A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Charles Dickens's novel A Tale of Two Cities.

A Tale of Two Cities | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


A Tale of Two Cities is set in both London and Paris in the late 18th century, but earlier events contribute to the plot. In 1757 one of the main characters, Dr. Alexandre Manette, has been imprisoned in the Bastille by the Marquis St. Evrémonde and his brother for refusing to keep quiet about a crime they committed. At the start of the novel, he has been released and is in a garret in Paris.

Book 1: Recalled to Life

In 1775, Mr. Jarvis Lorry of Tellson's Bank is on his way from London to Dover to meet with his charge, young Lucie Manette, who has also come from London. On the way, the coach is stopped by a messenger from Tellson's, Jerry, who gives Lorry a small, folded paper. Lorry reads the paper and tells Jerry to take a message back to the bank: "Recalled to Life."

When Lorry arrives in Dover, he meets with Lucie. Lorry tells her that her father, whom she believed dead, is actually alive, has been released from prison, and is staying at the house of a former servant. Lucie is in shock.

When Lorry and Lucie arrive at the Paris wine shop of Monsieur and Madame Defarge, they are taken to see Dr. Manette, who is busy making shoes in the garret on the fifth floor of their house. When Lucie sees him, she is afraid at first, but she soon embraces him. She and Lorry take Dr. Manette out of Paris.

Book 2: The Golden Thread

Five years later in London, Charles Darnay is being tried for treason. John Barsad and Roger Cly, two spies, testify against Darnay. Lucie and Dr. Manette also testify against Darnay, albeit unwillingly. Mr. Stryver, Darnay's lawyer, points out that Sydney Carton, his associate, looks exactly like Charles Darnay, and Darnay is acquitted.

In Paris, the Marquis has his carriage drive through the streets so fast that he kills the peasant Gaspard's child. The Marquis flips him a coin and drives on. That evening, he meets with Charles Darnay, who is his nephew, and Darnay gives up his inheritance. That night, someone stabs the Marquis to death.

A year later, Darnay tells Dr. Manette he wants to marry Lucie. Meanwhile, Sydney Carton tells Lucie that he will do anything for the people she loves.

Jerry Cruncher sees the funeral procession of Roger Cly and decides to rob his grave to sell the body. Meanwhile, Gaspard has been caught and hanged for the death of the Marquis. Madame Defarge adds John Barsad and the Marquis's family to her "register"—the list of people to be guillotined recorded in her knitting.

Lucie marries Darnay. After a private meeting with Darnay, the doctor reverts to his old shoemaking habit, but he recovers ten days later. Miss Pross and Lorry destroy his shoemaking tools.

Over the next few years, Lucie and Darnay have a daughter, little Lucie, and a son, who dies young. In 1789. the Paris revolutionaries storm the Bastille, led by the Defarges. Later that month, revolutionaries burn down the Marquis's mansion. In 1792, Darnay learns that Gabelle, his uncle's former servant, has been imprisoned and goes to France to save him.

Book 3: The Track of a Storm

When Charles Darnay arrives in France, he is imprisoned as an emigrant and an aristocrat. Lucie, Miss Pross, and Dr. Manette go to Paris, find Mr. Lorry at Tellson's Bank, and tell him Darnay is in prison. Dr. Manette tries to get him out, but he is unsuccessful. It is a year and three months before Darnay is released. However, that evening, he is arrested again, denounced by the Defarges and another person.

Miss Pross sees her long-lost brother, Solomon Pross, who uses the alias John Barsad. Jerry recognizes him, and so does Sydney Carton. Carton blackmails Barsad to get him into the prison to see Darnay.

In court, the third person to denounce Darnay is Dr. Manette, through a letter found in his old cell. The letter says the Marquis raped and killed a peasant woman and, with Darnay's father, killed the woman's father and husband as well as her brother, who hid their younger sister before he died. Dr. Manette had tried to report the crime but had been captured and imprisoned by the Marquis before he could do so. After hearing this, the jury condemns Charles Darnay to death.

Sydney Carton discovers Madame Defarge is that younger sister and that she plans to denounce Lucie, and little Lucie as well. Carton tells Lorry to get the doctor, Lucie, and little Lucie out of Paris. He goes to the prison with Barsad, exchanges clothes with Darnay, and drugs Darnay. Barsad takes Darnay out of the prison and leads his family to escape. Carton stays in the cell.

Madame Defarge tries to find Lucie and her daughter. She finds Miss Pross and struggles with her, pulling a gun. The gun goes off in the struggle, killing Madame Defarge and permanently deafening Miss Pross. Sydney Carton is guillotined in Darnay's place.

A Tale of Two Cities Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Jerry delivers a note from Tellson's Bank to Mr. Lorry.

Rising Action

2 Lorry sends back the message, "Recalled to Life."

3 Lorry tells Lucie Manette that her father is alive.

4 Lorry and Lucie find her father above Defarge's shop.

5 Lorry and Lucie bring Dr. Manette back to London.

6 Charles Darnay's British treason charges are dropped.

7 The Marquis kills Gaspard's child and is murdered for it.

8 Darnay asks to marry Lucie; Carton admits he loves her.

9 Darnay tells his name; Dr. Manette is insane for days.

10 Darnay is arrested in Paris; Dr. Manette frees him.


11 Darnay is denounced by Defarges and Dr. Manette's letter.

Falling Action

12 Miss Pross sees Barsad, her brother; Carton blackmails him.

13 Dr. Manette's prison term was for reporting the Marquis.

14 Lucie escapes; Madame Defarge dies fighting Miss Pross.


15 Sydney Carton drugs and frees Darnay and dies in his place.

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