A Tale of Two Cities

This teaching guide includes a brief overview of A Tale of Two Cities followed by teaching ideas to be used before, during, and after reading the novel by Charles Dickens.
Page 1 of 4

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens


A Tale of Two Cities is an excellent choice of reading material for senior high school students. It is probably the least “Dickensian” of his fourteen novels in that it has less of the grotesque, fewer characters, more big scenes, and a less complicated plot. These differences make it especially accessible to high school students. Much of the novel’s value lies in its structure, creativity, and explorations of timeless themes. As a historical novel, it serves as an excellent example of this genre. The fact that Dickens is able to weave the simple lives of ordinary people into the mosaic of a cataclysmic historical event is an indication of his genius, and another reason to read the book.

The themes that are explored in the novel still have relevance today. For example, the results of what happens when revenge is allowed to dictate behavior provides an important topic for students to explore. With the popularity of movies and television shows that glorify the actions of characters who step outside of the law to achieve revenge, classroom discussion on this topic should be lively.

The novel’s descriptions of characters who put duty before desire in crisis situations also provides students with the basis for thought-provoking discussion as well as worthy role models. An important related theme is honor versus dishonor. Another important theme is the effect that corruption in the ruling class has on ordinary people. The lessons that the French Revolution gave us as an infant country are just as important today, and are worthy of young people’s study in a non-threatening forum.

The organization of this teacher’s guide is as follows: a brief overview followed by teaching ideas to be used before, during, and after the reading of the novel. These ideas are meant to help students understand the novel and its characters, themes, and historical message, as well as explore issues dealt with in the novel that are important in students’ lives today.


List of Characters

Jarvis Lorry—Banker at Tellson’s Bank of London and a trusted friend of the Manettes.
Jerry Cruncher—“odd job man” for Tellson’s and part-time grave robber.
Lucie Manette—Dr. Manette’s daughter and Charles Darnay’s wife.
Miss Pross—Lucie’s servant who cared for Lucie during Dr. Manette’s imprisonment.
Dr. Manette—Lucie’s father who was unjustly imprisoned for eighteen years in Paris.
Charles Darnay
—Lucie’s husband who was sentenced to death because of the actions of his father and uncle, the Marquis St. Evermonde.
The Marquis St. Evermonde—Cruel member of the French aristocracy and Charles Darnay’s uncle.
Sydney Carton—Drunken lawyer who takes Charles Darnay’s place at the Guillotine.
Mr. Stryver—London trial lawyer who employed Sydney Carton.
Ernest Defarge—Paris wine shop owner and former servant of Dr. Manette who is also a leader of the French Revolution.
Madame Defarge—Wife of Ernest Defarge who records crimes against the people in her knitting. Her family was destroyed by the Marquis St. Evermonde.
Jacques III—Friend of the Defarges and a member of the French Revolution.
Vengeance—Female friend of Madame Defarge and a bloodthirsty member of the French Revolution.
John Barsard/Solomon Pross—Miss Pross’s long lost brother who works for Roger Cly and helps Sydney Carton change places with Charles Darnay.
Roger Cly—English spy who testified against Charles Darnay in Darnay’s London trial.
Gabelle—The caretaker of the Evermonde estate. His imprisonment brings Charles Darnay back to Paris.
Gaspard—He was hung for killing Darnay’s uncle, the Marquis.


BOOK THE FIRST: Recalled to Life

1. The Period: In the year 1775 conditions were brutal for the people of England and France. Both were ruled by a king and queen and the times were often violent and terrible. In France, the nobles lived in luxury and were sure that they and the king ruled by divine right and that nothing would ever change. The general populace suffered from starvation, disease, and deprivation and were growing impatient for change.

2. The Mail: While in route from London to Paris by way of Dover, Mr. Lorry of Tellson’s Bank receives a cryptic message from the bank’s messenger, Jerry Cruncher. Mr. Lorry responds to the message, “Wait at Dover for Mam’selle,” with his own cryptic reply, “RECALLED TO LIFE.”

3. The Night Shadows: Continuing his journey, Lorry holds imagined conversations with someone (Dr. Manette) about this person’s feelings and future hopes after being buried for eighteen years.

