Follow TV Tropes


Literature / A Tale of Two Cities

Go To
"It is a far, far better thing..."

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

A Tale of Two Cities is a novel by Charles Dickens first published in 1859, dealing with the events of The French Revolution and their impact on the lives of a number of fictional characters living at the time. The two cities of the title are London and Paris: Paris is used as a symbol of lawlessness, whereas London represents Order, albeit still containing problems that could, over time, lead to a situation as bad as Paris.

Lucie Manette, a young Frenchwoman living in England, receives news that her father, who has been lost for sixteen years and was presumed dead, is actually alive, albeit insane, and would she please come see him to see if her presence can help restore his sanity. Lucy later marries Charles Darnay, who, unknown to her family, is the son of a deceased Marquis in France. When he receives a letter from France calling him to go save one of his former servants, France draws him in, and attempts to execute him. At the same time, Sydney Carton – a man who looks as though he were Darnay's twin separated at birth – tries to redeem his wasted life.

The novel has one of the most famous opening lines in literature, and the final scene includes a line that is almost as famous, (although context would be a spoiler):

"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."

Dickens' novel was largely inspired by his reading of Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History and took from it the sense of the Revolution as an elemental eruption of the human spirit when pushed too far. Thomas Carlyle's book was itself a highly romantic and melodramatic work rather than historical so the novel does suffer from Dated History to some extent despite being broadly accurate to the circumstances and events of the French Revolution. Unlike Carlyle, Dickens sympathized with the ends, though not the conduct, of the Revolution, and offers a glimpse of hope that after the extremists meet their end, France itself would rise a free and happy Republic, eventually.

As one of Dickens' most famous works and indeed one of the most famous novels of 19th century English literature, it has been adapted to the screen several times. There were no fewer than four silent film adaptations. The most famous sound adaptation is the Academy Award-nominated 1935 film directed by Jack Conway and starring Ronald Colman as Carton. There was also a 1958 film directed by Ralph Thomas and starring Dirk Bogarde as Carton, with Christopher Lee and Donald Pleasence in supporting roles; a well-regarded 1980 BBC series starring Paul Shelley as Carton and Darnay and produced under Barry Letts; a 1989 Granada/ITV series that utilised both English and French actors; and a 2008 Broadway musical.

If you're looking for the story of Bob Trimbolie and Terry Clark, it's right over here.

Can be read here.

