A Tale of Two Cities

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A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a historical novel by Charles Dickens. The plot centers on the years before the French Revolution and ends in the Jacobin Reign of Terror. It tells the story of two men, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, who look similar but are very different in personality.

Book I - Recalled to Life

Chapter I - The Period

  • 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.
    • The opening lines of the novel
      • Simple: It was the best of all times and the worst of all times, the period of wise people and of stupid people, the time of belief and unbelief, the period of light and of darkness, a time of hope and of no hope, when good things were ahead and nothing was ahead, when all of us were going to heaven and all of us were going to hell--basically, it was a time so much like now that some of the loud and respected people said that it must be talked about using extremes, whether that was good or not.

Chapter II - The Mail

  • The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.
  • Simple: The wagon that carried the mail to and from Dover was in the same situation as usual: the guard did not trust the people riding there, the people riding there did not trust the guard or one another, no one trusted any other person, and the driver only trusted the horses. He could have promised on the Bible that the horses were not good for the trip.
  • Keep where you are because, if I should make a mistake, it could never be set right in your lifetime.
    • Said by a guard.
  • Simple: Don't move, because if I make a mistake, it could not be fixed before you die.
  • For I'm the devil at quick mistakes, and when I make one it takes the form of Lead.
  • Simple: I am quick at making mistakes, and my mistakes are when I shoot people.
  • "What did you make of it, Tom?"
    "Nothing at all, Joe."
    "That's a coincidence, too, for I made the same of it myself."
    • Said about a strange message: "Recalled to Life".
  • Simple: "What did you think of it, Tom?"
    "I don't understand it, Joe."
    "I don't either."

Chapter III - The Night Shadows

  • A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is preferable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life's end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

Chapter VI - The Shoemaker

  • “If you hear my voice – I don’t know that it is so, but I hope it is – if you hear in my voice any resemblance to a voice that once was sweet music in your ears, weep for it, weep for it! If you touch, in touching my hair, anything that recalls a beloved head that lay on your breast when you were young and free, weep for it, weep for it! If, when I hint to you of a Home that is before us, where I will be true to you with all my duty and with all my faithful service, I bring back the remembrance of a home long desolate, while your poor heart pined away, weep for it, weep for it!”....
Simple: If you hear the sound of me talking – I don't know that that's the way it is, but I hope it's that way – if you hear, in the sound of me talking, anything that is like the sound of someone talking that was very nice music to your ears, then be sad and have tears in your eyes because of it! When you touch my hair, if you touch anything that makes you remember a head that you loved, that lay on your breast when you were young and free, then be sad and have tears in your eyes because of it! When I talk in little ways about a Home that is in our future, where I will be true to you with all my ability and all my work that I do gladly for you, if I bring back the memory of a home that has been lonely for a long time, while your poor heart was sadly wanting someone, then be sad and have tears in your eyes because of it!

Book II The Golden Thread

Chapter V - The Jackal

  • Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.

Chapter IX - The Gorgon's Head

The stone faces of the chateau are symbols of the Marquis himself; throughout the duration of the existence of the chateau, they exemplify the emotions of the Marquis, and furthermore, the entire Second Estate.

Chapter XXI - Echoing Footsteps

  • Deep ditch, single drawbridge, massive stone walls, eight great towers, cannon, muskets, fire and smoke. One drawbridge down! “Work, comrades all, work! Work, Jacques One, Jacques Two, Jacques One Thousand, Jacques Two Thousand; in the name of all the angels or the devils – which you prefer – work!”

Book III - The Track of a Storm

Chapter V - The Wood-Sawyer

  • Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death;-- the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!

Chapter X - The Substance of the Shadow

  • "I, Alexandre Manette, unfortunate physician, native of Beauvais, and afterwards resident in Paris, write this melancholy paper in my doleful cell in the Bastille, during the last month of the year 1767. I write it at stolen intervals, under every difficulty. I design to secrete it in the wall of the chimney, where I have slowly and laboriously made a place of concealment for it. Some pitying hand may find it there, when I and my sorrows are dust."

Chapter XII - Darkness

  • Defarge, a weak minority interposed a few words for the memory of the compassionate wife of the Marquis; but only elicited from his own wife a repetition of her last reply. "Tell the Wind and the Fire where to stop; not me!"

Chapter XV - The Footsteps Die Out For Ever

  • Do you think that it will seem long to me, while I wait for her in the better land where I trust both you and I will be mercifully sheltered?
  • I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long long to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.
  • I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy, in that England which I shall see no more.
  • I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. I see her, an old woman, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband, their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed, and I know that each was not more honoured and held sacred in the other's soul, than I was in the souls of both.
  • I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it, faded away. I see him, foremost of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name, with a forehead that I know and golden hair, to this place— then fair to look upon, with not a trace of this day's disfigurement— and I hear him tell the child my story, with a tender and a faltering voice.
  • 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."
Note: These closing lines bring Dickens' motif of doubles into the story one last time. Dickens' uses the literary device anaphora, which is the repetition of a word or phrase over many lines (doubles), many times throughout A Tale of Two Cities. "It is a far, far better..." is repeated twice in these parting lines, as "It was the ____ of times, it was the epoch of _____," etc. is repeated in the opening lines. This motif of doubles makes up the entire plot of the novel: the two main characters, Darnay and Carton are doubles of each other; London and Paris are the 'two cities' to which the title refers. The very last thoughts attributed to Carton, in their poetic use of repetition, register this faith as a calm and soothing certainty: that both the name of Sydney Carton and of France will be reborn into glory and made "illustrious."

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