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From “Memoirs of A Girl”

… by darkeve

A Tale of Two Cities

“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 him-self to let it eat him away.”

James Wilby as Sydney Carton

James Wilby as Sydney Carton

I was only 14 the first time I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, I was overwhelmed and the one thing that troubled my parents was that the only person that I could relate to in the novel was Sydney Carton.  I felt this way because back then I used to help other students with their homework, but I never bothered to do mine. That seemed a lot like Sydney Carton. I just loved him. I still have my copy with my favorite parts highlighted.

The only actor who played Sydney Carton and seriously convinced me was James Wilby in the mini-series made in 1989. I will discuss this in a future post hopefully.

I remember back at  high school when my economics teacher told me that the worst person is the one who is capable of doing so much and yet is doing nothing. I didn’t care back then, but what he said stayed with me for years.



1. Summary, Analysis, and Original Text by Chapter
… Read the original text, and the summary and analysis of this text chapter by chapter!

2. A Tale of Two Cities Summary: Major Characters
… The major characters in this famous novel of Charles Dickens!

3. Encyclopedia: Sydney Carton
… Read and study the character of Sydney Carton!

4. Teaching A Tale of Two Cities
… John L. Colle on how to teach this famous novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens!

5. David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page
… Dedicated to bringing the genius of Dickens to a new generation of readers!

6. Dickens Fast Facts
… Charles Dickens’ full name, date and place of birth, etc!

7. Tale of Two Cities: Literary Masterpieces
… 1980 version starring Chris Sarandon as both Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay!

8. A Tale of Two Cities (Masterpiece Theatre, 1989) (1991)
… 1989 (1991) version starring James Wilby as Sydney Carton!

A Tale of Two Cities Timeline


Book Summary

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Dickens writes in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities as he paints a picture of life in England and France. The year is late 1775, and Jarvis Lorry travels from London to Paris on a secret mission for his employer, Tellson’s Bank. Joining him on his journey is Lucie Manette, a 17-year-old woman who is stunned to learn that her father, Doctor Alexandre Manette, is alive and has recently been released after having been secretly imprisoned in Paris for 18 years.

When Mr. Lorry and Lucie arrive in Paris, they find the Doctor’s former servant, Ernest Defarge, caring for the him. Defarge now runs a wine-shop with his wife in the poverty-stricken quarter of Saint Antoine. Defarge takes Mr. Lorry and Lucie to the garret room where he is keeping Doctor Manette, warning them that the Doctor’s years in prison have greatly changed him. Thin and pale, Doctor Manette sits at a shoemaker’s bench intently making shoes. He barely responds to questions from Defarge and Mr. Lorry, but when Lucie approaches him, he remembers his wife and begins to weep. Lucie comforts him, and that night Mr. Lorry and Lucie take him to England.

Five years later, the porter for Tellson’s Bank, Jerry Cruncher, takes a message to Mr. Lorry who is at a courthouse. Mr. Lorry has been called as a witness for the trial of Charles Darnay, a Frenchman accused of being a spy for France and the United States. Also at the trial are Doctor Manette and Lucie, who are witnesses for the prosecution. Doctor Manette has fully recovered and has formed a close bond with his daughter.

If found guilty of treason, Darnay will suffer a gruesome death, and the testimony of an acquaintance, John Barsad, and a former servant, Roger Cly, seems sure to result in a guilty verdict. Questions from Darnay’s attorney, Mr. Stryver, indicate that Cly and Barsad are the real spies, but the turning point in the trial occurs when Sydney Carton, Stryver’s assistant, points out that Carton and Darnay look alike enough to be doubles. This revelation throws into doubt a positive identification of Darnay as the person seen passing secrets, and the court acquits Darnay.

After the trial, Darnay, Carton, and Stryver begin spending time at the Manette home, obviously attracted to Lucie’s beauty and kind nature. Stryver decides to propose to her, but is dissuaded by Mr. Lorry. Carton confesses his love to Lucie, but does not propose, knowing that his drunken and apathetic way of life is not worthy of her. However, he vows that he would gladly give his life to save a life she loved, and Lucie is moved by his sincerity and devotion. Eventually, it is Darnay whose love Lucie returns, and the two marry with Doctor Manette’s uneasy blessing. While the couple is on their honeymoon, the Doctor suffers a nine-day relapse of his mental incapacity and believes he is making shoes in prison again.

