A Tale of Two Cities
An 1859 novel by Charles Dickens
A Review and Synopsis
Jarvis Lorry - A manager at Tellson's Bank, well respected older gentleman, friend of Doctor Manette who brought his baby daughter Lucie to London when her innocent father was falsely imprisoned.
Sydney Carton - A lawyer who had great potential but has fallen into a dissolute lifestyle of heavy drinking.
Mr. Stryver - An ambitious young lawyer with a large ego. He trained with his friend Sydney Carton who he pays for advice and assistance.
Doctor Alexandre Manette - (The doctor of Beauvais), imprisoned for eighteen years on false charges to protect the reputation of the St. Evrémonde brothers. Released during the French revolution in the storming of the Bastille.
Lucie Manette - The beautiful daughter of Doctor Manette, believing herself to be an orphan whilst growing up in England.
Lucie Saint Evrémonde - Daughter of Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette.
Marquis St. Evrémonde - The uncle of Charles Darnay.
Marquise Saint Evrémonde - Wife of Monseigneur's (the Marquis) twin brother and mother of Charles Darnay.
Charles Darnay - He is the son of the younger brother of the Marquis St. Evremonde, ashamed of his family's elitist, vile and callous reputation he is living in exile in England.
Roger Cly - Former servant of Charles Darnay who testifies against him at Darnay's trial for treason. Cly fakes his own death and later surfaces as a spy and informer.
Jerry Cruncher - An messenger for Tellson's Bank with an amusing turn of phrase and part time "resurrection man" (body snatcher).
Mrs. Cruncher - The long suffering religious wife of Jerry Cruncher, he accuses her of praying (flopping) against him.
Ernest Defarge - A wine shop owner and a leader in the revolutionaries in St Antoine a suburb of Paris. He was formerly a servant for Doctor Manette.
Therese Defarge - Monsieur Defarge's bitter and ruthless wife, leader of the female revolutionaries in St Antoine.
The Vengeance - A female friend of Madame Defarge and fellow revolutionary.
Jacques One, Two, Three, Four and Five - Titles giving anonymity when on active duty for Defarge and four fellow revolutionaries who form the inner circle in St Antoine branch. Defarge is Jaques four, Jaques five is a road mender who sees everything.
Miss Pross - Lucie Manette's nurse and companion.
Solomon Pross (John Barsad) - A spy and informer who serves as a part time turnkey in the Conciergerie in Paris; the estranged brother of Miss Pross.
Theophile Gabelle - A postmaster and tax collector for the Evremondes whose harassment by revolution causes Charles Darnay to return to Paris.
Gaspard - A resident of Saint Antoine who is executed for the murder of Monseigneur (the Marquis).
The Seamstress - A young woman sentenced to death, who befriends Sydney Carton at a critical time in the story.
This is a classic tale of mystery, intrigue and heroism played out in the late eighteenth Century in the period before and during the French revolution. The novel is set in both London and Paris and the narrative crosses the channel several times as the author describes those turbulent times and the fortunes of the main characters of the novel, innocent victims caught up in the political and legal chaos. The main strand of the story focussing on the action around the Parisian suburb of St Antoine as violence erupts when the deprived and starving local population take the law into their own hands wreaking vengeance on their cruel and arrogant oppressors, the local nobility. Not an easy read, the author using extravagant imagery in parts rather than being explicit, but nevertheless it a very enjoyable novel which holds your interest right to final dramatic climax.
