A Tale of Two Cities Book Summary - A Tale of Two Cities Book explained in key points
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A Tale of Two Cities summary

Charles Dickens

Travel Between Two Worlds, Witness Revolution and Redemption

4.4 (119 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a classic novel set in London and Paris during the French Revolution. It tells a story of love, sacrifice, and redemption against the backdrop of the turbulent historical events of the time.

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    A Tale of Two Cities
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    The best and worst

    Picture a bleak and foggy London as messenger Jerry Cruncher embarks on a journey to Tellson’s Bank. His task? To deliver an enigmatic message to Jarvis Lorry, who’s on a mail coach struggling up Shooter’s Hill, accompanied by two shadowy figures.

    Lorry eventually reaches Dover and takes refuge at the Royal George Hotel. There, he encounters Lucie Manette, a forlorn young Frenchwoman, who imparts the grim news that her father, Dr. Alexandre Manette, presumed dead after languishing for nearly two decades in the Bastille, has miraculously resurfaced. Lorry reveals his own role in spiriting Lucie away from France when she was a small child while her father remained oblivious.

    In the desolate streets of Paris, they discover Dr. Manette laboring away in a squalid garret above Defarge’s wine shop, cobbling shoes with a vacant stare. He’s a man robbed of his memory and his daughter. Initially, he fails to recognize Lorry, but eventually, a flicker of recognition lights up his eyes.

    In a poignant moment, Lucie steps forth and unveils herself as his daughter, and in that instant, the pall of forgotten memories is lifted. Dr. Manette regains his senses, but the scars of his brutal captivity linger, both in his mind and on his frail body. Time for joy is brief, for the looming threat of discovery forces them to whisk Dr. Manette away from Paris under the shroud of night.

    This excerpt is full of grim foreboding. Against the backdrop of the impending French Revolution, Dickens paints a portrait of a desolate London and a Paris teetering on the brink. The characters harbor secrets, and the mood is one of somber mystery and family reunions tinged with sorrow, as the ominous storm of political and social turmoil gathers on the horizon.


    In this section, Dickens introduces the reader to the contrasting worlds of London and Paris in the late eighteenth century, foreshadows the impending French Revolution, and establishes key themes and characters.

    One of the prominent themes explored in this section is the stark contrast between the two European capitals, and the social inequities that define them. Dickens vividly depicts the opulence and affluence of London through the character of Mr. Jarvis Lorry, the elderly and respectable banker who travels in a comfortable mail coach. In contrast, Paris is portrayed as a city on the brink of chaos, with an impoverished and restless populace.

    The opening sentence of the novel, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” captures this theme of duality and foreshadows the events to come. London represents the “best of times,” characterized by stability and prosperity, while Paris embodies the “worst of times,” marked by disorder and suffering.

    Let’s take a closer look at the characters.

    Jarvis Lorry, a reliable and conservative banker, embodies the stability of London. He is tasked with a mysterious mission: to travel to Paris and assist in the “recalling to life” of an individual named Dr. Manette. This phrase serves as a metaphor for the reawakening of Dr. Manette’s forgotten past and identity after his long imprisonment in the Bastille. It also foreshadows the broader theme of resurrection that runs throughout the novel.

    The character of Dr. Manette, who is discovered to be alive after 18 years of captivity, symbolizes the suffering and injustice endured by many under the oppressive regime of pre-revolutionary France. His story presents a microcosm of the broader societal issues Dickens explores in the novel. Dr. Manette’s mental instability, caused by his prolonged isolation, reflects the psychological toll of political tyranny and injustice.

    As Lorry and the reader are transported from London to Dover and eventually to Paris, Dickens masterfully builds tension and suspense. The mysterious passengers on the mail coach add an element of intrigue, and Jerry Cruncher’s cryptic message, “Recalled to Life,” adds to the enigma. These elements create a sense of anticipation and draw the reader deeper into the narrative.

    Paris is depicted as a city on the brink of breakdown and violence, with a sense of impending doom hanging in the air. The poverty and discontent of the French populace are palpable, setting the stage for the upheaval that will follow.

    The introduction of Lucie Manette, Dr. Manette’s daughter, adds a personal and emotional dimension to the story. Lucie’s love and devotion to her father are a beacon of hope and redemption in the darkness that surrounds them. Her reunion with her father highlights the theme of familial bonds and the power of love to heal and transform.

    This section sets the stage for the epic tale of love, sacrifice, and redemption that will unfold in the subsequent sections of the novel. Dickens’s rich and evocative prose, coupled with his keen social commentary, make this section a compelling and thought-provoking beginning to a literary classic.

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    What is A Tale of Two Cities about?

    A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a historical novel set against the backdrop of the tumultuous times of the French Revolution and London in the late eighteenth century. The story revolves around the lives of Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a dissolute English lawyer, who share a striking physical resemblance. As the novel unfolds, it explores themes of sacrifice, resurrection, and the stark contrast between the two cities of Paris and London, ultimately culminating in a powerful and emotionally charged climax.

    A Tale of Two Cities Review

    A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens is a captivating historical novel set during the French Revolution. It's definitely a book worth reading for these reasons:

    • Richly detailed characters and their interconnected lives create a sense of depth and realism.
    • Tension-filled plot twists keep readers engaged as they navigate the contrasting worlds of London and Paris.
    • The novel's exploration of sacrifice, redemption, and resurrection adds a profound, thought-provoking dimension to the story.

    Who should read A Tale of Two Cities?

    • History enthusiasts
    • Literature lovers
    • Students of social justice

    About the Author

    Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was a renowned English novelist and social critic of the Victorian era. He is celebrated for his timeless literary works, including classics like Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. Dickens’ storytelling prowess and his commitment to addressing societal issues through his writing have left an enduring legacy in the world of literature.

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    A Tale of Two Cities FAQs 

    What is the main message of A Tale of Two Cities?

    The main message of A Tale of Two Cities is that love and sacrifice can lead to redemption and resurrection.

    How long does it take to read A Tale of Two Cities?

    The reading time for A Tale of Two Cities varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is A Tale of Two Cities a good book? Is it worth reading?

    A Tale of Two Cities is worth reading because it brilliantly captures the spirit of the French Revolution and explores themes of love, sacrifice, and redemption.

    Who is the author of A Tale of Two Cities?

    The author of A Tale of Two Cities is Charles Dickens.

    What to read after A Tale of Two Cities?

    If you're wondering what to read next after A Tale of Two Cities, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
    • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
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