4. The Preparation: In Dover, Lorry meets Lucie Manette and informs her that he is going to take her to her father, whom she thought was dead. Lorry tells her that Dr. Manette is alive and has been released from prison in Paris where he has been for eighteen years.

5. The Wine-Shop: In Paris, Lorry and Lucie go to Defarge’s wine shop. Dr. Manette has been released to Defarge because he was once Manette’s servant. Defarge is a key figure in the underground movement against the ruling government, and his wine shop is a central meeting place.

6. The Shoemaker: Defarge takes Lorry and Lucie to Dr. Manette who is kept in a dark attic room. The Doctor does not remember his true name and occupation and now works as a cobbler. He remembers Lucie when he matches her hair with a few strands of her baby hair that he has kept with him in a ragged pouch worn around his neck. While Lucie holds him in her arms, Defarge and Lorry go to make arrangements to take him from that room directly to England.

BOOK THE SECOND: The Golden Thread

1. Five Years Later: Tellson's Bank in London is described as an old, dark, cramped establishment that takes pride in its ultraconservative, unchanging appearance and attitude. In sharp contrast to this appearance is the bank's porter and messenger, Jerry Cruncher.

2. A Sight: Jerry is directed to go to the court to act as a messenger for Mr. Lorry should he need one. Lorry is present at the trial of Charles Darnay who is charged with treason against England. Also at the trial are Dr. Manette and Lucie who are scheduled to be witnesses for the prosecution.

3. A Disappointment: Mr. Stryver, Darnay's counsel, is able to discredit the Attorney General's witnesses with the help of his brilliant, if drunken, assistant Sydney Carton. Dr. Manette and Lucie testified that they had met Darnay five years earlier on their voyage from Paris to England when the Doctor was released from prison. Based on the supportive testimony of Dr. Manette and Lucie and the skill of his counsel, Charles Darnay is acquitted of all charges.

4. Congratulatory: After the trial, Darnay gratefully thanks Stryver, Dr. Manette, and Lucie for their help in his acquittal. After the trial, Darnay and Carton go to dinner where Carton drinks heavily and confides to Darnay that he is a "disappointed drudge" who cares for no one and for whom no one cares.

5. The Jackal: Carton goes to Stryver's quarters late at night where he analyzes Stryver's cases for him thus acting as "The Jackal" to Stryver the courtroom "Lion." Carton works and drinks steadily until three in the morning when he concludes his work for Stryver. Then he and Stryver drink for the rest of the night while Stryver outlines Carton's faults and weaknesses for him.

6. Hundreds of People: Mr. Lorry has become good friends with Dr. Manette and visits him every Sunday. Miss Pross, Lucie's maidservant, complains to Lorry that they have hundreds of visitors every Sunday, but only Charles Darnay shows up to visit Lucie. Later in the afternoon, Sydney Carton also visits.

7. Monseigneur in Town: After leaving the Monseigneur's party, the Monsieur the Marquis's carriage drives recklessly through the streets of Paris without regard to pedestrians. In its irresponsible flight, the carriage runs over and kills a small child. The Marquis blames the crowd that forms for not taking care of their children and worries that the accident may have harmed his horses. Confronted with the dead child's hysterical father, the Marquis tosses him a gold coin and orders his driver to move on.

8. Monseigneur in the Country: Arriving home at his country estate, the Marquis learns that a tall, thin man has ridden from Paris to the Marquis's village on the chains underneath his carriage. Upon entering his estate, the Marquis finds that his nephew, Charles, has not yet arrived.

9. The Gorgon's Head: The Marquis's nephew (Charles Darnay) arrives and the two argue about the family and its use of its social position. Darnay vows that if he inherits the estate, he will follow his mother's wishes and turn the estate over to the people who have for generations worked and suffered for it. His uncle shows nothing but scorn for him and his humanitarian plans. Later that night the Marquis is murdered in his bed by the man who stowed away underneath his carriage.

10. Two Promises: A year later finds Charles Darnay prospering as a French tutor and translator in London. His love for Lucie Manette drives him to approach her father. He tells the Doctor of his love for Lucie and promises to never come between Lucie and the Doctor. The Doctor agrees to tell Lucie of Darnay's love only if she expresses her love for Darnay first. In response to the Doctor's promise, Charles tries to reveal to him his true name and past. Dr. Manette declines to hear his confession, and says he will only hear it on the morning of Lucie's marriage to Darnay. This exchange so upsets Dr. Manette that when Lucie returns, she finds him at work at his cobbler's bench.