This book provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Sydney Carton to a T, and Stryver. While doing paperwork well into the night, Stryver becomes increasingly inebriated, while Sydney seems to become even more efficient.
  • Anaphora: On the first sentence of the novel:
    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Make no mistake, they definitely are. Indeed Darnay feels so guilty that he decides to Shed the Family Name but his family is way more evil than even he suspected and it nearly gets him killed as well.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Darnay's uncle. He caused the death of Madame's Defarge's entire family, ran over a peasant child and coldly tosses the father a coin as a consolation prize. Unsurprisingly, no one's upset when the pissed off father murders him.
    • Most of the early victims of the Revolution are regarded as this, being corrupt nobility in the main.
  • Athens and Sparta: The title invokes this: with London being Athens (a refined classy restrained society) and Paris being Sparta (a city in the middle of a warzone filled with violence and anarchy). Now Dickens does qualify this by insisting that London isn't perfect, noting the class inequality and tensions there (devoting particular attention to the heyday of the highwayman in the late 1700s), and he presents Paris as merely an instance of what could happen to London if it became as complacent as the French nobility did.
  • Audience Surrogate: Mr. Lorry isn't really at the center of any of the events in the story, but is present for almost the entire thing, and we get to see what he's thinking fairly often.
  • Ax-Crazy: At the beginning of the Revolution, the lower classes are described as going kill-crazy on the upper classes, massacring even those they'd already taken prisoner. This is most vividly depicted by a group who gather around a blade sharpener in preparation for another round of slaughter, all the while wearing women's clothing and having glued pubic hair beards to their faces.
  • Babies Ever After: In his prophetic final visions of the futures of the other characters, Sydney Carton imagines Charles and Lucie having a son whom they name in his honour.
  • Bang, Bang, BANG: Miss Pross gets permanently deafened when Madame Defarge's gun goes off during their struggle.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Zig-zagged. The Manettes and Darnays are all beautiful people of impeccable morals. However, the trope is inverted just before the final confrontation. Madame Defarge is said to be quite a handsome woman, while Miss Pross is wiry, unattractive and so peculiar-looking that it's hard to notice when she's been beaten up. Also played with in the case of John Barsad, who is described as looking quite handsome but a bit shifty due to an aquiline nose. Turns out that he's really Miss Pross' long lost brother Solomon, who is a scoundrel of the highest order.
  • Best Served Cold: Madame Defarge will silently knit and continue knitting as she watches the aristocrats run roughshod over the people, fully waiting for the day of reckoning when she will remorselessly and pitilessly unleash her vengeance upon them.
  • Big Bad Slippage: Madame Defarge starts out as an ordinary woman with extremist views and becomes a revolutionary leader, before sinking deeper and deeper into a murderous desire to take revenge upon anybody even remotely connected to the men who caused the deaths of her father and siblings.
  • Big Fancy House: The Marquis owns a dazzling chateau, which turns out to make great firewood...
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Happens In-Universe when Madame Defarge barges into Lucie's house, intending to have her Revenge by Proxy, but is stopped by Miss Pross. The narrator tells us that both women spoke in their native language, but their facial expressions and body language makes their intentions perfectly clear to each other.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Charles Darnay is saved and lives a long and happy life with Lucie, but only because Sydney Carton swaps clothes with him and is executed in his place. And on a broader level, all the blood and death of the Revolution will ultimately give way to a happy and free France.
  • Blue Blood: Spilt by the gallon. It is The French Revolution, after all.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: In chapter 16, Monsieur Defarge thinks about his wife as "a great woman, a terrible woman, a terribly great woman!"
  • Bullet Holes and Revelations: During the struggle between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge over a gun, it goes off. It takes a few lines to find out where the shot went.
  • Buy Them Off: The Marquis tosses a coin to the father whose child his carriage runs over. He is very offended when that gold coin gets (understandably) tossed back in to the carriage.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The Carton/Darnay resemblance, which Sydney uses to take the latter's place on the Guillotine.
    • Cruncher's graverobbing. It gets mentioned in one chapter, but doesn't become relevant until it turns out that Cruncher had tried to rob the spy Roger Cly's grave and found no corpse.
  • Companion Cube: A somber example Played for Drama: The shoemaker's bench and tools are this for Doctor Manette, who refers to the equipment as a friend and deplores its destruction. When Lorry and Miss Pross do end up getting rid of the shoemaker's bench, they also treat it like something alive:
