“A Tale of Two Cities”: Summary, Synopsis & Symbolism
The French Revolution changed the political landscape of the state’s aristocracy as the monarchy of France collapsed and led to the eventual execution of King Louis XVI. Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was set in the time preceding the French Revolution and the time during the movement itself.
The story was based in two major European hubs of the time which still attract significant attention today; London and Paris. The tale revolved around a supplanted French aristocrat and a dissolved British barrister.
A Brief Insight into the Life of Charles Dickens
Dickens, who was the most renowned English novelist of the Victorian Era, was born on the 7th of February, 1812 in Kent, England. He tended to write about social reform and its inevitable impact on the individuals affected by the waves of change which was a natural reaction to the maltreatment he faced as a child while working in different factories.
Unlike other novelists, Dickens used to publish his work in chapter installments rather than publishing finished works to begin with. His work mustered awe-inspiring acclaim and his novels remain popular over a century later. He died in the year 1870, at the age of fifty eight.
The book was published in the year 1839 from the months April through November. It was completed in thirty one weekly installments which were eventually compiled into a single copy which is now known as A Tale of Two Cities. The book is still split into three major sections which divide the story according to the timeframe, characters and relational intricacies.
A Brief Summary of A Tale of Two Cities
The story revolves mostly around Charles Darnay, a French ex-aristocrat and Sydney Carton, a British barrister. Darnay is victimized as he falls directly into the path of the Revolution’s movement and hides under pseudonyms instead of his actual name and title. He goes on trial for treason a few years later after British spies falsely accuse him of providing the French with information regarding British military troops in North America.
Sydney Carton, the barrister, fancies Darnay’s wife Lucie Manette but she does not reciprocate his feelings. Carton possesses a tarnished image and a damaged reputation. Some critics argue that Darnay and Carton were doppelgangers of each other’s personalities. The three main characters are trapped in a love-triangle with complicated relationships and convoluted intricacies. The relational complexities coupled with socio-political plot twists make for an epic tale of love, struggle, tragedy and hardship.
Relation to Dickens’ personal life
Several people were of the opinion that Carton and Darnay possessed traits that Charles Dickens himself had in his personality. The two characters are shown to be psychologically and genetically similar. It has also been argued that Charles Dickens’ affair with Ellen Ternan was reflected in the role of Lucie Manette. The likeness of the two men across either ends of the English Channel was illustrated by a specific collection of phrases in the book. It reads:
‘Do you particularly like the man [Darnay]?’ he muttered, at his own image [which he is regarding in a mirror]; ‘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 talking 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 [belonging to Lucie Manette] 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.
The characters that breathed life into A Tale of Two Cities
The main characters were the two men entangled in their personal struggles and a common love interest, namely:
- Charles Darnay: The French ex-aristocrat.
- Sydney Carton: The disreputable British barrister.
- Lucie Manette: Charles Darnay’s wife and Sydney Carton’s love interest.
There were several other characters that helped breathe life into the story which included:
- Dr. Alexandre Manette: Lucie’s father.
- Monsieur Ernest Defarge: Dr. Manette’s ex-servant who owns a wine shop.
- Madame Therese Defarge: A female revolutionary who is married to Ernest Defarge.
- Jacques I, II, and III: Ernest Defarge’s revolutionary comrades.
- The Vengeance: Madam Defarge’s shadow lieutenant.
There are several other characters which supported the story’s base but were not of equal importance when compared to the main lineup.
The story was also adapted into several films across the Western world. Some of the notable film productions which featured Dickens’ infamous tale were:
- Three silent films titled A Tale of Two Cities (1911, 1917 and 1922)
- The Only Way (1927) A British production
- A Tale of Two Cities (1935) A silver screen MGM production featuring Ronald Colman which was nominated for an Academy Award.
- A Tale of Two Cities (1958)
It was also adapted into radio shows in 1938, 1945, 1950 and 1989 which included broadcasts by the British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC also produced a miniseries in 1957 which was based on the three main characters.
The tale was also re-embodied in four stage musicals and one opera in 1968, 1984 and in the 2000s.
Susanne Alleyn, an American author, wrote the novel A Far Better Rest; which was based on A Tale of Two Cities from Sydney Carton’s perspective and was published in 2000.
Other famous works by Charles Dickens
Dickens was well known not only for A Tale of Two Cities but he also authored:
- The Adventures of Oliver Twist
- A Christmas Carol
- David Copperfield
- Great Expectations
- The Chimes
He was well known for his distinct style which featured tinges of sarcasm and humor amid the formal tone of old. His works are preserved and recreated in the modern world.
Famous quotations from A Tale of Two Cities
"Eighteen years! Gracious Creator of day! To be buried alive for eighteen years!" – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Book 1, Chapter 3.
"I have sometimes sat alone here of an evening, listening, until I have made the echoes out to be the echoes of all the footsteps that are coming by and by into our lives."
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Book 2, Chapter 6.
"Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend, will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof shuts out the sky,’" Book 2, Chapter 9.
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die." Book 3, Chapter 9.
"Then tell the Wind and Fire where to stop, but don’t tell me." Book 3, Chapter 12.