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Authors: Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities

BOOK: A Tale of Two Cities
3.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page




BOOK THE FIRST - Recalled to Life

Chapter 1 - The Period

Chapter 2 - The Mail

Chapter 3 - The Night Shadows

Chapter 4 - The Preparation

Chapter 5 - The Wine-Shop

Chapter 6 - The Shoemaker

BOOK THE SECOND - The Golden Thread

Chapter 1 - Five Years Later

Chapter 2 - A Sight

Chapter 3 - A Disappointment

Chapter 4 - Congratulatory

Chapter 5 - The Jackal

Chapter 6 - Hundreds of People

Chapter 7 - Monseigneur in Town

Chapter 8 - Monseigneur in the Country

Chapter 9 - The Gorgon’s Head

Chapter 10 - Two Promises

Chapter 11 - A Companion Picture

Chapter 12 - The Fellow of Delicacy

Chapter 13 - The Fellow of No Delicacy

Chapter 14 - The Honest Tradesman

Chapter 15 - Knitting

Chapter 16 - Still Knitting

Chapter 17 - One Night

Chapter 18 - Nine Days

Chapter 19 - An Opinion

Chapter 20 - A Plea

Chapter 21 - Echoing Footsteps

Chapter 22 - The Sea Still Rises

Chapter 23 - Fire Rises

Chapter 24 - Drawn to the Loadstone Rock

BOOK THE THIRD - The Track of a Storm

Chapter 1 - In Secret

Chapter 2 - The Grindstone

Chapter 3 - The Shadow

Chapter 4 - Calm in Storm

Chapter 5 - The Wood-Sawyer

Chapter 6 - Triumph

Chapter 7 - A Knock at the Door

Chapter 8 - A Hand at Cards

Chapter 9 - The Game Made

Chapter 10 - The Substance of the Shadow

Chapter 11 - Dusk

Chapter 12 - Darkness

Chapter 13 - Fifty-two

Chapter 14 - The Knitting Done

Chapter 15 - The Footsteps Die Out For Ever



As a child,
Charles Dickens
(1812-70) came to know not only hunger and privation, but also the horror of the infamous debtors’ prison and the evils of child labor. A surprise legacy brought release from the nightmare of prison and “slave” factories and afforded Dickens the opportunity of two years’ formal schooling. He taught himself shorthand and worked as a parliamentary reporter until his writing career took off with the publication of
Sketches by Boz
(1836) and
The Pickwick Papers
(1837). As a novelist and magazine editor, Dickens had a long run of serialized success through
Our Mutual Friend
(1864-65). In later years, ill health slowed him down, but he continued his popular dramatic readings from his fiction to an adoring public, which included Queen Victoria. At his death,
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
remained unfinished.

Distinguished writer, teacher, and critic
Frederick Busch
is the author of more than twenty works of fiction, including
, and
The Mutual Friend
, a novel about Charles Dickens.

A. N. Wilson
was born in 1950 and educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he has held a prominent position in the world of literature and journalism. Among his acclaimed biographies are
of Sir Walter Scott (John Llewellyn Rhys Prize), Tolstoy (Whitbread Award for Biography), C. S. Lewis, Hilaire Belloc, and Iris Murdoch.
The Victorians
, his study of the Victorian Age, and its sequel,
After the Victorians
, were both published to the widest critical acclaim, and he is the award-winning author of such novels as
My Name Is Legion
The Healing Art.

Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
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Published by Signet Classics, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

First Signet Classics Printing, February 1960

First Signet Classics Printing (Wilson Afterword), February 2007

Introduction copyright © Frederick Busch, 1997
Afterword copyright © A. N. Wilson, 2007

All rights reserved

eISBN : 978-1-101-04367-7


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Although most first readers of
A Tale of Two Cities
know its rough outlines—the father locked away in the Bastille, the beautiful, dutiful daughter who helps him to find comfort once he is released, the frenzied slaughter of the revolution, Carton the Gothic hero, handsomely imperfect, who finds real life in his sacrificial death (the “far, far better thing that I do . . .” under the blade of the Guillotine)—these readers might believe that they are opening the pages of a political or, say, historical novel. Its title
geographical, as if the novel were about size and distance. Like most of Dickens’ novels, it begins in the past, so it seems to be concerned with history. And the first words intoned by the narrative voice make up that famous sentence about the times, the age, the epoch, the season, and the fate of people in general—the “we” who regarded life as either bleak or salvational. Royalty is speared on the nib of Dickens’ pen—“a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face”—and Dickens swats at the governing bodies in Paris and London. He then tightens his focus, from the fate of all humankind to the fate of the characters in his novel. And then, tightening further, he conjures Jarvis Lorry who, as his last name suggests, is to be a vehicle for the conveyance of characters and plot between England and France.

