A Tale of Two Cities Summary

The story starts in 1775. The first character we see is a senior British gentleman named Jarvis Lorry. Mr. Lorry is an employee of a wealthy international company called Tellson’s Bank and he travels to England with a secret mission that is so deeply personal that it makes him cry sometimes. He should tell the daughter of his old client, Lucy Manette, that her father, who is considered long dead, possibly beheaded in the revolution is, actually alive. Dr. Manette was imprisoned in Bastille for no obvious reason and spent eighteen grim years locked in a small damp cell, working as a prison shoemaker. After the eighteen years of such a miserable life he is released - again with no explanation given - and now lives in Paris with his old former servant named Ernest Defarge caring for him. But the good news are over after that one. The bad news is the rest: Dr. Manette became deeply mentally unstable in his prison. He seems to not understand he is already free and even the concept of freedom itself. Also Ernest Defarge lives a very poor life at the outskirts of Paris, trying to earn for living as an owner of a wine shop.

Lucy is shocked by the news brought to her. She decides to go to Paris immediately with Mr. Lorry. They arrive to Paris, to the district of St. Antoine, notorious by its poverty and criminal gangs. There Defarge meets them, leading the guests to the small and dim-lighted room resembling a prison cell. Dr. Manette is there, looking pale and sick. He is sitting on the bench and endlessly sewing the boots or walking from one wall to another. He is mentally scarred so hard that the most comfortable place for him is still his prison. The doctor is afraid of the bright light and open spaces.

Touched by such a pitiful state of her father, Lucy rushes to him, tearfully begging to recognize her, but in vain. Only after Lucy starts talking about her mother - Dr. Manette’s wife - his eyes become alive again and the old man cries remembering his love and finally embracing his daughter. Lucy cries together with him, comforting him. The next day she takes Dr. Manette back to London and her love and care gradually help him recover and almost return to the normal life.

Five years pass. Dr. Manette again works as a doctor and is a respected member of London society. Once he receives a message with the order to attend the court as a witness. The trial is of Charles Darnay who is accused of high treason. He is suspected of being a spy for USA and France. The two other witnesses, John Barsad and Roger Cly have already witnessed against Darnay, so Dr. Manette has to give adamant proofs of his innocence to let the young man escape the quick but painful death.

But Darnay also has a brilliant attorney, Mr. Stryver and his not less brilliant assistant named Sydney Carton. They start to ask Barsad and Cly sudden and uncomfortable question. Carton even stands near Darnay showing their likeness and says that with such a common appearance Darnay may be mistaken for lots of people, even for him, Carton. Then, with the help of Dr. Manette’s evidences, prove them spies and Charles the framed and innocent victim of them.

After the trial, all the three young men start to visit Manettes’ house, attracted by grace and kind heart of Lucy. Mr. Stryver even tries to make a proposal but Mr. Lorry, who still cares for the Manettes family, talks him out of it. Carton is also in love with Lucy, but he sees himself too poor and flawed to be equal to her. So the one thing he passionately declares to her is his willingness to sacrifice his life for her or the one she really loves. Although Lucy already choose Darnay she is deeply touched. Finally, getting permission from her father, she marries Charles and they start their happy life as a couple.

But Charles, though he isn’t a real spy, does live in England under a false name. He is a descendant of a rich aristocratic family in France, but he fled from it and now in any way possible tries to erase any connection to it. He even gave up hereditary rights despite he could be incredibly wealthy. Charles despise his family because of its notoriously cruel attitude towards the common folk. That made his uncle, a Marquise, a primary target for the revolutionaries, but they didn’t stop on that point, thoroughly searching and murdering the rest of his family. When Charles tells this story to Dr. Manette, the old man gets a heavy flashback, because the Marquise was the one who helped to illegally imprison him.

In the meantime, the full-blown revolution starts in France, the power now in the hands of the common people. The country descends into chaos, the French aristocracy flees, the king is captured. Old laws are no more valid, and new ones are still not powerful enough to prevent anarchy. People kill anyone related to aristocracy just for personal revenge. Darnay receives news that his old steward needs help because he is scheduled to be murdered next. He decides to return to Paris to save him, despite the grave danger.

Even without telling Lucy he leaves his family and goes to France. But Charles is too well-known for this plan to go smooth. He is almost immediately arrested and sent to prison as a representative of his family. All the hatred of the common people is ready to be unleashed at him. But his family - Dr. Manette, Lucy and Lucy’s little daughter - comes to aid. They receive a message from Mr. Lorry about Charles in distress and haste to Paris, just to discover that Dr. Manette’s servant, Defarge, is the local leader of the revolt.

Dr. Manette is respected by revolutionaries as their fellow prisoners of Bastille and also by Defarge personally for always being a good and kind man. He talks to the crowd demanding at least the trial for Charles, not only the brutal execution. Dr. Manette succeeds and the honest trial is conducted. Dr. Manette’s speech is so persuasive that the judges feel obliged to release Charles. It seems it is the happy ending and the family is united at last.

But Defarge, despite all his respect to Dr. Manette, doesn’t want to allow the hated aristocrat to go free. The next night he takes to the court a letter from Dr. Manette, pretending he wrote it in prison. In this false letter Dr. Manette accuses everyone of Charles’ family of murdering the family of Madame Defarge and imprisoning himself.

Dr. Manette described the story when two aristocrats, who appear to be Charles’ father and uncle, broke into the house of a peasant family, raped the pregnant woman in there, tortured her husband to death, stabbed her brother and took away her sister. Dr. Manette was invited to that house to look after the raped woman and her wounded brother. They told him about the atrocities they survived and Manett decided to report that to minister. However it didn’t help at all, the minister just told the Marquis about the case and Dr. Manett was the one who was imprisoned for that and released only after Marquis’ murder.

This evidence is too strong to ignore and the court condemns Charles to death again. Moreover, as Lucy and her little daughter are now also members of his family, they should also be beheaded. Dr. Manette, understanding that years ago he himself condemned his own family to death, regresses to his previous mental state, now thinking that he again is sewing boots in prison.

But there is another person, sincerely interested in Charles’ rescue. Carton, devoted to his oath, secretly followed Lucy to Paris. He watched the trials and now he understands that the time has come to fulfill his promise. Carton, using the prison guard’s aid, sneaks into the prison, drugs Charles (he know that he is too noble to accept freedom at such a price), changes clothes with him and stays in the cell instead of him. Darnay comes back to his senses already outside of the prison. The whole family is going to be escorted back to London by ever-caring Mr. Lorry. Carton goes to the guillotine with a light heart: he knows Lucy is safe and will be happy with her family.

But then the real mastermind of all the plot comes to light. It’s Madame Defarge. She is the abducted sister of raped peasant woman Dr. Manette wrote about. She is obsessed with extermination of the entire family of the abusers. She makes the last desperate attempt to murder Lucy, but Lucy’s old nanny disrupts this plot. Madame Defarge is killed instead.

The story ends with the description of the events year after: a large numbers of revolutionaries soon followed their victim to the guillotine. Charles and Lucy called their second child after Carton and passed the story of their life to their descendants.

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