11. A Companion Picture: Stryver confides to Carton that he plans to marry Lucie and then advises Carton to marry a common woman with property to take care of him.

12. The Fellow of Delicacy: Stryver stops at Tellson's to inform Mr. Lorry of his intention to marry Lucie. Lorry advises against it and agrees to see if Dr. Manette and Lucie would be interested in her marrying Stryver. Stryver realizes that Lucie does not want him and salvages his pride by acting as if he doesn't with to marry her anymore.

13. The Fellow of No Delicacy: Carton confesses to Lucie that he is beyond redemption even if she sees goodness in him. He goes on to tell her that he hopes his last good memory will be of her and promises to do anything he can to help her and those she loves if they should ever need his help.

14. The Honest Tradesman: Jerry Cruncher demonstrates that his description of himself as an "honest tradesman" is inaccurate when he engages in his night time job of grave robbing.

15. Knitting: Defarge helps the road mender who saw the Marquis's killer and his subsequent arrest, imprisonment, and hanging. Defarge and his compatriots put a death sentence on all of the Marquis's family, and this sentence is recorded by Madame Defarge in her knitting pattern.

16. Still Knitting: A government spy comes to Defarge's wine shop to try to gain information about the revolutionaries. The Defarges tell him nothing, but he tells them of Lucie's marriage to Charles Darnay.

17. One Night: On the eve of Lucie's marriage to Charles, she and her father talk about their relationship and how he imagined her while he was in prison.

18. Nine Days: Due to Lucie's marriage and the revelation that Charles made to him that morning, as soon as Charles and Lucie leave on their honeymoon, the Doctor reverts to the condition he was in while in prison. He remains withdrawn at his cobbler's bench for nine days.

19. An Opinion: On the tenth day, the Doctor returns to himself with no memory of the nine days. In an effort to help him, Mr. Lorry discusses the case with him in hypothetical terms. The Doctor is confident that he will remain well, but Lorry talks him into giving up the cobbler's tools just in case.

20. A Plea: Carton approaches Charles and asks that the two be friends. Charles agrees and then later promises Lucie that he will be more respectful of Carton in the future.

21. Echoing Footsteps: Years pass and Lucie and Charles have a daughter (little Lucie) and a son who dies. Carton visits them about six times each year, and little Lucie loves him. Carton still works for Stryver who has married a rich widow who has three sons. In Paris, Defarge leads the storming of the Bastille where visits Dr. Manette's old cell. Madame Defarge demonstrates her vengeance by cutting off the Governor's head.

22. The Sea Still Rises: In Paris, a mob lead by the Defarges and The Vengeance kill the nobleman Foulon and his son because of their mistreatment of the common people.

23. Fire Rises: France lies in ruin with starvation and disease the norm amongst the common people. The revolution is underway with red caps becoming the uniform of the revolutionaries. A revolutionary burns the late Marquis's villa to the ground.

24. Drawn to the Loadstone Rock: Three years later (1792), Lorry is sent to Paris by Tellson's to save and bring back important documents from their bank there. Charles receives a desperate letter from Gabelle, the manager of his uncle's estate. If Charles does not go to Paris to testify that Gabelle acted on his order, then Gabelle will be executed. Charles goes to Paris to help Gabelle without telling Lucie or the Doctor.

BOOK THE THIRD: The Track of the Storm

1. In Secret: On the day Charles leaves for Paris, a law is passed declaring death to any emigrant who returns to France. Because of this new law, Charles is sentenced to the prison of La Force in Paris.

2. The Grindstone: Lucie and her father follow Charles to Paris and meet Mr. Lorry at Tellson's. While staying with Lorry, the Doctor notices the patriots using a giant grindstone to sharpen weapons to kill the prisoners. Because of his stay in the Bastille, the Doctor is revered by the patriots and is permitted to see Charles in prison.

3. The Shadow: Defarge brings be able to protect them. Madame Defarge's real reason for coming is to see little Lucie, because the child is sentenced to death as the Marquis's grandniece.