    On the night of the day on which he left the house, Mr. Lorry went into his room with a chopper, saw, chisel, and hammer, attended by Miss Pross carrying a light. There, with closed doors, and in a mysterious and guilty manner, Mr. Lorry hacked the shoemaker's bench to pieces, while Miss Pross held the candle as if she were assisting at a murder — for which, indeed, in her grimness, she was no unsuitable figure. The burning of the body (previously reduced to pieces convenient for the purpose) was commenced without delay in the kitchen fire; and the tools, shoes, and leather, were buried in the garden. So wicked do destruction and secrecy appear to honest minds, that Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross, while engaged in the commission of their deed and in the removal of its traces, almost felt, and almost looked, like accomplices in a horrible crime.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Dickensian destiny at work: Charles Darnay is put on trial in an English court where his Identical Stranger counterpart Sydney Carton happens to be defending him. Dr. Manette's daughter marries the last heir of the Evremondes, who imprisoned him. His former serving boy Defarge marries the sister of the woman that the Evremondes raped and Manette treated.
  • Dark and Troubled Past:
    • Charles Darnay: He's actually a French aristocrat, Charles St. Evrémonde, whose family is infamous for its mistreatment of the poor. He renounces his title and wealth, moves to England and attempts to live a new life.
    • Sydney Carton: His mother died when he was young. He "followed his father to the grave," and otherwise never felt at home anywhere. He always did other people's work at university, and never took credit when it was due to him. The result is his alcoholism and self-deprecatory attitude.
    • Dr. Manette: He gets wrongly imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years by Darnay's father and uncle, causing him to write a manifesto that would later sentence his son-in-law to the Guillotine.
    • Madame Defarge: It was her older sister who was raped and ultimately killed by Darnay's uncle. The sister's husband was worked to death by the Evremonde brothers, their brother died defending her honor, and their father died of grief. Thus Defarge swore vengeance against all of the Evrémondes.
  • Darker and Edgier: There have always been a great many scenes of violence, gritty and dark moments in Dickens' earlier novels but those were always balanced by Dickens' gift for caricature, satire, and humour. A Tale of Two Cities doesn't have the countervailing elements and as such is among Dickens' most serious and darkest books.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Lucie and Charles' first son gets named for Sydney in honour of his sacrifice on their behalf. Sydney Darnay continues the tradition by naming his own son after Sydney as well.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Carton.
    Stryver: Sydney, I rather despair of making myself intelligible to you, because you are such an insensible dog.
    Sydney: And you are such a sensitive and poetical spirit.
  • Death by Irony: One of the nobles proclaimed that the starving peasants could just eat grass. The rebels make sure to stuff grass in his mouth as they drag him to his death.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Miss Pross and Madame Defarge.
  • The Determinator:
    • Madame Defarge will stop at nothing to have her vengeance, saying, "Ask the wind and the fire to stop, not me."
    • The Mender of Roads meets an agent of the Revolution who is set to burn down the Evremondes' chateau and notes how implacable his expression is, even in sleep. He imagines he sees more of these types of men at work for the Republic.
  • Disproportionate Restitution: A nobleman in a speeding carriage crushes a child and flips a coin onto the street for the grieving father.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Revolution quickly gives way to the Reign of Terror, where the most tenuous links to the aristocracy, the most minor of infractions or the slightest hint of disloyalty will earn you an appointment with the National Razor. Madame Defarge is the living embodiment of this trope and would gladly murder the entire family of Charles Darnay for what his uncle did to her family. Even the child. The innocent seamstress girl who dies just before Sydney Carton on the Guillotine is the living embodiment of the victims of such rage and hatred.
  • Domestic Abuse: Cruncher's introduction reveals that he gets into violent rows with his wife, which is more or less played for comedy. It helps establish him as a dumb, working-class Cockney.
  • Droit du Seigneur: Cited by Dr. Manette in his Letter as to the crimes of the Evremondes towards Defarge's sister.
  • Dying Alone: Averted when Sydney Carton talks with the seamstress on the tumbrel, confides the truth, and encourages her in facing death. He succeeds. Similarly, see Stay with Me Until I Die.
    "I mind nothing while I hold your hand. I shall mind nothing when I let it go, if they are rapid."
    "They will be rapid. Fear not!"
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done...
  • Entitled to Have You: Stryver plans to offer himself to Lucie, believing that his position is more than enough for her; he is aghast when Mr. Lorry tries to talk him out of it.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Jerry Cruncher is a spectator at Charles Darnay's treason trial, and notices that one of the defence barristers spends most of the trial slouched in his chair, staring at the ceiling as though uninterested in the proceedings. That is, until he scrawls a note on a piece of paper and tosses it to Stryver, who asks the judge if his learned friend can remove his wig... revealing that he is a dead ringer for Darnay and completely discrediting the testimony of witnesses who claim to be sure they would recognise Darnay anywhere. And thus we are introduced to the razor sharp mind hidden beneath a facade of total indifference that characterises Sydney Carton.
