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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!

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” ….

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.

Source: 1793: Sydney Carton posing as Charles Darnay

December 9th, 2007 Headsman

On an unspecified date in December 1793 is set one of literature’s immortal execution scenes, when ne’er-do-well Sydney Carton heroically goes to the guillotine in the place of his aristocratic doppleganger Charles Darnay at the climax of A Tale of Two Cities.

In Charles Dickens‘ classic 1859 novel of the French Revolution, Darnay, the good-hearted scion of the cruel Evremonde line, falls prey to the Revolutionary Terror.

The dissolute, tormented Carton is the respectable Darnay’s literary dark twin, whose appearance he also happens to strikingly resemble. Driven by an unrequited love for Darnay’s wife, who stands in danger not only of losing her husband but of following him to the scaffold, Carton contrives to switch places with the doomed noble.

While those saved by his sacrifice flee for England, Carton goes to the guillotine in a batch of 52 condemned prisoners,* one of them a sweet and frightened girl he comforts tenderly.

His prophetic thoughts as he awaits the blade form the conclusion of the novel, and the last sentence ranks among literature’s most recognizable lines.

“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, fore-most 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.”

Here is the climactic sequence of the 1935 film based on the book:

A Tale of Two Cities is one of thousands of public-domain books available for free at Project Gutenberg. Stanford’s “Discovering Dickens” community reading project guide annotates the novel here.

* Never one for understatement, Dickens crowds his mass execution tableau with far too many extras. “The Terror” is usually dated from September 1793 through July 1794, but only during its bloodiest last two months would so many as 52 have been guillotined together; at the time of Carton’s execution, half as many would have constituted a large group.


“A Tale of Two Cities,” set in two European cities torn by war, Charles Dickens paradoxically introduces his story, “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,…in short, the period was nothing like the present, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree for comparison only.” In fact, the author negatively introduces specific characters, giving them an obscured identity. First portrayed as a shy, young man, Sydney Carton, constantly suffering debasing comments made by his ostensibly intelligent co-worker, seems unable to overcome his pre-determined life of unhappiness. Ironically, the `jackal’ finally began to feel alive upon his choice to sacrifice his life to the Guillotine. Probably the most obvious character transformation was that of Sydney Carton as, ultimately, preconceived notions prove to have been deceiving, as the character began to exhibit another facet of true personality.

Young Sydney Carton, associate of Mr. Stryver, appears quite glum upon his introduction at the `Old Bailey’. “Mr. Carton, who had so long sat looking at the ceiling of the court, changed neither in place nor his attitude, even in this excitement. This one man sat leaning back…his hands in his pockets, and his eyes on the ceiling as they had been all day. Something especially reckless in his demeanor, not only gave him a disreputable look, but so diminished the strong resemblance he undoubtedly bore to the prisoner.” Due to being unsocial and pessimistic, Carton is familiar with leading a life of solitude. However, while his expression and attitude may have not allowed him to seem an observant man, he took in more of the details of the seen than he appear to take in. In fact, he was the first man to see Lucy Manette’s head droop upon her father’s breast. Nevertheless, Sydney Carton is the `jackal’ in everything he is involved in, and it seems he always will be.

In spite of Sydney Carton’s negative outlook, while he once cared for no one, he acts courageously upon his meeting with Miss Manette, the “golden doll.” He is confident that he could never receive the same affection from her that he feels toward her. Yet, Carton reaches a point where he can admit his feelings to Lucie herself. ” If it is possible, Miss Manette, that you could have returned the love of the man than you see before you–self-flung away, wasted, drunken, poor creature of misuse as you know him to be–he would have been conscious this day and hour, in spite of his happiness, that he would bring you to misery, bring you to sorrow and repentance, blight you, disgrace you, pull you down with me.” Carton professes his love sincere to her, though he still persists in seeing himself as essentially worthless. However, this intense love becomes the sole factor of Lucy Manette’s happiness. Clearly, Sydney Carton is capable of feeling deep, immense, and tragic love that others cannot see. This scene marks a vital transition for Carton and lays the foundation for the supreme sacrifice that he makes at the novel’s end.

Thereafter, Sydney Carton continues to display a new facet of his personality. Upon his declaration to Miss Lucy Manette, Carton ventures farther away from his `jackal’ mentality, as he nobly travels to Paris to act on his pledge to Lucie, where he vows, “I would embrace any sacrifice for you and to those dear to you.” Carton truly exhibits his new personality while playing “a hand at cards.” Keen on winning the hand, and thus being aided by Mr. Barsad in his mission to free the innocent Charles Darnay, husband of Lucie Manette, Carton states, “Inference clear as day in this region of suspicion, that Mr. Barsad, still in the pay of the aristocratic English government, is the spy of Pitt, the treacherous foe of the Republican crouching in its bosom, the English traitor and agent of all mischief so much spoken of and so hard to find. That’s a card not to be beaten.” In controlling this `card’, Carton gains access to the prison where Charles Darnay is held, and he intends to take advantage of this opportunity.