Introductory Lecture and Objectives

A Tale of Two Cities eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

Set in London and Paris at the time of the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is both a love story and a tale of political intrigue. The narrative depicts the corruption of the French aristocracy, the violence of the French Revolution, and the fate of a family swept up in circumstances and events beyond their control. Dickens’s novel is one of injustice and revenge, love and loss; at its conclusion, it is a story of rebirth and redemption.

At the time A Tale of Two Cities was published in 1859, Charles Dickens was the most popular novelist in Victorian England, and the novel initially attracted a hundred thousand readers. It first appeared in serial installments in Dickens’s literary magazine, All the Year Round; his reading public followed the story as it unfolded and eagerly awaited the next chapters. Some critics of the day dismissed the novel out of hand, contending that it could not be very good because it was so enormously popular. In subsequent literary criticism, Dickens’s historical narrative is most usually viewed as being masterfully crafted, filled with suspense and rich in symbolism.

A Tale of Two Cities is structured in three books and begins in 1775. Doctor Manette has been imprisoned for eighteen years in the abhorrent Bastille for having witnessed a crime committed by members of the aristocracy. Released and “recalled to life,” Manette is taken to London and cared for by his daughter Lucie and his good friend, Jarvis Lorry. Years pass, and Lucie marries Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat who has renounced his heritage and lives in London, his personal history unknown. Meanwhile, revolutionary fervor is building in France.

Returning to Paris on a mission of mercy after the revolution has begun, Charles is arrested; Lucie, her father, and Sydney Carton, who is devoted to Lucie, rush from London to Paris to rescue him. Briefly, Doctor Manette is considered a hero within the revolution because of his imprisonment in the Bastille at the hands of the aristocracy, but he is unable to save Charles from the ruthless and vengeful Madame Defarge. A central figure in the revolution, Madame Defarge holds power in the New Republic and is determined to destroy Darnay. Finally, Sydney Carton saves Charles by trading places with him in prison on the day of his execution. Throughout the novel, Dickens is sympathetic to the political and social ideals of the French Revolution, but he is critical of the terror it unleashed.

A Tale of Two Cities is a typical Victorian Gothic novel in that it describes a fallen world, ruined and decaying, and evokes an atmosphere of dread and deterioration. Famous for creating characters and literary caricatures noted for their idiosyncratic speech and exaggerated mannerisms, Dickens writes A Tale of Two Cities with less focus on the characters’ distinguishing traits and more attention to what they do in the historical context of the revolution. Dickens abandons his typically “Dickensian” characterizations, with the exception of the minor characters Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross, in order to tackle the scope of an era and its major historical event. Most critics agree that A Tale of Two Cities is an innovative departure from Dickens’s previous work.

Rich in the imagery of the French revolution, the novel can be interpreted as a cautionary tale, although readers in Dickens’s day may have interpreted it differently since his audience was not limited to a  particular social class. The poor no doubt found the tale of violent revolution to be a warning to the English ruling class who enjoyed great wealth while workers often starved. Dickens identified with the suffering of the English lower class, having grown up in poverty as the son of a father imprisoned for his debts, but his novel does not glorify political revolution or call for it. Dickens’s emphasis on the horrors of the French Revolution suggests that A Tale of Two Cities is instead a warning against the continuing violence spawned by revolution and its effects upon the innocent and the guilty alike.

By the end of the unit the student will be able to:

1. Identify and describe the central conflict and the subplots in A Tale of Two Cities.

2. Discuss the influence of women on the evolution of the novel’s plot.

3. Identify the primary themes and motifs.

4. Discuss the effects of violence and oppression and the ideas developed through them.

5. Explain the causes and consequences of the French Revolution.

6. Identify the symbols in the novel, explain the ideas they communicate, and discuss their significance.

7. Identify the various representations of love presented in the text and explain how love affects character development.

8. Show how suspicion, lack of privacy, imprisonment, and loss of memory or the burden of memory contribute to the personal tragedies described in the novel.

9. Explain how love triumphs over hate and goodness triumphs over evil in the novel.

10. Recognize literary techniques, such as parody, anaphora, first-person and third-person narratives, foreshadowing, and the suspension of disbelief.

11. Determine and define those elements that make A Tale of Two Cities a celebrated classic.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

Student Lesson Guide

  • The Lesson Guide is organized for study of the book in sections as indicated by chapters. Lesson Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
  • Lesson Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each section of the book and to acquaint them generally with its content.
  • Before Lesson Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading...

(The entire section is 1326 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. Why does Dickens choose Paris and London for the locale of his novel? How does he depict each city? Are they more different or more similar? To what end?