    • Lucie faints in her first appearance. She does a lot more of that throughout the book.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Mender of Roads is always referred to as such, until he takes a new job and is called the Wood Sawyer. It's not even clear that the two names refer to the same person until the narration mentions that the Wood Sawyer recently mended roads.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Sydney Carton faces his death in the book's final pages with a sense of calm, feeling it is the one decent thing he has ever done in his life. Seeing the courage he is displaying gives comfort to the Seamstress who is executed just before him.
  • Family Extermination: Madam Defarge wants to wipe out the House St. Evremonde, including children.
  • Faking the Dead: Cly faked his own death. Cruncher, graverobber that he is, is able to use this as blackmail against his partner, Barsad.
  • Foreshadowing: In Book II, Sydney Carton tells Lucie Manette that while he feels unworthy of her, his love for her has pushed him the closest he has been all his life to actually wanting to redeem his wasted years, and he finishes by asking her to "think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!" In the final chapters of Book III, he does exactly that by swapping places with Charles Darnay when the latter is sentenced to death by guillotine.
  • Grave Robbing: Jerry Cruncher's side job, in which capacity he digs up Cly's coffin and discovers that it is filled with rocks, as Cly faked his death. A combination of Lorry's outrage when he learns that an employee of Tellson's Bank is engaged in such an enterprise and the fear the excesses of the Reign of Terror have put in him prompt Cruncher to vow to give up body-snatching in the penultimate chapter.
  • Gun Struggle: Miss Pross vs. Madame Defarge when the latter comes looking for Lucie with intent to kill, and the former understands just enough from her tone of voice to realise that her ward's life is in danger. Madame Defarge loses.
  • Hate Sink: While the Defarges are certainly brutal and bloodthirsty, they're not completely unsympathetic. Ernest has lines he'll at least hesitate to cross, while Thérèse has a tragic backstory and one of her main motivations is avenging her dead relatives. The St. Evrémonde brothers, however, are evil aristocrats of the worst kind. During the events of the story proper, the surviving brother shows no remorse when his carriage runs over a child, and treats giving the dead boy's father a gold coin as if it's enough to make up for what happened. Then he insists that subjugating and oppressing the "vulgar" commoners under his rule is his family obligation. And it's made clear that his late brother was no better. Is it any wonder Charles wanted nothing to do with his family? Later on, it turns out they were even worse than Charles thought. In the backstory, they abducted a pregnant peasant girl — fatally wounding her brother when he tried to protect her — and abused and raped her horribly until she died. They're also responsible for the deaths of her husband and, indirectly, her father; who knows what they would have done to her younger sister Thérèse if she hadn't been spirited away to safety. Finally, they had Dr. Manette imprisoned in the Bastille on invented charges when he tried to report them to the authorities.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Played with in the characters of Madame Defarge and the other knitting female revolutionaries.
    "Is that his child?" said Madame Defarge, stopping in her work for the first time, and pointing her knitting-needle at little Lucie as if it were the finger of Fate.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Miss Pross is an Actual Pacifist, who develops hysterical deafness after accidentally killing Madame Defarge. (Given that she just had a gun go off next to her ear, this may not have been so hysterical, but she's more likely to have tinnitus.)
    • In addition, Dr. Manette's mind collapses after his "lost" narrative from his imprisonment, in which he denounces the Evrémondes, resurfaces as the clinching testimony against his son-in-law, Darnay. Carton and Lorry's hope that his status as a symbol of the Revolution's ideals will make it possible for him to argue for Darnay's release are dashed when he regresses to the belief that he is a shoemaker and remembers nothing of his life in England.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Sydney Carton takes Darnay's place in prison and is executed in his stead.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Madame Defarge. After her death, Vengeance wonders where she is, and Dickens mockingly suggests sending messengers after her. "It is questionable whether of their own will they will go far enough to find her!"
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Madame Defarge is shot by her own pistol. Many of the revolutionaries were eventually killed by their own guillotine, which is Truth in Television.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Darnay rushes back to France to aid a former servant in need. Without telling anyone. During the French Revolution. Silly Charles. Turns out that the servant he was trying to rescue wasn't in as tight a spot as Darnay believed, which makes it even worse.
    • Both Madame Defarge's older brother and sister refuse to reveal their family name to Dr. Manette so that they can retain some honor, despite the possibility that he could have alerted authorities about the crimes committed against them.