But to Dickens, all life is domestic, no matter on what scale he writes it, and no matter its political or historical context. As with all his work, the novel begins in him. And we can see it in the privacies of his writing notes and the intimacies of his emotional life. In a notebook he called “Memoranda,” Charles Dickens wrote story ideas, suggestions for titles, names he might use for characters in his books, and wisps of suggestion as delicate as cobwebs that, somehow, grew thicker and stronger until, years later, they resulted in his large, powerful novels. In 1855, he asks himself in his notebook, “How as to a story in two periods—with a lapse of time between, like a French Drama?” Below this question, he lists possible titles for such a work, and all twenty-two have to do with time. Four years later, when events and the machinations of his imagination dictate, he finally does write the book. But he joins ideas of time to ideas of
giving the novel a geographical name,
A Tale of Two Cities;
Dickens illustrates how time can keep us apart as he attaches to chronological distances the mile upon mile of ocean and earth that can separate cities, nations, and the sad lovers within them.

A few pages later in the memorandum book, he writes an entry about “The man who is incapable of his own happiness. One who is always in pursuit of happiness.” And, later, he enters this enigmatic notation: “WE, fettered together.” It seems entirely possible that he refers here to his long, fecund, and increasingly unhappy marriage to Catherine, who bore ten children (nine who lived) and who grew stout and unglamorous at a time when her husband hungered for quite the opposite. As to the note about unhappiness, Dickens, who could always be extremely sensitive to his own interior needs while attending to those of his characters and his audience, often commented about what we might now call his depressed state. As he wrote to his friend Mary Boyle concerning his dark moments, “I seem to always be looking at such times for something I have not found in life.”

If we combine marital misery, a wretched searching for something nameless, elusive, but essential, and the idea of lovers separated by great gulfs of time and space, we have almost arrived at the critical mass of elements that resulted in the dark, brilliant
Tale of Two Cities.
We are in 1857 as Dickens in his sour marriage returns from France, where he’s been writing
Little Dorrit,
and, back in London, hurls himself into the second vast section of that novel as well as the preparations for a public performance, in the converted schoolroom of his London house, of the play
The Frozen Deep,
written by his friend Wilkie Collins.

Dickens loved to perform publicly, whether in plays or readings of his works, for he could watch his audience react to his language and personality. He hungered for such reaction, and in the case of
The Frozen Deep
even more seems to have been at stake. He was to play Richard Wardour, who loves a woman with a profound passion yet who will sacrifice his life to save the life of the man who is his rival for her affection. The part seems to have conformed with his sense of, or wish for, heroism. And among the professional actresses with whom Dickens and his friends joined in presenting the play, there was a handsome, shy, intelligent eighteen-year-old with golden hair. Her name was Ellen Ternan, and the forty-five-year-old Dickens was to love her desperately until the end of his life. After the despairing passions of the performance, Dickens and Collins repaired to the resort city of Brighton for a rest, where an actor read aloud to them a play called
The Dead Heart,
described by Peter Ackroyd, Dickens’ most recent biographer, as “a tale of self-sacrifice at the time of the French Revolution which leads to a substitution at the foot of the guillotine, strangely corresponding with the self-sacrifices of Richard Wardour.”

Now, in 1859, two years after he has heard
The Dead Heart,
and after his performance in
The Frozen Deep,
after he has met Ellen Ternan and has, under scandalous circumstances, separated from his wife, after the notebook entries about separations by time, during his restless forties, in the grips of his powerful hungers for the nameless element missing from his life, Charles Dickens breaks with his former publishers, terminates the magazine
Household Words,
which he edited, and begins a new journal,
All the Year Round,
for boosting the sales of which, his businessman’s instincts tell him, he must have a new serialized novel.

He again reads Thomas Carlyle’s
History of the French Revolution,
as well as other histories suggested by Carlyle. And then, between April and November, in weekly parts, there appears in his journal
A Tale of Two Cities,
which is a tale of one man driven by a dour restlessness, and which is also the story of another man buried in time. Shining like the sun for both of them is a golden-haired woman, Lucie Manette, daughterly and good and, to Sydney Carton, unattainable, and absolutely worthy of the sacrifice of his life. Dickens is some of each man, and Ellen Ternan, I think, is much of Lucie Manette.

They are also fictive creatures, separate from their creator, and they are characters in one of his darkest novels. While he champions the French peasantry and despises the French ruling class for its oppressions, he also fears revolution, as he showed in
Barnaby Rudge
(1841) and as he showed in
Hard Times
(1854), where even the threat of labor action by working-class characters to whose cause he wished to be loyal dismayed him. And therefore
A Tale of Two Cities
is memorable for its nightmare scenes of bloody revolution, and the downtrodden in revolt become, to Dickens, downright revolting; he turns them into effigies wearing false moustaches and false eyebrows, their faces “all bloody and sweaty, and all awry with howling, and all staring and glaring with beastly excitement and want of sleep . . . and what with dropping wine, and what with the stream of sparks struck out of the [sharpening] stone, all their wicked atmosphere seemed gore and fire.” They have turned Paris into hell, Dickens tells us, forgetting for the moment the hell he showed us that had been created by the nobility.