2. Identify the subplots within A Tale of Two Cities. Discuss how they contribute to the novel, particularly its conclusion.

3. What is the significance of the names of each of the chapter titles? How do the chapter titles throughout A Tale of Two Cities foretell the action?

4. Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities in installments, as a serial contribution to a magazine. Identify and discuss where these breaks are evident. Do they coincide with action that leaves the reader in suspense? Discuss how serialization contributes to or...

(The entire section is 833 words.)

Book the First, Chapter 1


blunderbusses: muskets with a large bore and a broad, flaring muzzle, accurate only at close range

epoch: an event or a period of time marked by an event that begins a new period of time and development

gaols: British jails

highwayman: archaic a man, usually on horseback, who robbed travelers on a highway

incredulity: the quality or state of being incredulous; disbelief

mire: wet spongy earth

potentate: one who wields great power or sway

prophetic: predictive; foretelling events

retinue: a group of attendants

revelation: an act of revealing to view or making known

sublime: to...

(The entire section is 894 words.)

Book the First, Chapter 2


adjuration: earnest urging or advising

arm-chest: a chest containing weapons

capitulate: to cease resisting; archaic to negotiate

cutlass: a short, curving sword, originally used by sailors

jack-boots: heavy, sturdy military boots that extend above the knees

tinder-box: a metal box used to hold tinder, flint, and steel for striking a spark

Historical References

Dover: the English port for travelers to and from France

flint and steel: Flint is a fine-grained, hard rock that produces sparks when struck against a piece of steel. Before the invention of matches, people used flint and steel to start...

(The entire section is 454 words.)

Book the First, Chapter 3 and Chapter 4


alehouse: a place where ale is served; a tavern

awfulness: awesomeness, magnitude (in context)

coach and six: a coach drawn by six horses

cocked-hat: a three-cornered hat with a turned-up brim

evanescence: the process or fact of evanescing, which is to dissipate like vapor

inexorable: not to be persuaded, moved, or stopped

sonorous: producing sound (as when struck); full and loud in sound

supplicatory: humble in entreaty

unfathomable: impossible to understand

valise: suitcase

Study Questions

1. In the beginning of chapter 3, the narrator speaks of “a wonderful fact to reflect upon, that...

(The entire section is 971 words.)

Book the First, Chapter 5


admonitory: expressing warning

besmirched: to have sullied, soiled

cadaverous: suggestive of corpses

expostulation: the act or instance of discussing, examining

farthing: archaic a former British monetary unit equal to one fourth of a penny

gaunt: excessively thin or angular

homage: an expression of high regard

lee-dyed: soaked with the dregs of wine

offal: the waste or by-product of a process; the waste that remains after butchering an animal for food

porringer: a low usually metal bowl with a single and usually flat and pierced handle (the) window of dormer shape: a window set vertically in a sloping roof


(The entire section is 972 words.)

Book the First, Chapter 6


adieu: French “farewell”; the nuance is a “goodbye” in which one will not meet again

box: the driver’s seat of a coach

coercion: the act of dominating by force

frock: a long, loose garment

garret: a room or unfinished part of a house just under the roof

haggard: having a worn or emaciated appearance

lethargy: the quality or state of being drowsy, sluggish, lazy

pallet bed: a small bed or pad filled with straw and placed directly on the floor

parchment: the skin of a sheep or goat prepared for writing on it

provender: food

sagacity: keenness and intelligence

swoon: to faint; to become...

(The entire section is 605 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2


aphorism: a pithy observation that contains a general truth

asunder: divided into pieces, broken apart

choused: cheated

extemporised (extemporized): improvised something, such as speech or a piece of music

incommodious: causing inconvenience

insensate: lacking feeling or compassion

obstinacy: stubbornness, the trait of being difficult to reason with

pillory: archaic a wooden framework with holes for the head and hands in which an offender was imprisoned and exposed to public abuse

purloiner: a larcenist, a criminal, a bandit

quartering: archaic a brutal punishment in which a person’s...

(The entire section is 1025 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 3


antipathy: a deep-seated feeling of dislike, aversion

immolate: to kill or offer as a sacrifice, especially by burning

infamy: a state of extreme dishonor

pernicious: having a harmful effect

Providence: the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power

refection: refreshment of food and/or drink

sublime: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe

Study Questions

1. Why is Darnay in court?

He is accused of treason and is being prosecuted for giving the French information about the British armies during the war against the American...