  • I Am Spartacus: The members of La Résistance all refer to each other as Jacques Number (their number).
  • The Idealist: Lucie basically assumes the best of everybody she meets, and believes that she can appeal to their better nature through kindness. In some cases (Carton) it works; in others (Madame Defarge) it definitely doesn't.
  • Identical Stranger: Carton and Darnay are not even from the same country, never mind the same family, yet their astonishing resemblance to each other is a major plot point. It first discredits eyewitness testimony when Darnay is falsely accused of spying for the French crown, then it allows Carton to take Darnay's place when the latter is sentenced to death for being a member of the hated St Evrémonde family.
  • I Have This Friend: Played with when Mr. Lorry consults Dr. Manette about the case of a friend’s mental shock. The case is not about Mr. Lorry, is about Dr. Manette himself, who has experienced a Heroic BSoD and in the verge of a Sanity Slippage that only has been avoided by the use of his Companion Cube. Dr. Manette catches on quickly, but continues the conversation in this style.
    "Doctor Manette," said Mr. Lorry, touching him affectionately on the arm, "the case is the case of a particularly dear friend of mine. Pray give your mind to it, and advise me well for his sake — and above all, for his daughter's — his daughter's, my dear Manette."
    "If I understand," said the Doctor, in a subdued tone, "some mental shock — ?"
    "Be explicit," said the Doctor. "Spare no detail."
  • Improbable Hairstyle: Dickens remarks that the world champion at leap-frog would refuse to jump over Cruncher. Hair that spiky would present too much of a risk.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: One of the more famous examples: Carton's feelings for Lucie motivate him to take her husband's place at the guillotine.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: A chapter begins "The night was so very sultry."
  • It Will Never Catch On: At Darnay's treason trial, in which he stands accused of passing British military secrets to the French to help them in their support of the Continental Army in The American Revolution, Lucie Manette recalls that at their first meeting, he jested that George Washington might one day be as renowned as George III, a comment poorly received by the judge at the trial and variously described as "heresy" and "a monstrous joke" by the narration. Fast forward a few decades...
  • Judicial Wig: Stryver and Carton wear these in court; Carton's physical similarity to Darnay is only noticed once he takes his off.
  • Kangaroo Court: Carton saves Darnay from one in London, but there are plenty more in Paris, and they're even less just. Though the first trial of Darnay actually frees him thanks to excellent character witnesses. The second trial though is a textbook example.
  • Kick the Dog: Done by both the nobles and the revolting peasants.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Charles Darnay. He leaves the life of luxury for moral reasons, returns to an unstable country to save a former servant, and gets the girl. What a swell guy.
  • Knight Templar: The Defarges.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: As critical as Dickens is of the excessive violence of the Revolution, he argues that the French nobility fully brought this on themselves, and that any society built on this injustice will eventually face drastic consequences such as the events of the book.
  • Left Hanging: Because the last part of the novel shifts the focus entirely to the Miss Pross/Madame Defarge fight scene and Carton's execution, we never actually get a scene where Lucie realizes what Carton has done for her. Several adaptations of the book insert one in.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Lucie is this for her father for most of the novel. In the beginning, without her presence, Dr. Manette is reduced to his old, solitary prison habits of making shoes.
  • Love Triangle: One of the most famous in literature, with Lucie Manette at the centre, flanked by Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. Lucie and Darnay meet on a packet ship to England after the former has retrieved her father from Paris, and the kindness Darnay shows in ensuring the sickly Doctor Manette's comfort on the journey ignites the sparks of attraction between him and Lucie, and they are married several years later. Carton, meanwhile, finds himself attracted to Lucie when he first meets her at Darnay's treason trial, but he feels unworthy of her due to the years he has spent as an idle drunkard, and is convinced she does not return his affections, so when he does confess his love for her, he frames it as a pledge of undying loyalty to her and those she loves. Though Lucie agrees that Carton could have made so much more of himself, she remains fond of him.
  • Mama Bear: Miss Pross is very protective of Lucie. In her first scene, she fiercely defends her "Ladybird" from her many unworthy suitors, and tells Lorry that she doesn't even think Dr. Manette worthy of his own daughter. In the penultimate chapter of the book, although she speaks no French and Madame Defarge speaks no English, Miss Pross can tell that Madame Defarge means to kill Lucie just from her facial expression, tone of voice, and body language, and literally fights her to the death to prevent this.
