, but not himself. In a way, however, Sydney Carton does indeed experience a type of resurrection through his death. His virtue and value as an honorable person rises to life even as he lays aside that life. His vision of a child of Lucie’s that bears his name reveals a resurrection of his character, to be lived out in a new form. While Charles is a painful reminder of what he failed to become, Charles’s son will be the man Sydney chose to become through his death.


Quotes in Context