4. Calm in Storm: Dr. Manette's time in prison has served to make him strong in this crisis. It has also earned him the respect of the revolutionaries who make him the official prison doctor for three prisons. This allows him to stay in contact with Charles. Matters grow worse throughout France as revolutionary tribunals judge people and many innocent people languish in prison. In one four-day period, over 1,100 prisoners are killed by La Guillotine, and the rivers in southern France are clogged with bodies.

5. The Wood-Sawyer: Everyday from 2:00 until 4:00, Lucie stands in the same spot on a corner by a wood-sawyer on the chance that Charles might be able to see her from the prison. The wood-sawyer is the same road mender befriended by the Defarges.

6. Triumph: Following the Doctor's instructions during his trial, Charles is declared innocent and freed. This fulfills the Doctor's promise to Lucie that he would save Charles and is testimony to the respect the revolutionaries feel for him.

7. A Knock at the Door: That very night Charles is arrested again on charges brought by the Defarges and a mystery person.

8. A Hand at Cards: Miss Pross runs into her brother Solomon at a wine shop in Paris. He turns out to be the John Basard who testified against Charles at his London trial. Sydney Carton shows up at this time and orders Barsard to meet him at Tellson's or he will turn him in to the tribunal as an English spy working for Roger Cly who also testified against Charles in London. Barsard says this is impossible because Cly is dead. Mr. Cruncher steps in and says that he knows Cly is alive because when he robbed his grave, the coffin was full of rocks. Barsard collapses at this news and confesses to everything, admitting he can go freely in and out of Charles's prison. Hearing this, Carton takes Basard away to tell him what he wants.

9. The Game Made: Carton makes arrangements with Barsard to get into prison to see Darnay if he is sentenced to death. At the trial, the prosecutor says Darnay is accused by the Defarges and Dr. Manette. The Doctor's accusation comes by way of a paper he wrote while in prison that Defarge found in the Doctor's old cell. 10. The Substance of the Shadow: The Doctor's paper is read telling that he was imprisoned by the Marquis and his twin brother (Charles Darnay's father). At the end of the paper, Dr. Manette had denounced the Marquis and all of his line. On the strength of this information, Charles is sentenced to death.

11. Dusk: Charles and Lucie make their farewells. Carton carries Lucie home after she faints; he kisses her and little Lucie good-bye.

12. Darkness: Carton goes to the Defarge's wine shop so that they will see him and know that an Englishman is abroad who looks like Charles. At the shop, the Defarges, the Vengeance, and Jacques Three argue over the fate of Charles's family. Defarge wants the killing to end with Charles, but Madame Defarge wants all his line (little Lucie) killed because it was her family that the Marquis destroyed and then threw the Doctor into prison. After spending all day and most of the night unsuccessfully trying to free Charles, the Doctor is so despondent that he reverts again to the way he was as a prisoner. Carton gives Lorry his traveling papers along with the Doctor's, Lucie's, and little Lucie's. He tells Lorry to make preparations to get them out of the country tomorrow because Madame Defarge intends to charge them with taking part in a prison plot.

13. Fifty-two: Carton gets Barsard to take him to see Charles. In the cell, Carton knocks Charles out with some chemicals and then exchanges clothes with him. He then has Barsard carry Charles to Lorry with the instructions to not wake him, but to get them all out of Paris as quickly as possible.

14. The Knitting Done: Madame Defarge plots with Jacques Three and The Vengeance to have Lucie, little Lucie, and the Doctor condemned using the wood-sawyer as a witness. She then goes to the Manette's quarters where she finds Miss Pross preparing to leave to meet Jerry Cruncher so that they can leave for England. Madame Defarge tries to search the apartment to make sure the Manettes are still there, but Miss Pross stops her. They struggle and Madame Defarge is accidentally shot and killed. Miss Pross locks the body in the apartment and goes to meet Jerry.

15. The Footsteps Die Out for Ever: Carton foretells that Charles and Lucie will live happily ever after together with little Lucie and their son Sydney who will go on to make his name respected. Then Carton meets La Guillotine and dies in Charles's place.

About the author

TeacherVision Staff

TeacherVision Editorial Staff

The TeacherVision editorial team is comprised of teachers, experts, and content professionals dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and relevant information in the teaching space.

loading gif