(The entire section is 656 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 4 and Chapter 5


augere: a forewarning

cadence: a modulation or inflection of speech

deprecate: to express disapproval of

dexterous: skilled; clever

disconcerted: to have disturbed the composure of

dissipated: wasted, exhausted; scattered, dispersed

fervent: having or displaying a passionate tendency

hew: to make or shape (something) by cutting or chopping a material such as wood

pith: soft, spongy material, particularly in plants or animals

(the) reckoning: the bill (in context)

robing room: the room where judges and lawyers put on their official robes

staves: vertical wooden posts or planks in a building or other structure


(The entire section is 697 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 6


compunction: a pricking of the conscience, a sense of guilt

fit of the jerks: an epileptic seizure

footpad: archaic a highwayman who travels by foot

paupers: very poor people

spectral: of or like a ghost

staid: sedate, respectable, and unadventurous

vivacity: characterized by high spirits, animation

Historical References

lower regions: the area of a house where servants often resided and where one could find the kitchen

sons and daughters of Gaul: French men and women

The Tower of London: a fortress made up of several buildings on the Thames River in London where the English government...

(The entire section is 696 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 7


brigand: a bandit, a robber, a highwayman

cataleptic: having a condition in which consciousness and feeling seem to be temporarily lost and the muscles become rigid; may occur with epilepsy

Convulsionists: members of a religious group with physical practices similar to the Shakers or the Holy Rollers

Dervishes: members of any of various Muslim religious groups dedicated to a life of poverty and chastity; some Dervishes practice whirling and chanting as religious acts

ecclesiastic: a clergyman or priest

emulative: having a tendency to imitate; imitative

equidistant: at equal distance

escutcheon: a coat of arms

Farmer General:...

(The entire section is 1115 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 8 and Chapter 9


balustrades: railings supported by banisters

felicitous: pleasing, fortunate

flambeau: a torch

impenitently: unrepentedly, done without feeling shame or regret for one’s actions or attitudes

obsequiousness: cringing submissiveness

poniarded: stabbed (a poniard is a small, slim dagger)

propitiate: to win or regain the favor of a god, spirit, or person by doing something that pleases

smiting: striking with a firm blow

trenchant: vigorous, incisive in manner and style

vermin: parasitic worms, insects, and rodents

Historical References

chain of the shoe: a chain beneath the carriage, attached to the brake


(The entire section is 1034 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 10


adjure: to urge or request (someone) solemnly or earnestly to do something

deferential: showing deference, respect

fervent: having or displaying a passionate intensity

Study Questions

1. How does Darnay earn his living in England? Why does he prosper in this work?

Darnay teaches the French language and literature to men in Cambridge and London. He prospers because he does not shirk from work: “He had expected labour, and he found it, did it, and made the best of it. In this, his prosperity consisted.”

2. In what way has Doctor Manette lived since leaving prison in France?


(The entire section is 613 words.)

Book the Second, Chapters 11-13


arrears: money that is owed and should have been paid

complacent: unconcerned; showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements; being unaware of deficiencies or dangers

emissary: a person sent on a special mission

incorrigible: unable to be corrected, improved, or reformed

irresolute: showing or feeling hesitancy, uncertain.

laudable: deserving praise and commendation

magnanimous: very generous or forgiving, especially toward a rival or someone less powerful than oneself

mercenary: a professional soldier hired to serve in a foreign army

morose: sullen and ill-tempered

profligates: licentious, dissolute...

(The entire section is 832 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 14


cavalcade: a procession

eminent: famous and respected within a particular sphere or profession

heathen: one who adheres to the religion of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam

internment: confinement during wartime

pilotage: pay for work done as a pilot; Jerry escorts timid women from one side of the river to the other and is paid by them in return

public house: a tavern or inn that provides food and drink

refractory: stubborn, unmanageable

ubiquitous: present, appearing everywhere

Historical References

Bear-leader: someone who led a trained bear from place to place as...

(The entire section is 625 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 15 and Chapter 16


assiduously: with care and persistence

bacchanalian: from the Roman god of the harvest and grapes, Bacchus; characterized by singing, dancing, drinking, and revelry

catechist: a person who teaches, especially the principles of a religion, by the method of questions and answers, explanation and correction

crag: a steep, rugged rock that rises above others

glutinous: resembling glue, gummy

olfactory: of or relating to the sense of smell

parricide: the killing of a parent or other near relative

poltroon: a spiritless coward

precipitate: to cause

sallow: (regarding a person’s complexion) an unhealthy yellowish color


(The entire section is 697 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 17 and Chapter 18


apocryphal: of doubtful authorship or authenticity

chaise: any of several kinds of lightweight carriages used for leisure, having two or four wheels and drawn by one or two horses

consecrated: to have made or declared (something, typically a church) sacred

Study Questions

1. Why does Doctor Manette speak of his time in jail now?

Manette says he reveals his heart and speaks about his past in prison because it is his and Lucie’s last night alone before she is married to Darnay.