Meanwhile, the situation in France grows worse. Signs of unrest become evident when Darnay’s cruel and unfeeling uncle, the Marquis St. Evrémonde, is murdered in his bed after running down a child with his carriage in the Paris streets. Although Darnay inherits the title and the estate, he has renounced all ties to his brutal family and works instead in England as a tutor of French language and literature.

The revolution erupts with full force in July 1789 with the storming of the Bastille. The Defarges are at the center of the revolutionary movement and lead the people in a wave of violence and destruction.By 1792, the revolutionaries have taken control of France and are imprisoning and killing anyone they view as an enemy of the state. Darnay receives a letter from the Evrémonde steward, who has been captured and who begs Darnay to come to France to save him. Feeling a sense of duty to his servant and not fully realizing the danger awaiting him, Darnay departs for France. Once he reaches Paris, though, revolutionaries take him to La Force prison “in secret,” with no way of contacting anyone and with little hope of a trial.

Doctor Manette, Lucie, and Lucie’s daughter soon arrive in Paris and join Mr. Lorry who is at Tellson’s Paris office. Doctor Manette’s status as a former prisoner of the Bastille gives him a heroic status with the revolutionaries and enables him to find out what has happened to his son-in-law. He uses his influence to get a trial for Darnay, and Doctor Manette’s powerful testimony at the trial frees his son-in-law. Hours after being reunited with his wife and daughter, however, the revolutionaries again arrest Darnay, based on the accusations of the Defarges.

The next day, Darnay is tried again. This time, the Defarges produce a letter written years earlier by Doctor Manette in prison condemning all Evrémondes for the murder of Madame Defarge’s family and for imprisoning the Doctor. Based on this evidence, the court sentences Darnay to death and Doctor Manette, devastated by what has happened, reverts to his prior state of dementia.

Unknown to the Manette and Darnay family, Sydney Carton has arrived in Paris and learns of Darnay’s fate. He also hears of a plot contrived to send Lucie and her daughter to the guillotine. Determined to save their lives, he enlists the help of a prison spy to enter the prison where the revolutionaries are holding Darnay. He enters Darnay’s cell, changes clothes with him, drugs him, and has Darnay taken out of the prison in his place. No one questions either man’s identity because of the similarities in their features. As Mr. Lorry shepherds Doctor Manette, Darnay, Lucie, and young Lucie out of France, Carton goes to the guillotine, strengthened and comforted by the knowledge that his sacrifice has saved the woman he loves and her family.

“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!”

The Sheila Variations

“This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am.” — James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

September 7, 2006
Sydney Carton

Re-reading Tale of 2 Cities right now – and this passage struck me.

When his host followed him out on the staircase with a candle, to light him down the stairs, the day was coldly looking in through its grimy windows. When he got out of the house, the air was cold and sad, the dull sky overcast, the river dark and dim, the whole scene like a lifeless desert. And wreaths of dust were spinning round and round before the morning blast, as if the desert-sand had risen far away, and the first spray of it in its advance had begun to overwhelm the city.

Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone. Climbing to a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears.

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.

“the air was cold and sad” ….

Recalled to Life

Being “recalled to life” is a major theme throughout A Tale of Two Cities. In fact, Dickens toyed with the idea of titling the book Recalled to Life.

Dr. Manette’s release from the Bastille, Charles Darnay’s release after the trial for treason, and his later escape from the French prison, are examples of this theme. Also, Roger Cly’s fake burial and Jerry Cruncher’s nocturnal occupation as a ‘resurrection man’ follow this theme.

Sydney Carton, on his way to the guillotine, envisions himself ‘recalled to life’ in the person of the Darnay’s future son.

As Carton is contemplating his eminent sacrifice he finds peace in the passage from John 11:25-26:

“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities – Published in weekly parts Apr 1859 – Nov 1859


The year is 1775 and Dr. Manette, imprisoned unjustly 18 years ago, has been released from the Bastille prison in Paris. His daughter, Lucie, who had thought he was dead, and Jarvis Lorry, an agent for Tellson’s Bank, which has offices in London and Paris, bring him to England.

