A Tale of Two Cities Study Guide

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities is a frank look at the conditions in which peasants lived in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. It chronicles the deplorable squalor in which many peasants lived, as well as the violence inflicted on France's aristocracy when tensions finally boiled over in the Revolution. The story constructs deliberate parallels between the two cities and their treatment of their lower and working classes.

Many of Dickens's characters are "flat", not "round", in the novelist E. M. Forster's famous terms, meaning roughly that they have only one mood. For example, the Marquis is unremittingly wicked and relishes being so; Lucie is perfectly loving and supportive. (As a corollary, Dickens often gives these characters verbal tics or visual quirks that he mentions over and over, such as the dints in the nose of the Marquis.) Forster believed that Dickens never truly created rounded characters.

  • Sydney Carton : A quick-minded but depressed English barrister. Though he is portrayed in the beginning as a cynical alcoholic, he ultimately becomes a selfless hero.
  • Lucie Manette : An ideal pre-Victorian lady, perfect in every way. She is loved by both Carton and Charles Darnay (whom she marries), and is the daughter of Dr. Manette. She is the "golden thread" after whom Book the Second is named, so called because she holds her father's and her family's lives together (and because of her blond hair like her mother's). She also ties nearly every character in the book together.
  • Charles Darnay : A young French noble of the Evrémonde family. In disgust at the cruelty of his family to the French peasantry, he took on the name "Darnay" (after his mother's maiden name, D'Aulnais) and left France for England. He exhibits an admirable honesty in his decision to reveal to Doctor Manette his true identity as a member of the infamous Evrémonde family. So, too, does he prove his courage in his decision to return to Paris at great personal risk to save the imprisoned Gabelle.
  • Dr. Alexandre Manette : Lucie's father, kept as a prisoner in the Bastille for eighteen years. Dr. Manette dies 12 years after Sydney Carton.
  • Monsieur Ernest Defarge : The owner of a French wine shop and leader of the Jacquerie; husband of Madame Defarge; servant to Dr. Manette as a youth. One of the key revolutionary leaders, he embraces the revolution as a noble cause, unlike many other revolutionaries.
  • Madame Therese Defarge : A vengeful female revolutionary, arguably the novel's antagonist. She is represented as a more extreme and bloodthirsty personality than her husband Ernest, in part because of the abuses visited on her peasant family by the aristocracy when she was a child.
  • Jacques One, Two, and Three : Revolutionary compatriots of Ernest Defarge. Jacques Three is especially bloodthirsty and serves as a juryman on the Revolutionary Tribunals.
  • The Vengeance : A companion of Madame Defarge referred to as her "shadow" and lieutenant, a member of the sisterhood of women revolutionaries in Saint Antoine, and revolutionary zealot. (Many Frenchmen and women did change their names to show their enthusiasm for the Revolution. ) Carton predicts that the Vengence, Defarge, Cly, and Barsad will be consumed by the Revolution and end up on the guillotine.
  • The Mender of Roads : A peasant who later works as a woodsawyer and assists the Defarges.
  • Jarvis Lorry : An elderly manager at Tellson's Bank and a dear friend of Dr. Manette. He serves as a sort of trustee and guardian of the Manette family.
  • Miss Pross : Lucie Manette's governess since Lucie was ten years old. She is fiercely loyal to Lucie and to England.
  • Marquis St. Evrémonde : The cruel uncle of Charles Darnay. Also called "The Younger". He inherited the title at "the Elder"'s death. Lamenting reforms which have imposed some restraints on the abusive powers of his class, the Marquis is out of favor at the royal court at the time of his assassination.
  • The Elder and his wife : The twin brother of the Marquis St. Evrémonde, referred to as "the Elder" (he held the title of Marquis St. Evrémonde at the time of Dr. Manette's arrest), and his wife, who fears him. They are the parents of Charles Darnay. Both are dead by the time the story begins.
  • John Barsad (real name Solomon Pross) : An informer in London and later employed by the Marquis St. Evrémonde. Moving to Paris he takes service as a police spy in Saint Antoine, under the French monarchy. Following the revolution he becomes an agent for revolutionary France (at which point he must hide his British identity). He is the long-lost brother of Miss Pross.
  • Roger Cly : Another spy, Barsad's collaborator.
  • Jerry Cruncher : Porter and messenger for Tellson's Bank and secret "Resurrection Man" (body-snatcher). His first name is short for either Jeremiah or Gerald; the latter name shares a meaning with the name of Jarvis Lorry.
  • Young Jerry Cruncher : Son of Jerry and Mrs. Cruncher. Young Jerry often follows his father around to his father's odd jobs, and at one point in the story, follows his father at night and discovers that his father is a resurrection man. Young Jerry looks up to his father as a role model, and aspires to become a resurrection man himself when he grows up.
  • Mrs. Cruncher : Wife of Jerry Cruncher. She is a very religious woman, but her husband, somewhat paranoid, claims she is praying against him, and that is why he does not often succeed at work. She is often abused verbally, and, almost as often, physically, by Jerry, but at the end of the story, he appears to feel a bit guilty about this.
  • Mr. Stryver : An arrogant and ambitious barrister, senior to Sydney Carton. There is a frequent misperception that Stryver's full name is "C. J. Stryver", but this is very unlikely. The mistake comes from a line in Book 2, Chapter 12: "After trying it, Stryver, C. J., was satisfied that no plainer case could be." The initials C. J. almost certainly refer to a legal title (probably "chief justice"); Stryver is imagining that he is playing every role in a trial in which he attempts to browbeat Lucie Manette into marrying him.
  • The Seamstress : A young woman caught up in The Terror. She precedes Sydney Carton, who comforts her, to the guillotine. She and Barsad are the only people in Paris who know Carton has taken Darnay's place.
  • Théophile Gabelle : Gabelle is "the Postmaster, and some other taxing functionary, united" for the tenants of the Marquis St. Evrémonde. Gabelle is imprisoned by the revolutionaries, and his beseeching letter brings Darnay to France. Gabelle is "named after the hated salt tax".
  • Gaspard : Gaspard is the man whose son is run over by the Marquis. He then kills the Marquis and goes into hiding for a year. He eventually is found, arrested, and executed.
  • "Monseigneur" : The appellation "Monseigneur" is used to refer to both a specific aristocrat in the novel, and the general class of displaced aristocrats in England.
  • A peasant boy and his sister : Victims of the Marquis St. Evrémonde and his brother. They are revealed to be Madame Defarge's brother and sister.

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