Tellson's is an international bank with offices in London and Paris and one of the main characters in the story is Jarvis Lorry a prominent and well respected manager there. Lorry is a friend of Dr Manette a widower clinician who was unjustly imprisoned in the Bastille on the orders of the hated Marquis St Evremonde to protect the reputation of the family, the reasons for which only become clear later in the book. The banker is looking after the affairs of his friend, indeed he has been responsible for removing the doctor's child Lucie to England and a place of safety after the imprisonment of her father. A period of eighteen years has elapsed, when Mr Lorry receives news of the storming of the Bastille and the release of Dr Manette into the care of his former servant and friend Ernest Defarge, now the owner of a wine shop in St Antoine. Arrangements have been made for the banker to meet up with Lucie Manette in Dover for the journey to Paris to reunite the father and daughter. The pair arrive in St Antoine and are shown into a garret apartment adjacent to the wine shop where the old man, now a broken shadow of his former self is working at his bench, in a world of his own making shoes, a trade which he has learned and has kept him relatively sane during his time in the Bastille. It is with no little difficulty therefore that Lucie is finally introduced to her father, who seems to have a problem understanding his current circumstances and appears distracted, wizened and uncommunicative. Gradually however, the old man begins to recognise some of his deceased wife's features and mannerisms in this beautiful young woman purporting to be his daughter and over a period of time he accepts the new reality and the two become inseparable. At this time the violence and mayhem in the area is escalating and a plan has been formed for them to leave Paris for exile in London, assisted by Defarge, as soon as the old man is well enough to travel. This having been achieved, the father and daughter set up home on a quiet corner of a leafy city street and settle down in this peaceful setting assisted by Miss Pross, Lucie's nurse and companion. It is a long road to complete recovery for the doctor of Beauvais and not without the occasional relapse, but with his daughter's constant devotion and loving care, Alexandre Manette slowly regains his health and former spirit and the pair become quite popular within the community. Lucie in particular gains many admirers.
Back in Paris and St Antoine, the villain of the piece, the Marquis St Evremonde is still arrogantly holding sway against the rising tide of resentment and rebellion apparently unaware of the impending danger to himself and his family, his younger twin brother his brother's wife the Marquise and their son Charles Darney. Charles is embarrassed by his family's reputation and despises his uncle for the way he treats his tenants and the wider local population and lives in exile in London, returning for short periods from time to time as necessary. On one such crossing of the channel, Darney finds himself returning to England on the same packet boat as the Manettes and Mr Lorry. The young man is attracted to Lucie immediately and they become better acquainted in conversation, leading to a cordiality which will undoubtedly continue as the Manettes settle in London. The Manette's house in London now becomes the focus of frequent visits by Jarvis Lorry their friend and Charles Darney and over a period of time a friendship develops between Lucie and Darney. At this stage Darney's heritage is a constant source of worry for him and something he doesn't want to disclose, although there are hints that Alexandre Manette knows more than he cares to admit.
However the path to true love never goes smoothly, Charles Darney finds himself in the dock at the Old Bailey accused of spying for his native country suspicion aroused by his frequent visits to France and to the allegations made by two spies one of which is a former servant of the accused, Roger Cly. If this isn't bad enough, the prosecutor intends to call for the testimony of Lucie Manette as another important witness to Darney's treasonable activities. Step forward once more Mr Lorry and an unlikely team of two experienced lawyers who enjoy a bit of a challenge, Mr Stryver and Mr Sidney Carton. Mr. Stryver is an eloquent, ambitious, confident and pushy young lawyer, he pays his friend Sydney Carton for advice and assistance, which mainly involves identifying the relevant key features and carrying out the donkey work involved in putting a well considered case together for argument in court. Sydney Carton trained with Stryver and has great talent but has fallen into a dissolute lifestyle of late nights and heavy drinking. He bears a striking resemblance to Charles Darney a fact which doesn't go unnoticed during the lengthy trial and one which will prove significant later. The spies testify that overheard conversations on the packet boat between Lucie and the accused showed the pair expressing views sympathetic to the American cause in their struggle for independence. Coupled with the other allegations of espionage on behalf of the French this was a damning indictment which could be a death sentence for Darnay, a friend Lucie had become extremely fond of. Naturally, the prospect of giving evidence for the prosecution against him fills her with dread, although she can't do anything but confirm the veracity of the allegations but tries to explain the comments as light hearted chit chat. Happily, largely due to the efforts and talents of his unorthodox legal team, the jury are able to see through the web of deceit woven by the prosecution and Charles Darney is acquitted, much to the relief of all concerned.