Skip ahead 5 years to 1780. Frenchman Charles Darnay is on trial for treason, accused of passing English secrets to the French and Americans during the American Revolution. He is acquitted when eyewitnesses prove unreliable partly because of Darnay’s resemblance to barrister Sydney Carton.

In the years leading up to the fall of the Bastille in 1789 Darnay, Carton, and Stryver all fall in love with Lucie Manette. Carton, an irresponsible and unambitious character who drinks too much, tells Lucie that she has inspired him to think how his life could have been better and that he would make any sacrifice for her. Stryver, Carton’s barrister friend, is persuaded against asking for Lucie’s hand by Mr. Lorry, now a close friend to the Manettes. Lucie marries Darnay and they have a daughter.

A Tale of Two Cities - Locations Meanwhile, in France, Darnay’s uncle the Marquis St. Evremonde is murdered in his bed for crimes committed against the people. Charles has told Dr. Manette of his relationship to the French aristocracy, but no one else.

By 1792 the revolution has escalated in France. Mr. Lorry receives a letter at Tellson’s Bank addressed to the Marquis St. Evremonde whom no one seems to know. Darnay sees the letter and tells Lorry that he knows the Marquis and will deliver it. The letter is from a friend, Gabelle, wrongfully imprisoned in Paris and asked the Marquis (Darnay) for help. Knowing that the trip will be dangerous, Charles feels compelled to go and help his friend. He leaves for France without telling anyone the real reason.

On the road to Paris, Darnay (St Evremonde) is recognized by the mob and taken to prison in Paris. Mr. Lorry, in Paris on business, is joined by Dr. Manette, Lucie, Miss Pross, and later, Sydney Carton.

Dr. Manette has influence over the citizens due to his imprisonment in the Bastille and is able to have Darnay released but he is retaken the next day on a charge by the Defarges and is sentenced to death within 24 hours.

Sydney Carton has influence on one of the jailers and is able to enter the cell, drug Darnay, exchange clothes, and have the jailer remove Darnay, leaving Carton to die in his stead.

On the guillotine Carton peacefully declares

“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.”

Sydney Carton


Sydney Carton proves the most dynamic character in A Tale of Two Cities. He first appears as a lazy, alcoholic attorney who cannot muster even the smallest amount of interest in his own life. He describes his existence as a supreme waste of life and takes every opportunity to declare that he cares for nothing and no one. But the reader senses, even in the initial chapters of the novel, that Carton in fact feels something that he perhaps cannot articulate. In his conversation with the recently acquitted Charles Darnay, Carton’s comments about Lucie Manette, while bitter and sardonic, betray his interest in, and budding feelings for, the gentle girl. Eventually, Carton reaches a point where he can admit his feelings to Lucie herself. Before Lucie weds Darnay, Carton professes his love to her, though he still persists in seeing himself as essentially worthless. This scene marks a vital transition for Carton and lays the foundation for the supreme sacrifice that he makes at the novel’s end.

Carton’s death has provided much material for scholars and critics of Dickens’s novel. Some readers consider it the inevitable conclusion to a work obsessed with the themes of redemption and resurrection. According to this interpretation, Carton becomes a Christ-like figure, a selfless martyr whose death enables the happiness of his beloved and ensures his own immortality. Other readers, however, question the ultimate significance of Carton’s final act. They argue that since Carton initially places little value on his existence, the sacrifice of his life proves relatively easy. However, Dickens’s frequent use in his text of other resurrection imagery—his motifs of wine and blood, for example—suggests that he did intend for Carton’s death to be redemptive, whether or not it ultimately appears so to the reader. As Carton goes to the guillotine, the narrator tells us that he envisions a beautiful, idyllic Paris “rising from the abyss” and sees “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.” Just as the apocalyptic violence of the revolution precedes a new society’s birth, perhaps it is only in the sacrifice of his life that Carton can establish his life’s great worth.

Sydney Carton – An insolent, indifferent, and alcoholic attorney who works with Stryver. Carton has no real prospects in life and doesn’t seem to be in pursuit of any. He does, however, love Lucie, and his feelings for her eventually transform him into a man of profound merit. At first the polar opposite of Darnay, in the end Carton morally surpasses the man to whom he bears a striking physical resemblance.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sydney Carton is a significant character in the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. He is a shrewd young Englishman and sometime junior to his fellow barrister C.J. Stryver. In the novel, he is seen to be a drunkard, indulged in self-pity because of his wasted life, and has a strong unrequited love for Lucie Manette.

