Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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“A Tale of Two Cities” is a famous novel by Charles Dickens published in 1859. The story takes place during the French Revolution and follows the lives of two men, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. Darnay is a French aristocrat while Carton is a London-based lawyer with a drinking problem. The book explores themes like love, sacrifice, and redemption, and shows the chaos and violence of the French Revolution.

The story begins with the well-known line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” which sets the tone for the entire book. The first part of the novel is set in Paris and describes how the aristocracy oppresses the French peasantry.

The second part of the story takes place in London and focuses on the lives of the main characters, including Darnay who is wrongly accused of treason and sentenced to death. Carton ultimately saves Darnay’s life by sacrificing his own.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book review provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

In this A Tale of Two Cities book revuew, I’m going to cover the following topics:

Book Summary

In 1775, King George III ruled England and Louis XVI was the king of France. Mr Jarvis Lorry, a man from London, was traveling to Paris to identify a long-lost friend of his ward, Lucie, who was the daughter of a French physician named Dr Manette. Dr Manette had disappeared eighteen years ago, leaving behind his English wife and daughter. Lorry had taken Lucie to England and placed her in the care of Miss Pross, his servant, who adored her.

At Dover, Lucie joined Lorry, and he informed her that her father had been found alive and that they were going to Paris to identify him. Lucie was overwhelmed by the news and feared she was going to see his ghost. In Paris, Lorry and Lucie went to the attic of Monsieur Defarge’s wine-shop, where Dr Manette was found bent over his shoemaker’s bench, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. They took him back to England, and Lucie began to help her father recover.

Five years later, Lucie and Dr Manette testified in court during a treason trial of a Frenchman named Charles Darnay. In the courtroom, a lawyer’s clerk named Sydney Carton noticed the resemblance between Darnay and himself. He used his physical similarity to discredit a witness and sway the jury, leading to Darnay’s acquittal. Carton and Darnay both became friends with the Manettes, and they often visited their home in Soho Square. Lucie was drawn to Darnay, and they eventually got married.

In 1789, the French Revolution began, and Madame Defarge, the wife of Dr Manette’s former servant, became a leader in the rebellion. Madame Defarge kept a knitting record of the names of all those she felt had wronged her family.

When she and her cohorts stormed the Bastille, they opened the floodgates of mob violence that would inundate the country for years. Lorry and Darnay felt compelled to go to Paris, with Lorry looking after the affairs of the Paris branch of Tellson & Co., and Darnay visiting a family retainer who needed his help. However, upon arrival, Darnay was immediately taken into custody and imprisoned.

When Lucie and Dr Manette learned of Darnay’s imprisonment, Dr Manette believed he could rescue him. He and Lucie went to Paris to help, and they were quickly accepted by the revolutionaries. However, Madame Defarge was determined not to let Darnay go.

When he was acquitted at his trial, Madame Defarge denounced him again, and he was sentenced to death by guillotine. Sydney Carton, who had come to Paris, gained access to Darnay’s cell and drugged him, exchanging clothes and having him carried out as Carton, who was then left behind to face the guillotine.

As the Manettes and Lorry fled to England, Carton was riding calmly and purposefully in the tumbrel to his execution. He had found a way to redeem himself by offering his life for his friends. As he neared his death, he whispered to himself, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

Themes and Ideas

At its core, A Tale of Two Cities is a story of love and redemption. Lucie Manette, who has suffered the loss of her mother and the absence of her father, finds love and comfort in the form of Charles Darnay. Their love story is a testament to the transformative power of love, as it brings Darnay out of the shadow of his family’s past and into a new life of love and hope.

Similarly, Sydney Carton’s story is one of redemption. Carton, who is initially portrayed as a drunken and cynical lawyer, transforms throughout the story as he discovers a sense of purpose and selflessness. His sacrifice at the end of the novel is a powerful demonstration of love and redemption, as he gives his life to save the man he loves and to make amends for his past mistakes.

Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the novel showcases the bloodshed and brutality of the era. Dickens masterfully depicts the underlying causes of the conflict, including extreme poverty, inequality, and corruption.