Madame Defarge is not only a revolutionary and the cunning keeper of underground resistance secrets: she is Lady Macbeth, according to the dark vision of this novel; she is everything bloody and dangerous, and she is contrasted to the angelic, endangered Lucie Manette. Madame Defarge is the soul of this revolution. She is a French Victory, which is represented, always, as a woman; but she is not merely the emblematic, heroic national spirit one sees in, for example,
Victory Leading the People
by Eugene Delacroix. Dickens describes her this way: “Lying hidden in her bosom was a loaded pistol. Lying hidden at her waist was a sharpened dagger.” She walks “with the supple freedom of a woman who had habitually walked in her girlhood, bare-foot and bare-legged, on the brown sea-sand.” Dickens suggests a near nakedness, though she is clothed, and he locates threatening weapons at her breasts and her belly so that her very sexuality is threatening. This, he says, is how nature is overturned by revolution: nurturance and fertility are, now, about wounding and death. Sex is part of the general terror.

In a novel about father-daughter love, happy marriage, and the conversion by love of an ignoble man to nobility, there is much talk of happiness, but it may seem to the reader banal and unconvincing when compared to the wonderful prose of sorrow that Dickens achieves again and again. Musing that “every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other,” Dickens meditates on the sight of a great city at night, sensing that “every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!” While he writes of cities on separate continents, and on the gulfs of time, he tells us his most terrible discovery: that we may never, ever, know one another in spite of lust, love, or intimacy. He cuts the distance of the title and of the novel’s overture down to size, making clear that the soul itself—not continents, not epochs—is the measure of separateness.

So we are all buried away from one another, he says, as he writes his novel of Dr. Manette buried in time and in the Bastille, of Sydney Carton buried in his anguish, of Miss Pross buried in her deafened silence. Yet Dickens labors to unearth every person and every secret. Documents hidden in a cell are found, and their terrible story is told. Thanks to Jarvis Lorry and the muscularity of money and the English banking system—Dickens is never unmindful of the blessings of good credit—Dr. Manette is going to see the light of day. Thanks to Dickens’ ingenuity and the converting power of love—thanks to the angelic Lucie, that is—Sydney Carton’s buried goodness is unearthed.

All the Year Round,
Dickens later wrote: “Whenever I am at Paris, I am dragged by invisible forces into the Morgue. . . . One Christmas Day, when I would rather have been anywhere else, I was attracted in, to see an old grey man lying all alone on his cold bed, with a tap of water turned on over his grey hair, and running, drip, drip, drip, down his wretched face until it got to the corner of his mouth, where it took a turn, and made him look sly.” The genius behind finding that sly smile, where any other writer would have labored to portray sorrow, to generate pathos, is the genius who, while laboring to resurrect the men and women who live for us in
A Tale of Two Cities,
also gives us Jerry Cruncher and Jerry Junior. Jerry is a resurrection man: he steals corpses from graveyards and sells them to further the education of young doctors. He is the very spirit of a Victorian age in which everything—corpses, cuticles, amputated limbs, human bones—is for sale; nothing cannot become part of a transaction in the hive of commerce that the age has become. Each time Jeremiah Cruncher serves Jarvis Lorry or steals forth late at night for another resurrection, the mud of violated graves falls upon the polished floors of the great house of Tellson and Company.

And because Dickens can find the smile on the corpse in the Morgue, he can find the great comedic terror in the child’s nightmare—he is our poet of the inanimate come alive, of the terror visited on children—as Jerry Junior fancies himself pursued by the coffin at which he has spied his father working: “It hid in doorways too, rubbing its horrible shoulders against doors, and drawing them up to its ears, as if it were laughing. It got into shadows on the road, and lay cunningly on its back to trip him up. All this time it was incessantly hopping on behind and gaining on him, so that when the boy got to his own door he had reason for being half dead.”

Although Dickens writes in his Preface that his novel has “had complete possession of me” and that “what is done and suffered in these pages . . . I have certainly done and suffered it all myself,” he is also able to write in his memorable first sentence that the times, and his times, were not only the worst but the best, not only the season of darkness, but also the season of light. He, like so many other Victorians, thought it a duty to fight despair.

I wager, though, that we will remember the darkness more fondly. Great writers do not keep the darkness out. They require of us as we experience their art that we invite the darkness in. Despite the stilted nobility of the novel’s ending, as Dickens rows his musical prose toward the light, his sorrowing genius cannot help but assert itself. If we question the inhuman beauty and patience of Lucie, we can relish the sardonic bleakness of Carton, his brilliance during Darnay’s trial, his courage throughout. We can appreciate the power of nightmare, whatever its political bias, as Dickens streaks his pages with the revolution’s blood. And we can laugh with him—he cannot help finding the monstrous or wonderful or ludicrous within the everyday—as Jeremiah and Jerry Junior engage in their own grotesque version of resurrection.

In fact, I think it likely that a serious hope for resurrection, or spiritual revival, for
may lie behind the writing of
A Tale of Two Cities.
I think it possible that, several years earlier, Dickens’ despair about such transformation may have been signaled when he resorted to the false—the acted—heroic self-sacrifice to which he could not resist being attracted: when he makes believe in Wilkie Collins’ play, before an audience including the woman he would have given his life to possess, on a stage in his house, that he dies in order that others might live.

BOOK: A Tale of Two Cities
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