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A Tale of Two Cities | Quotes


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 1

Dickens begins his novel with what has become one of the best-known quotations of all time. It is a description of the spectrum of emotions, political activity, human decency, and human cruelty that existed during the time leading up to the French Revolution and the time in England after the American Revolution. Social awareness and the fight for human rights is reflected in these words, coexisting with and bubbling under the surface of intense repression by those in power and those with money: the best and the worst of humanity.


All through the cold and restless interval, until, dawn, they once more whispered in the ears of Mr. Jarvis Lorry—sitting opposite the buried man who had been dug out, and wondering what subtle powers were forever lost to him, and what were capable of restoration—the old inquiry: "I hope you care to be recalled to life?" And the old answer: "I can't say."

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 6

Dr. Manette spent 18 years in prison for trying to report a crime, and this has damaged his psyche, as illustrated in this passage. The doctor lost contact with his wife, did not see his daughter, and was held in isolation: a terrible fate akin to death, or at least the death of his life as he knew it. If it were not for making shoes, he would have completely lost his sanity. These words also foreshadow a later retreat into shoemaking.


Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.

Narrator, Book 2, Chapter 5

These words sum up Sydney Carton's personality and his place in the world—or at least the place he sees himself occupying. He feels there is no hope for him to change for the better. Even if he could win Lucie, he fears he would never really change. The interesting part about this bit of self-knowledge is that it eventually proves to be false.


Not knowing how he lost himself, or how he recovered himself, he may never feel certain of not losing himself again.

Miss Pross, Book 2, Chapter 6

Miss Pross is speaking with Mr. Jarvis Lorry about whether or not Dr. Manette remembers or understands why he was imprisoned. Miss Pross believes that he does because Lucie thinks he remembers, but Miss Pross understands that because the reason was so horrible, he avoids talking about it so as not to lose his sanity again. She knows he finds it hard to maintain his recovered state, and a return to the subject of his imprisonment might send him back over the edge.


A multitude of people, and yet a solitude!

Charles Darnay, Book 2, Chapter 6

Before Charles Darnay moved to England, he was surrounded by the aristocracy, and yet completely opposed their terrible treatment of the unfortunate. He didn't fit into his social class at all and was, in fact, horrified by it. These words foreshadow the separateness he will also feel in prison, surrounded by the sound of footsteps, and on the street after his release, surrounded the crowd of revolutionaries.


"Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend," observed the Marquis, "will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof," looking up, "shuts out the sky."

The Marquis, Book 2, Chapter 7

This is the Marquis's response to Charles Darnay's comment that people don't look at him with respectful deference, but the deference of fear and slavery. It sums up the attitude that many French aristocrats had toward the peasantry and the working class, leading up to the French revolution. It is a particularly odious statement because the Marquis can't even refer to these people as human beings, and if this is how he treats his animals, they must have painful, short lives. It is no wonder that Darnay doesn't want to have anything to do with his family.


I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.

Sydney Carton, Book 2, Chapter 13

These words begin a long statement made by Sydney Carton to Lucie Manette, telling her that she has inspired him to be a better man, though he has no faith that he can actually change for the better. He wants Lucie to know that he is glad she doesn't return his love, as he would only hurt her because he cannot change. He tells her he will do anything to ensure her happiness, including to live without her.


Oh, Miss Manette, when the little picture of a happy father's face looks up in yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!

Sydney Carton, Book 2, Chapter 13

This quotation shows just how devoted Sydney Carton is to making sure that Lucie Manette and the people she loves are happy and safe. It foreshadows what Carton will do in order to make sure that her family has a life they love. This phrase appears again at the end of the book as Carton is executed.


It would be easier for the weakest poltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of Madame Defarge.

Monsieur Defarge, Book 2, Chapter 15

This statement reveals the method by which Madame Defarge keeps track of who is to be condemned to die when the revolutionaries come into power. Once she decides that a person deserves to be there, there is no turning back and no begging for mercy, as Lucie Manette later discovers.


So much was closing in about the women who sat knitting, knitting, that they their very selves were closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to sit knitting, knitting, counting dropping heads.

Narrator, Book 2, Chapter 16

These words foreshadow the building of the guillotine to behead the French aristocrats and anyone else who opposes the French revolutionary state. Madame Defarge and her cohorts sit in the audience, knitting silently, watching as the people Madame Defarge has registered in her knitting are put to death. But the structure is more than just the guillotine: It represents the human capacity to be cruel and to witness that cruelty inflicted on other human beings, standing aside silently as hundreds of people die, one by one. The peasants have suffered unspeakable cruelty at the hands of their oppressors, but their desire for vengeance makes them equally dark and dangerous.


The sea of black and threatening waters, and of destructive upheaving of wave against wave, whose depths were yet unfathomed and whose forces were yet unknown. The remorseless sea of turbulently swaying shapes, voices of vengeance, and faces hardened in the furnaces of suffering until the touch of pity could make no mark upon them.

Narrator, Book 2, Chapter 21

This is a description of the crowd that has stormed the Bastille, released prisoners, killed government officials, and paraded the prisoners and the officials' heads through the streets on pikes. It reveals just how far oppressed people will go when they finally get the upper hand and become a part of a mob.


"For the love of Heaven, of justice, of generosity, of the honour of your noble name!" was the poor prisoner's cry with which he strengthened his sinking heart, as he left all that was dear on earth behind him, and floated away for the Loadstone Rock.

Charles Darnay, Book 2, Chapter 24

Charles Darnay tries to convince himself that he is doing the right thing and honoring his mother, who was a generous and kind person. He also tries to boost his morale, as he is leaving his family behind. Although he may be trying to convince himself that he will not get hurt, some part of him likely realizes that he is about to step straight into the heart of a situation that is not only dangerous to him, but possibly lethal. Dickens foreshadows what will happen once Darnay is in Paris by referring to him as "the poor prisoner."


Judge you! Is it likely that the trouble of one wife and mother would be much to us now?

Madame Defarge, Book 3, Chapter 3

This seemingly heartless statement makes a certain amount of sense, considering that the peasant women and children have had to endure horrific conditions for years, while their husbands, sons, and fathers were imprisoned for whatever reasons the aristocracy could make up. When Madame Defarge and her friend The Vengeance come to see Lucie Manette and little Lucie, they offer her no help or sympathy, and this quote sums up their attitude toward the wife and child of an aristocrat. After all their suffering, why should they care how these people feel?


I am not afraid to die, Citizen Evrémonde, but I have done nothing. I am not unwilling to die, if the Republic which is to do so much good to us poor, will profit by my death; but I do not know how that can be, Citizen Evrémonde. Such a poor weak little creature!

The seamstress, Book 3, Chapter 13

A seamstress is one of the condemned prisoners traveling to the guillotine with Sydney Carton. Thinking at first that he is Darnay, whose birth name was Evrémonde, she talks to him about dying. She is confused because she cannot see how her death benefits the Republic. It was meant to help poor people like her, but it is about to execute her even though she is innocent. Dickens uses the seamstress to exemplify his point that injustice breeds vengeance, which is itself unjust.


It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

Sydney Carton, Book 3, Chapter 15

This famous last line is Sydney Carton's last thought as he goes to the guillotine. He has always viewed himself as worthless and always had trouble sleeping, but his final act of self-sacrifice gives him something to be proud of, and he consoles himself that nothing will disturb his rest again.

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