  • Meaningful Echo: In Book II, when Carton is baring his soul to Lucie Manette, he asks her to "think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!" In Book III, after Darnay has been sentenced to death for being a scion of the St Evrémonde family and thus an enemy of the French Republic, Lucie faints after her final audience with her condemned husband, and she is taken back to her lodgings by Carton, Lorry, and Doctor Manette. Carton asks for permission to kiss her before leaving, and her daughter later tells her descendants that as he did so, she heard him whisper, "A life you love." They are his last words to her before he enacts his scheme to take Darnay's place at the guillotine.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Stryver is ambitious and is said to always be shouldering his way through life.
    • Lucie brings light to the lives of those she interacts with.note 
    • Mr. Lorry is often tasked with transporting his friends to various places.note 
    • Carton's first name was originally intended to be "Dick," which would have made his initials an inverse of Charles Darnay's.
  • Missing Mom:
    • Lucie Manette was only two years old when her mother died, leading her to be raised by relatives in England. It is Lucie's resemblance to her late mother, particularly her golden hair, that allows Dr. Manette to recognise her as his daughter despite having been in prison since before she was born.
    • Charles Darnay mourns his dead mother more than he does his corrupt, immoral aristocratic father, to the point of Anglicising her maiden name of d'Aulnais as his own surname instead of using his father's family name of St Evremonde.
    • Sydney Carton lost his mother when he was young.
  • More Expendable Than You: Carton's self-sacrifice at the end is probably the most famous example of this trope. Much as Carton loves Lucie, he knows that her heart belongs to her husband and the father of her child, while he has spent his life in drunken idleness. Carton thus decides that Darnay's life is more important than his and uses their remarkable physical similarity to swap places with him on the eve of his execution, so that Darnay returns to England with Lucie, while Carton is guillotined.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Vengeance.
  • Nay-Theist: Cruncher doesn't really understand religion, and as such mocks it, dismissing his wife's obsessive praying as "flopping", but he believes in God enough that he's afraid of the consequences if she starts praying for his death.
  • Ninja Maid: Miss Pross is a pacifist, but she's large, strong, and headstrong enough to come to her employer's aid.
  • Noble Fugitive: Though his exile is self-inflicted, Charles Darnay is, in fact, an aristocrat of a different name.
  • Noble Male, Roguish Male: Darnay is Noble, Carton is slightly more roguish while Stryver is a total cad.
  • Nom de Mom: Charles takes the last name "Darnay," an Anglicisation of his mother's maiden name "d'Aulnais," to distance himself from the cruelty and oppression of his father and the other St. Evremondes.
  • Off with His Head!: The guillotine is a central part of the story, due to taking place during the French Revolution.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: This is largely the plot of Book I: Recalled to Life, in which Lucie is reunited with her thought-to-be-dead father. Other orphans include Madame Defarge and Sydney Carton, to name just a few.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Charles Darnay, as with many Dickensian protagonists, may be virtuous, but his role in the plot is far more reactive than proactive. He gets put on trial for treason in Book II, thereby introducing the Manettes (and the reader) to his Identical Stranger Sydney Carton. His ill-advised return to France in Book III as the wheels of the Revolution are, well, revolving kickstarts the book's climax as Carton, Lorry, and the Manettes free him from one Kangaroo Court, only to see him convicted and sentenced to death by another, leading Carton to voluntarily die in his place to ensure Lucie Manette's happiness.
  • Politically Correct History: Credit to Mr. Dickens though, he didn't make the French Revolutionaries out to be as Ax-Crazy and unjustified as most of his contemporaries did. Though like most of his contemporaries, for all kinds of understandable reasons, don't give the Revolution any credit for its positive achievements either.
  • The Power of Love: Not literally power, but the book outright states that Miss Pross is able to overcome Defarge because the strength she takes from her love is greater than the strength Defarge takes from her hate.
  • Psycho Supporter: The Vengeance - who has no other name than that.
  • Put on a Bus: Stryver pretty much disappears in the last section of the book.
  • Rebel Relaxation: Try to find a scene where Sydney isn't leaning on a wall, a window, or some other piece of furniture, often while staring at the ceiling.
  • Reign of Terror: One of literature's most famous depictions. Though it largely conflates the Terror with the earlier September Massacres.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Madame Defarge towards Darnay's entire family; even his wife, child, and father-in-law, who'd actually tried to get justice for her loved ones in the past and suffered dearly for it.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: France is (in the typical British style) portrayed as being absolutely insane at the time period. Dickens actually takes a third option—neither side is justified, and there are good and bad people among the rich and the poor. However, he declares that the actions of the nobles led directly to the atrocities committed against them.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The majority of the Revolutionaries, but particularly Madame Defarge against the Evremondes. She is utterly obsessed with this goal, intending to destroy the entire family root and branch - even if one of them is an innocent little girl.