2. How does Doctor Manette respond to Lucie’s concern that her marriage will bring about a change in...

(The entire section is 633 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 19 and Chapter 20


dissolute: lax in morals, licentious

guineas, shillings, bank-notes: archaic forms of British currency in the eighteenth century

supplication: a prayer asking for something humbly and earnestly

Study Questions

1. After Doctor Manette has returned to his healthy self, how does Lorry approach him about the previous nine days in which he had reverted to the prisoner he once was?

Lorry approaches Manette as if it were the problem of a third party he was seeking advice about. The tools that Lorry claims are used in response to the trauma are a blacksmith’s, rather than a...

(The entire section is 582 words.)

Book the Second, Chapter 21


begrimed: blackened with ingrained dirt

clamorous: marked by a confused din or outcry

execration: an object of abhorrence and curses

impracticable: impossible in practice to do or carry out

incoherencies: instances of a lack of cohesion, clarity, or organization

inundation: an overwhelming amount; an overflow

musket: a long-barreled firearm, used by infantry soldiers before the invention of the rifle

pikes: archaic weapons formerly used by foot soldiers, consisting of a metal spearhead and a long wooden shaft

prattling: talking at length in a foolish manner

tumult: confusion, disorder

wrathfully: with...

(The entire section is 735 words.)

Book the Second, Chapters 22-24


begirt: to surround, to enclose

benighted: in a state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance, typically owing to a lack of opportunity

chary: cautious, wary

conflagration: an extensive fire that destroys a great deal of land or property

craven: lacking in courage, cowardly

degenerate: an immoral, corrupt person

entreating: asking someone earnestly and anxiously for something

inviolate: free or safe from injury

loadstone rock: a rock containing loadstone (or lodestone), a naturally magnetic mineral

modicum: a small quantity of a particular thing, a shred

munificent: generous; larger and more generous than usually...

(The entire section is 1083 words.)

Book the Third, Chapter 1


ambuscade: an ambush

capricious: given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior

cockades: rosettes or knots of ribbons worn in a hat as a badge of office or party, or as part of a livery

dragoon trot: the pace of a mounted military unit

egress: the action or right of going out or leaving a place; exit

equipages: carriages and horses with attendants

eventide: evening

farrier: a person who shoes horses, a blacksmith

ingress: a place or means of access, entrance

wicket: a grated window in a door

Historical References

La Force: a prison in Paris, demolished in the late eighteenth century


(The entire section is 1177 words.)

Book the Third, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3


metempsychosis: the supposed transmigration at death of the soul of a human being or animal into a new body

repudiated: refused to accept or be associated with

sequestrated: isolated, hidden away

Historical Reference

The Gazette: an English government publication that listed bankruptcy announcements

Study Questions

1. How is Lorry ensconced in Paris?

He is at Tellson’s Bank, now located in the Monseigneur’s old chalet, which has been confiscated though new decrees in the Republic.

2. Who arrives at Tellson’s Bank in the night? Why have they come...

(The entire section is 439 words.)

Book the Third, Chapter 4 and Chapter 5


alluvial: relating to rich soil; a deposit of sand or mud made by flowing waters

avocations: hobbies or minor occupations

deluge: to inundate with a great quantity of something

dormant: alive but not actively growing

Historical References

Carmagnole: a dance popular during the French Revolution

Conciergerie: a prison in the Palais de Justice, Paris, where many prisoners sentenced to die by the guillotine spent their last days

Dragon’s Teeth: from the Greek mythological tales of seeds that grow into armed men; seeds of strife

(the) head of the king . . . the head of his fair wife: Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, both...

(The entire section is 986 words.)

Book the Third, Chapters 6-8


abhorrence: a feeling of repulsion, disgusted loathing

cant word: a term from the secret slang of thieves and beggars; meaningless jargon

cavalier: a gallant, courteous gentleman; originally a knight

corroborate: to confirm, to give support to

culpability: blame worthiness; a state of guilt

dumb: rendered speechless; mute

enumerated: mentioned (a number of things) one by one

fervour (fervor): the state of being emotionally excited, aroused

gregarious: fond of company, sociable

irresolutely: in a manner showing uncertainty about how to act or proceed

knavish: dishonest

meddlesome: troublesome

pestilence: something that...

