“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
A Tale of Two Cities is an intriguing and fascinating book based in the late 18th century, during the French Revolution. The quote seen above is the opening sentence of the book, which brings to light the controversy and insecurity in that time period, ridden by revolutions and an extremely classed society. The novel recounts the story of French Doctor Manette and his release out of the Bastille. The book is split into three parts and is written by the famous Charles Dickens.
the plot of a tale of two cities
When Mr. Jarvis Lorry, an employee of the Tellson’s bank in London, receives a short message, “recalled to life”, he travels to a Suburb of Paris to find the newly released Monsieur Manette. He has spent the last 18 years of his life in the notorious Bastille prison. He is extremely weak and frail, but seeing his daughter, Lucie Manette, for the first time, gives him the motivation to join the company on their return to London. Manette is a physician by trade and has been wrongly imprisoned.
Five years later, the book jumps to the second part and to Mr. Lorry heading to court with the intention of witnessing a trial against the French émigré Charles Darnay, who has supposedly committed treason against the British crown. Because he has a striking similarity to his defender, Sydney Carton, and the witnesses cannot guarantee that they had seen Darnay and not Carton, he is set free. Later, Charles Darnay, whose real surname is Evrémonde, falls in love with Lucie Manette, while being unaware that his uncle and father, both of whom are upper-class citizens in France. Both being unaware of this, they marry just before the nation of France falls into a state of Revolution, the long-oppressed peasants finally rising against their lords and king. Darnay decides to save a servant of his uncle´s, stuck in the heart of the uprising, in Paris.
The third part of the book brings to light the brutality and atrocities of the Revolution. Not even Charles Darnay´s best efforts can conceal his aristocratic heritage and is therefore sentenced to death by the revolutionaries. Sydney Carton, the attorney sharing appearance with Darnay, selflessly offers to exchange places with Darnay. The imprisoners do not notice the switch and, ultimately, Carton dies on the guillotine for the sake of Lucie, Charles, and their daughter.
Charles Darnay is a french-born aristocrat who tries to hide his past and origin and therefore adopted an English name and identity. He is ashamed of the french aristocratic class for their cruel actions and injustices. He is an honest and loyal man who comes to love Lucie very dearly.
Lucie Manette, a French woman who was raised in England is unique for her love and compassion. She possesses the unique ability to bind people and develops an intimate relationship with her father.
Doctor Manette spends eighteen years of his life in the Bastille, when Lorry and Lucie journey across the Channel to retrieve him, he is confused and clearly traumatized by his experiences of year-long torture and hardship. Once he gets over his past and moves on, though, he develops into a kind-hearted father and a respectable man.
Sydney Carton is the most detailed and interesting character. He is, in the beginning, a miserable alcoholic with no future prospects. In the end, he morally surpasses his double, Charles Darnay, by giving up his meek life for Darnay´s future with his love, Lucie.
Jarvis Lorry is an elderly businessman who develops a personal friendship with the Manettes. In a way, he inhabits the role of a guardian angel for the father and daughter.
My favorite theme in the novel is resurrection, which is not immediately visible, but after a little excogitation one will see that Sydney Carton died for the life of a family, so in a way he dies but something else can live in his place. While reading the book, one often has to think of the imperial class hierarchy in Europe: while the upper class prospered in their luxurious palaces and bathed in wine, the lower class barely got by and had to give to the already rich landlords. In a way, Dickens criticizes the aristocrats, like Monseigneur (Darnay´s uncle) for abusing his underlings and disregarding their lives.
What makes this book so good and original is the blend of a major historical event (The French Revolution) and the personal story of the intricate and detailed characters. This book is a time machine, transporting the reader to a different age, an age of uncertainty and unrest.
Due to brutality and the very advanced yet perfectly placed vocabulary, I would recommend this book to readers over 15, but also because the sentence structures and phrases are obsolete. I would definitely recommend this book to all, because it is a classic and, according to Charles Dickens, his best novel.