A Tale of Two Cities Study Guide

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A Tale of Two Cities By Charles Dickens

In the year 1775, Jarvis Lorry, banker, is traveling from England to France, bringing Dr. Alexandre Manette to London. Before he leaves for France, he meets Dr. Manette's seventeen-year-old daughter Lucie, and reveals to her that her father is not dead, as she thought, but rather has been a prisoner of the French for her entire lifetime. Jarvis and Lucie travel together to Saint Antoine, France, where they meet revolutionary leaders (and wine shop owners) Ernest and Therese Defarge. The revolutionaries the Defarges lead refer to their each other as "Jacques".

Formerly Dr. Manette's manservant, Ernest Defarge guides Jarvis and Lucie to see Lucie's father. Unfortunately, Dr. Manette has been driven mildly insane by his imprisonment, and sits alone in a dark room cobbling shoes all day as he was forced to do while in prison. It takes him some time to recognize his daughter's golden hair and blue eyes, but when reality strikes him, he agrees to return to England with Lucie and Mr. Lorry.

Book 2

Five years later, Charles Darnay is being tried for treason, but two British spies named John Barsad and Roger Cly are attempting to frame him for their own purposes. They claim that the French Darnay gave information about British troops to the French. A witness who knows Darnay very well is unable to distinguish between Darnay and Sydney Carton, one of the lawyers defending Darnay, who happens to look strikingly like his client. Because of the confusion, Darnay is acquitted.

In Paris, the Marquis St. Evremonde runs over and kills a peasant child who's father's name is Gaspard. He tosses a coin to the child's father to compensate him for his loss. As the Marquis' coach drives off, Ernest Defarge appears to comfort Gaspard, and in doing so, he throws the Marquis' coin back into his coach, which irritates the Marquis.

Back at his chateau, St. Evremonde meeds up with his nephew, the recently-aquitted Charles Darnay, whose real name is Charles Evremonde. They argue because Darnay is sympathetic to the peasants, but the Marquis believes that keeping them in check with fear and slavery is the appropriate way to treat them. That night, Gaspard murders the Marquis while he sleeps, and leaves a note behind identifying himself as "Jaques".

Soon after, in London, Charles Darnay asks Dr. Manette's permission to wed his daughter Lucie, but is delayed by his former lawyer Sydney, who professes his love for Lucie as well, and promises to sacrifice anything for her and those she cares for. Nevertheless, Dr. Manette chooses Darnay as his daughter's groom.

The morning that Lucie is to be married, Darnay reveals his relationship to the Marquis to Dr. Manette, who nearly goes insane again, and begins obsessively cobbling again. Before Lucie can return from her honeymoon, her father regains his sanity, and Jarvis Lorry destroys his cobbling equipment.

1789: the Defarges, while storming the Bastille, sneak into the cell where Dr. Manette was once held long ago, looking for something and finding it.

Three years later, a letter comes to Jarvis Lorry's bank addressed to Evremonde. It's from a servant of the old Marquis Evremonde, begging for assistance from the new Marquis Evremonde. Darnay, who is unwilling to reveal that he is the new Marquis, leaves for Paris to assist the servant.

Book 3

Once he arrives in France, Darnay is imprisoned. His wife Lucie, her father Alexandre, Miss Pross, "Little Lucie" (Darnay and Lucie's daughter), and others come to Paris to meet Lorry and attempt to free Darnay. They fail, and a year and a quarter later, Darnay is once again in court. Dr. Manette manages to get him released, but he is arrested again the next day.

The Defarges, who have become powerful since the revolution, are brining charges against Darnay with an "unnamed other". The "other" turns out to be Dr. Manette, not directly, but in an account of his own imprisonment, which Ernest Defarge had found in Dr. Manette's old cell when he stormed the Bastille. Dr. Manette is horrified when he realizes that it is his own words that are being used to prosecute Darnay.

Meanwhile, Miss Pross, who is out on an errand, stumbles upon her long-lost brother Solomon. Sydney Carton arrives on the scene and reveals that Solomon Pross is also known as John Barsad -- one of the men who was prosecuting Darnay during his first trial. Carton threatens to name Solomon as Barsad to the new government, which would surely execute him as he has spied on the French and the British with equal enthusiasm.

Back at the trial, Darnay is confronted by Ernest Defarge, who points out Darnay's identity as the new Marquis St. Evremonde, and reads from Dr. Manette's letter, which describes how Dr. Manette was imprisoned by Darnay's father and uncle (who was slain by Gaspard earlier) for attempting to report the crimes they committed against a peasant family, which resulted in the youngest sister of the family, who had been raped by Darnay's father, being hidden away for her own safety after her husband, father, and brother were killed by Darnay's father and uncle. Dr. Manette attempts to protest this use of his old letter, but is ignored, and his condemning letter goes on record. Darnay is scheduled to be guillotined the next day.

At the same time, Sydney Carton finds himself at the Defarge's wine shop, where he hears Therese Defarge planning to have Lucie and Little Lucie killed as well. He discovered that Therese Defarge is in fact the rape victim that was hidden away many years ago. As Dr. Manette fails repeatedly to save Darnay's life, finally collapsing in a fit of insane shoemaking, Carton talks to Jarvis Lorry, urging him to flee with Manette, Lucie, and Little Lucie.

Just after, Carton goes to the prison to visit Darnay, and drugs him. Solomon Pross, who has been blackmailed into helping Carton, carries Darnay out of prison. Carton (whom you will remember looks so much like Darnay that even Darnay's friends couldn't tell them apart in court) stays in the cell. Recalling his earlier promise to Lucie to make any sacrifice for her and those she loves, Carton resolves to be executed in Darnay's place. Meanwhile, Lorry, Darnay (who is carrying Carton's identification papers), Alexandre, Lucie, and Little Lucie flee Paris for England.

That morning, Madame Defarge goes to Lucie's family's residence with a pistol, looking to catch them breaking the law by mourning for an enemy of the Republic (Darnay). To buy the family time to escape, Miss Pross meets Madame Defarge and fights her, accidentally killing Madame Defarge with her own pistol -- but going permanently deaf in the process, both from the noise of the shot and the shock of having murdered someone.

Finally, Sydney Carton comes forth from Darnay's cell to be guillotined. Carton has a long series of prophetic thoughts, forseeing the revolutionaries (including Ernest Deforge and Solomon Pross) being guillotined, and predicting that Lucie and Darnay will have a son which they will name after Carton. All of these thoughts do in fact come to pass. Sydney's last thought has become a classic quote: "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."

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