Madame Defarge, one of the book’s most iconic characters, serves as a symbol of the revolution’s violent nature. Her knitting serves as a chilling reminder of the horrors of the time and the dangers of unchecked anger and revenge.


Dr. Manette: A French physician who was wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years in the Bastille. He was eventually released and brought to England by Jarvis Lorry, where he was reunited with his daughter Lucie Manette.

Lucie Manette: Dr. Manette’s daughter. She is kind and compassionate, and she becomes the love interest of Charles Darnay.

Charles Darnay: A former French aristocrat who has repudiated his title and left France to live in England. He falls in love with Lucie and marries her.

Jarvis Lorry: Representative of Tellson & Co, a banking house. He is a loyal friend to both Dr. Manette and Lucie, and he helps them navigate the tumultuous events of the novel.

Sydney Carton: A law clerk who is dissolute and cynical. He is in love with Lucie, but he recognizes that she will never love him in return. In the end, he performs a heroic act of self-sacrifice to save Charles Darnay.

Madame Defarge: A French peasant and long-time revolutionary. She seeks revenge against the aristocrats who oppressed her people, and she becomes a key figure in the revolutionary movement.


1. Emotionally-Charged Storyline

From start to finish, the plot of A Tale of Two Cities is full of powerful emotions. The book depicts the tragedies of the French Revolution, as well as the social and political conditions of 18th century England and France. Dickens masterfully creates characters that evoke strong emotions in readers, such as the tragic fate of the peasants and the brutality of the guillotine. The novel also explores the themes of love and hatred, sacrifice and selfishness, kindness and brutality, nurturing and killing, joy and tragedy, generosity and greed. The emotional range of the book makes it a compelling read.

2. Historical Context

One of the strengths of A Tale of Two Cities is its historical context. The novel takes place during the French Revolution and depicts the social and political unrest of the time. Dickens uses his characters to show the stark differences between the rich and poor, and how these differences led to the Revolution. The book also provides insight into the historical events of the time, making it a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning about the French Revolution and 18th century England and France.

3. Dynamic Character of Sydney Carton

One of the most memorable characters in A Tale of Two Cities is Sydney Carton. At the beginning of the book, Carton is described as a weak and sensual character. However, as the story progresses, Carton undergoes a transformation and becomes a powerful character who is capable of making the ultimate sacrifice for the woman he loves. His death scene is one of the most powerful and emotional moments in the book, leaving a lasting impact on readers. Carton’s character arc is a testament to Dickens’ skill as a writer.


1. Challenging Language

One potential drawback of A Tale of Two Cities is the challenging language used throughout the book. While this is not uncommon for classic literature, some readers may find the vocabulary and syntax difficult to understand. This could lead to frustration and potentially a lack of engagement with the story.

2. Slow Pace

A Tale of Two Cities is not a fast-paced book. Dickens takes his time to develop the characters and the story, which may not be appealing to some readers who prefer a more action-packed plot. Additionally, the book is quite lengthy, which could be a turn-off for readers who prefer shorter reads.

3. Dark Themes

The themes explored in A Tale of Two Cities can be quite dark and heavy. The book explores the violence and tragedy of the French Revolution, as well as themes of oppression and injustice. While these themes are important and meaningful, they may not be suitable for all readers. Some may find the book too depressing or emotionally taxing, and may prefer lighter reading material.


A Tale of Two Cities is a powerful and moving novel that explores the themes of love, sacrifice, and redemption against the backdrop of one of the most significant events in world history.

Dickens’ skillful writing, vivid characters, and intricate plot make for a compelling and unforgettable read. The novel’s themes of love and redemption are as relevant today as they were when the book was first published, and its message of hope and forgiveness is one that continues to resonate with readers.

A Tale of Two Cities is a must-read for anyone interested in historical fiction or classic literature.

About The Author

Charles John Huffam Dickens FRSA was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the most famous novel characters in the world and is considered by many to be the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.

Buy The Book: A Tale of Two Cities

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