Having shared the stressful experience of the Old Bailey trial and the satisfaction of the relief and gratitude at the outcome, the lawyers Stryver and Carton, now included in the Manette's circle of friends become regular visitors to their address along with Darney and Mr Lorry. The three younger men all with matrimonial ambitions and rivals for the affections of the charming young lady of the house. Some amusing and poignant moments ensue as the three men vie for Lucie's favour, however the two lawyers dreams founder on the rocks in one way or another, with doubts still in the air about Charles Darney's prospects. The Frenchman has fallen in love with Lucie but with skeletons in his cupboard concerning his lineage he fears the reaction he might get when he reveals all, as he must if he is to declare his feelings to the object of his affection. Although he has renounced his uncle and tried to distance himself from his past life, he is living a lie which is unsustainable in the long term. Revealing the truth to the Manettes is not something he relishes, the situation being made even more painful since Darney is the heir to the title and property of his uncle. Alexandre Manette also has his secrets, and when Darney confides in the old man seeking his reaction to his proposal to make known his feelings towards Lucie, he seems troubled and puts his fingers in his ears when Charles tries to reveal his true identity. However the doctor agrees not to stand in the way of true love if Darney's feelings are reciprocated and the prospective son in law promises they will know his secret on the day of the wedding, should his suit be successful. Unaware of Darney's visit and purpose, Lucie returns home that evening to find her father relapsed again, worryingly distracted and uncommunicative, resuming his shoe making. Thankfully the trauma is short lived but no explanation is forthcoming as to the cause of the stress which caused it. Subsequently, Darney's proposal of marriage is welcomed and accepted by Miss Manette who obviously has the same feelings for him and the date for the wedding is fixed. Darney fulfils his promise and reveals his identity before the wedding, which goes ahead as planned, the groom's disclosure apparently having no lasting effect on the peace and harmony within the relationships as they settle down to family life together. The happy couple also soon welcome a joyful addition to the family home, a baby daughter also called Lucie.
All is now well the reader may think! Dangerous consequences have been avoided on one hand, but further trials and tribulations are lurking around the corner for the Manettes and Darney. The chaotic and violent situation in France is by now plumbing ever new depths of injustice and depravity with kangaroo courts and indiscriminate use of the guillotine against a wide range of citizens considered to be the elite, their former servants or mere sympathisers as well as emigres. Things begin to move fast, the Marquis is assassinated and Darney inherits the title, but still with no intention of returning to France, when he receives a letter from Theophile Gabelle seeking his help. Gabelle is a postmaster in the village and a tax collector on behalf of the Marquis and is now being harassed by the locals and threatened by the tribunal. Darney incautiously goes to Paris and it comes as no surprise when he is arrested and thrown in prison awaiting trial. With no news of his whereabouts and fears for his safety, friends and family gather round and follow him to Paris. Mr Lorry taking Jerry Cruncher for protection and the Manettes, Miss Pross to look after Lucie and the baby. Alexandre Manette is convinced he can use his good offices with the revolutionaries as advocate for the release of his son in law. After a lengthy spell in prison Darney is found not guilty and released, but when further allegations are brought to light he is rearrested on the same day and put on trial again, this time instigated by the Defarges. Ernest Defarge, one of the leaders at the storming of the Bastille had found documents concealed behind a loose stone in the chimney of Dr Manette's prison cell, the documents revealing the full details of an incident in which a peasant family received fatal injuries inflicted by the Marquis and his brother. The good doctor of Beauvais having been summoned to treat their wounds, obviously knew everything about the brother's evil deeds that day. The victims were the close relatives of Madam Defarge a revelation which explains her extreme bitterness and menacing determination to seek revenge, placing the responsibility for the sins of father and uncle squarely on the shoulders of Darney. Manette as the only witness can only confirm the ugly truth that these were in fact his own notes of the events and a true record, testimony which was to prove a death sentence for his son in law.
By this time Sidney Carton has appeared in Paris and out of his feelings for Lucie is seeking to help in any way he can. Miss Pross has recognised her brother Solomon now living in Paris and using the name Barsad, Carton recognises him as a spy and informer friendly with Roger Cly in London, now working as a jailer in the Conciergerie prison in Paris. Barsad was a witness at the death and funeral of Cly, but Jerry Cruncher, through his activities as a resurrection man knows that Cly is not dead and that stones were in the coffin which was buried. This information is used to bribe Barsad into assisting Carton with a plan to help the completely innocent man to escape and preparations are made for his flight from Paris with the family, a bold move with many hazards. The novel draws to a dramatic and poignant conclusion in the most surprising manner despite several hints throughout the storyline. Suffice it to say Carton redeems himself in the most noble fashion and Miss Pross plays a most important role in the family's escape to safety. Please read this classic tale, it will not disappoint.
Palfreyman February 2023
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