Role in novel

Carton is first encountered as barrister in the trial of Charles Darnay, a young Frenchman to whom he bears a strong resemblance. Carton defends Darnay against charges of treason towards the English government. During the trial, Carton notices Lucie Manette, who is forced to testify against Darnay along with her father, Dr. Manette. Carton becomes enamored of her and jealous of Darnay because of the sympathy she has for him.

Afterwards, Carton visits his friend and colleague C.J. Stryver, who had also defended Darnay during his trial. He spends the night doing paperwork and drinking with Stryver. Stryver boasts about being the more successful of the two, but in reality it is Carton who is the brain behind him, while Stryver merely lives off Carton’s labor and craft. Carton shows regret for the fact that he has wasted much of his life drinking. He attempts to rationalize this unsatisfying state of affairs with the excuse that he has already tried to change his ways, but proven himself incapable of the great effort that would take. He one day reveals this to Lucie Manette, and also tells her that he would be willing to do anything for her if it would ensure the well-being of her or any of the ones she loves.

Carton’s next significant appearance is in France, after the French Revolution has taken place and the Reign of Terror begun. Charles Darnay had left England for France on behalf of a friend in distress, but Darnay had been arrested because he was a member of a notorious family of French aristocrats, the Evrémondes. Lucie Manette (now Darnay’s wife), their child, Dr. Manette, and Miss Pross, followed Darnay to France shortly after hearing of his departure, which he had kept a secret. Shortly after arriving, Darnay was arrested and put on trial, but was later released with the help of Dr. Manette. He is arrested again, though, when he is denounced by Madame Defarge, a vindictive Frenchwoman who bears a grudge against the Evrémondes for having harmed her family, and her husband Ernest Defarge, who had found an important piece of information: a letter that Dr. Manette had written describing the actions of Darnay’s aristocratic family. In a way, Dr. Manette had unintentionally used his influence as a former Bastille prisoner to have Darnay acquitted of charges against the French Republic. Darnay is convicted soon after and sentenced to be guillotined the following day.

Carton arrives in France just before this second trial has taken place. He confronts a man called John Barsad, who had testified against Darnay in his first trial. Carton threatens to reveal that he knows Barsad is a spy for the British government unless Barsad agrees to help Carton rescue Darnay, assuming he will be convicted; Barsad agrees to do so. That night, Carton wanders the streets, meditating on what will take place the following morning. During this time, he visits the wine shop of Madame Defarge and Ernest Defarge, where he hears of Madame Defarge’s plan to have Darnay’s entire family killed. He returns to Mr. Lorry’s residence and warns him of this, telling him to leave France with the others tomorrow. He also tells him that he would like to visit Darnay before his execution, and for him and the others to wait in their carriage outside the prison until Carton returns.

The next morning, Carton visits Darnay in his cell and tells him to trade clothes with him; as the two are very much alike in appearance, he believes Darnay could escape the cell disguised as himself. As Darnay is not compliant, Carton drugs him, using chemicals which he had bought the previous night, and makes the exchange of wardrobe. He then tells Barsad, who had waited for him at the prison, to escort Darnay to his carriage, and to tell the prison guards that Carton had suffered a fainting spell.

Sydney Carton soon after dies in place of Charles Darnay. It is said that if, before his death, his thoughts could have been heard, and had they been prophetic, they would have included such incidents as Mr. Defarge and John Barsad being later sentenced to the guillotine themselves, and a future child of Charles and Lucie Darnay being named after him. The words of the last of these thoughts are very famous:

“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.”


Sydney Carton (character in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities)
Frederick Barnard, English Illistrator c.1895
Hand coloured vignette engraving 8 1/2 x 10 x in

“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.”

Sydney Carton (the character in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities) ascending the steps to the gallows, having willfully taken the place of the man who married the only woman he every loved. He saved her father before from the same fate back in England; and now he gives his life to save her husband in Paris.  A brilliant legal mind, a lost melancholy soul, uttering the closing lines to one of the most remarkable stories ever penned.