(The entire section is 960 words.)

Book the Third, Chapter 9


awaricious (Cruncher’s pronunciation of “avaricious”): greedy of gain; excessively acquisitive

cogitation: serious, deep thought; meditation

fardens: dialect farthings

gentility: courteous behavior and manners

infirmity: physical or mental weakness

peroration: the concluding part of a speech, typically intended to inspire enthusiasm in the audience

prevaricate: to lie or avoid telling the entire truth

rebuke: to express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions

solicitude: attentive care and protectiveness

Study Questions

1. How...

(The entire section is 896 words.)

Book the Third, Chapter 10


abated: lessened, decreased

anathematised: denounced, cursed

ascertain: to find something out for sure

benumbed: deprived of emotion and feeling

constraining: severely restricting the scope, extent, or activity of someone or something

denunciation: the action of informing against someone

doleful: expressing sorrow and grief

imperious: assuming authority without justification; arrogant

pinioned: to have bound or held the arms or legs of someone

presentiment: an intuitive feeling about the future; foreboding

prodigious: remarkably great in size, extent, degree

quay: a landing place along the bank of a river

rouleau of...

(The entire section is 903 words.)

Book the Third, Chapter 11 and Chapter 12


acquiesced: accepted something reluctantly but without protest

antipathy: lack of interest or concern

augment: to make something greater by adding to it

bereft: deprived of, lacking something

despond: to become dejected, lose confidence

(the) dock: the place where the accused stands or sits in court

inveteracy: long-standing, not likely to change

Study Questions

1. Melodrama is a style of drama characterized by high emotion. In what way is the behavior of Darnay, Lucie, and Doctor Manette melodramatic when Darnay is sentenced to death?

When the sentence is announced, Lucie cries to...

(The entire section is 897 words.)

Book the Third, Chapter 13


assignation: the act of assigning a place or time for a meeting

betrothal: a mutual promise to marry

cravat: a neck kerchief, a scarf

entreaty: an earnest, humble request

gesticulation: deliberate and active gestures or movements

litter: a stretcher for carrying the wounded and sick

obtruded: to become noticeable in an unwelcome or intrusive way

overfraught: over-filled, laden

Historical Reference

two score and twelve: fifty-two; a ‘score’ is twenty

Study Questions

1. What are the two metaphors in this passage and what do they mean? “Fifty-two were to roll that...

(The entire section is 984 words.)

Book the Third, Chapter 14


bed-winches: instruments for tightening up or loosening the screws of bedsteads

epicure: a person who takes particular pleasure in fine food and drink

erst: archaic long ago, formerly

evaded: escaped or avoided, especially through clever trickery

exordium: the introductory part, especially of a treatise or speech

vied: competed eagerly with someone in order to do or to achieve something

visage: facial features or facial expressions

Study Questions

1. Why does Madame Defarge tell her friends Vengeance and Jacques Three that Defarge cannot be trusted to help them exterminate Manette,...

(The entire section is 753 words.)

Book the Third, Chapter 15


expiation: making amends, reparation for guilt or a wrongdoing

exponent: a person who has and demonstrates a particular skill to a high standard

furrow: to make a rut, groove, or trail

illustrious: well known, respected, and admired as a result of past achievements

insatiate: never satisfied

petulantly: peevishly, ill-temperedly

retributive: retaliatory

seers: people with the supposed power to foretell events; prophets

Study Questions

1. What is the purpose of the interaction between Carton and the young woman who dies immediately before he is to be executed?

There are several reasons...

(The entire section is 579 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. What is the setting of A Tale of Two Cities?

A. Paris and Berlin

B. Paris and London

C. London and Berlin

D. Paris and Edinburgh

E. London and Prague

2. What is Mr. Lorry’s response to the message, “Wait at Dover for Ma’amselle”?

A. “Recalled to life.”

B. “Recalled to death.”

C. “Recalled to the office.”

D. “Recalled to the bank.”

E. “Recalled to prison.”


(The entire section is 1411 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Describe how Dickens depicts the aristocrats and the peasants in A Tale of Two Cities. What appears to be his attitude toward the French Revolution and the New Republic? Include specifics from the novel in your discussion.

Dickens describes the era of the French Revolution in the famous opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” The introduction establishes the era as one of compelling contrasts, and throughout the narrative, Dickens contrasts the forces that shaped the French Revolution: love and hatred; life and death; great wealth and abject poverty; tyrannical power and utter powerlessness. The central relationship in the...

(The entire section is 4273 words.)