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Modern readers sometimes make fun of Lucie's Incorruptible Pure Pureness (and the frequency of her fainting spells). However, she legitimately gets put through a large number of shocking and emotionally scarring situations, and through it all maintains a brave face for the sake of those she loves, only really giving in to despair when her husband is sentenced to death.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: The Defarges want Revenge by Proxy for the crimes of Darnay's father and uncle. While Monsieur Defarge is reluctant, Madame Defarge wants not only Darnay's life — even though he was a young child at the time the crimes were committed and obviously had nothing to do with them — but also his daughter, who was born several decades after the fact.
  • Stay with Me Until I Die: Sydney Carton promises to hold the hand of the innocent Seamstress until the end. He even talks with her during the entire ride to the guillotine, taking special care to distract her from it.
    "O you will let me hold your brave hand, stranger?"
    "Hush! Yes, my poor sister; to the last."
  • Steel Eardrums: Averted when Defarge's gun goes off right next to Miss Pross, permanently deafening her.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Madame Defarge at one point tells her husband that a great earthquake is coming to France, ready to open the ground and swallow everything into it. She leads a woman battalion during the Storming of the Bastille.
  • Strong Family Resemblance:
    • Darnay looks a whole lot like his uncle the Marquis. We find out much later that Darnay's father and uncle were identical twins.
    • Lucie is said to greatly resemble her deceased English mother. When he sees her for the first time, Dr. Manette believes he's looking at his wife.
  • Survivor's Guilt: The brief moment when Darnay is initially freed from the Revolutionary Tribunal has Darnay reflect that he might have gotten off, but some of his fellow inmates, some of whom are innocent, would not get justice.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Lorry remarks that a thunderstorm is one to raise the dead. Graverobber Cruncher hastily says that he's never seen such a thing.
  • Tender Tears: Lucie Manette, meant to showcase her sensitivity and compassion. In her favor, she very rarely cries for herself.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Madame Defarge knits revolutionary code into her work. She and her fellow female revolutionaries knit at the base of the guillotine and count the heads. They are based on the famous Tricoteuses.
  • Time Skip: A number of them, with the entire book taking place over the period from 1775 to 1793 (along with a flashback to the 1750s).
  • Token Evil Teammate: Cruncher is the only sympathetic character who is in any way immoral, being a wife-beater and a moonlighting graverobber. He is always helpful to the heroes of the story, however, and vows to improve himself after a stern tongue-lashing from Mr. Lorry.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Darnay really should have thought carefully about going to Revolutionary France, knowing that the aristocracy are being rounded up, tried and convicted in Kangaroo Courts, and executed en masse, just because he has been led to believe a former servant's life is in danger. Inevitably, he ends up in front of a Kangaroo Court - twice - and is sentenced to death.
  • Translation Convention: All dialogue is rendered as English for the reader's benefit.
  • Twin Switch: Although not twins, Sydney Carton switches places with Charles Darnay to avoid Darnay's execution.
  • Underside Ride: How Gaspard is able to follow the Marquis to his chateau in order to kill him. This is ominously hinted at when the narrative describes the carriage as being heavier than usual.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Lucie's pretty blue eyes get mentioned quite a few times.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: More a "Where Will They Be Later" epilogue, but the final paragraphs imagine that Sydney Carton is having prophetic visions of what will happen to the other characters as he is led to the guillotine in Darnay's place. In these visions, Barsad, Cly, Defarge, the Vengeance, and many of the leaders of the Reign of Terror are executed in their turn, while Paris eventually rises stronger than ever before from the chaos of the Revolution. Darnay and Lucie live a long and happy life together and have a son named Sydney, while Dr. Manette finds peace in his profession and comfort in being with his family. Lifelong bachelor Lorry remains a devoted family friend, and leaves the Darnays his fortune when he dies. Sydney Darnay grows up to be a brilliant lawyer and judge, and one day brings his own son, also named Sydney, to Paris to tell him the story of the man who gave his life for their family's happiness.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Madame Defarge, which seems very believable considering all the justifiable hatred that stewed in her for all those years.
  • Would Hurt a Child: When Madame Defarge says she wants to completely destroy House St. Evrémonde, she includes any children Charles might have.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Dr. Manette is able to get Charles off the hook at his trial in France, despite the latter being an aristocrat. Now everyone can live happily ever after, right? Wrong. Madam Defarge uncovers some papers Manette wrote over 18 years prior denouncing Charles's family, thereby sentencing him to death.

Alternative Title(s): A Tale Of Two Cities