A Tale of Two Cities Summary
by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities book cover
Start Your Free Trial

A Tale of Two Cities Summary

A Tale of Two Cities is a novel by Charles Dickens about Paris and London during the French Revolution. 

  • Jarvis Lorry travels to Paris to reunite Dr. Manette with his long-lost daughter, Lucie.
  • Five years later, Lucie marries Charles Darnay, who confesses to Dr. Manette that he is a member of the French aristocracy. 
  • When Darnay returns to Paris to save a former servant, he is arrested by the revolutionaries and sentenced to death.
  • Sydney Carton, who resembles Darnay, trades places with him in prison and dies on the guillotine in his stead.

Download A Tale of Two Cities Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Summary

A Tale of Two Cities contrasts the social and political events taking place in Paris and London during (and prior to) the French Revolution in the mid-to-late eighteenth century. Dickens draws unsettling parallels between the two cities, describing abject poverty, appalling starvation, rampant crime, ruthless capital punishment, and aristocratic greed. The novel, which was published in three books during the mid-nineteenth century, 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.

Book the First: Recalled to Life

Book One opens in 1775 and focuses on the symbolic resurrection of Dr. Alexandre Manette, who has finally been released after an eighteen-year imprisonment in the Bastille. Lucie Manette (his dutiful seventeen-year-old daughter) and Jarvis Lorry (a business-minded bank clerk) retrieve him from a garret at the top of a wine shop in Paris. Dr. Manette cannot remember who he is, but he begins to recall his past life after seeing Lucie for the first time.

Book the Second: The Golden Thread

Book Two takes place five years after the events of Book One. It focuses on Charles Darnay, a French emigrant who denounces his aristocratic heritage for a new life in England. Darnay, whose real surname is Evrémonde, is on trial for treason—but is spared by the intervention of Sydney Carton, a young, alcoholic attorney who happens to be nearly identical to Darnay. Dr. Manette, who made a full recovery from his trauma-induced memory...

(The entire section is 419 words.)