A Tale of Two Cities


One way you may approach Lucie Manette is as the central figure of
the novel. Think about the many ways she affects her fellow
characters. Although she is not responsible for liberating her
father, Dr. Manette, from the Bastille, Lucie is the agent who
restores his damaged psyche through unselfish love and devotion. She
maintains a calm, restful atmosphere in their Soho lodgings,
attracting suitors (Charles Darnay, Stryver, Sydney Carton) and
brightening the life of family friend Jarvis Lorry.

Home is Lucie's chosen territory, where she displays her fireside
virtues of tranquility, fidelity, and motherhood. It's as a symbol
of home that her centrality and influence are greatest. Even her
physical attributes promote domestic happiness: her blonde hair is a
"golden thread" binding her father to health and sanity, weaving a
fulfilling life for her eventual husband, Charles Darnay, and their

Lucie is central, too, in the sense that she's caught in several
triangles--the most obvious one involving Carton and Darnay. Lucie
marries Darnay (he's upcoming and handsome, the romantic lead) and
exerts great influence on Carton.

A second, subtler triangle involves Lucie, her father, and Charles
Darnay. The two men share an ambiguous relationship. Because Lucie
loves Darnay, Dr. Manette must love him, too. Yet Darnay belongs to
the St. Evremonde family, cause of the doctor's long imprisonment,
and is thus subject to his undying curse. Apart from his ancestry,
Darnay poses the threat, by marrying Lucie, of replacing Dr. Manette
in her affections.

At the very end of the novel you'll find Lucie caught in a third
triangle--the struggle between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge. Miss
Pross, fighting for Lucie, is fighting above all for love. Her
triumph over Madame Defarge is a triumph over chaos and vengeance.

Let's move now from Lucie's influence on other characters to Lucie
herself. Sydney Carton, who loves Lucie devotedly, labels her a
"little golden doll." Carton means this ironically--he's hiding his
true feelings from Stryver--but some readers have taken his words at
face value. They see Lucie as a cardboard creation, and her
prettiness and family devotion as general traits, fitting Dickens'
notions of the ideal woman.

Readers fascinated with Dickens' life have traced Lucie's origins to
Ellen Ternan, the 18-year-old actress Dickens was infatuated with
while writing A Tale. Ellen was blonde, and she shared Lucie's habit
of worriedly knitting her brows. Of course, the artist who draws on
real life nearly always transforms it into something else, something

Finally, consider viewing Lucie allegorically--as a character acting
on a level beyond the actual events of the story. Dickens frequently
mentions Lucie's golden hair. The theme of light versus dark is one
that runs all through A Tale, and Lucie's fair hair seems to ally her
with the forces of light. The force of dark seems to come from
Lucie's opposite in most respects, the brunette Madame Defarge.


Sydney Carton dies on the guillotine to spare Charles Darnay. How
you interpret Carton's sacrifice--positively or negatively--will
affect your judgment of his character, and of Dickens' entire work.

Some readers take the positive view that Carton's act is a triumph of
individual love over the mob hatred of the Revolution. Carton and
the seamstress he comforts meet their deaths with great dignity. In
fulfilling his old promise to Lucie, Carton attains peace; those
watching see "the peacefullest man's face ever beheld" at the
guillotine. In a prophetic vision, the former "jackal" glimpses a
better world rising out of the ashes of revolution, and long life for
Lucie and her family--made possible by his sacrifice.

This argument also links Carton's death with Christian sacrifice and
love. When Carton makes his decision to die, the New Testament verse
beginning "I am the Resurrection and the Life" nearly becomes his
theme song. The words are repeated a last time at the moment Carton
dies. In what sense may we see Carton's dying in Darnay's place as
Christ-like? It wipes away his sin, just as Christ's death washed
clean man's accumulated sins.

For readers who choose the negative view, Carton's death seems an act
of giving up. These readers point out that Stryver's jackal has
little to lose. Never useful or happy, Carton has already succumbed
to the depression eating away at him. In the midst of a promising
youth, Carton had "followed his father to the grave"--that is, he's
already dead in spirit. For such a man, physical death would seem no
sacrifice, but a welcome relief.

Some readers even go so far as to claim that Carton's happy vision of
the future at the novel's close is out of place with his overall
gloominess. According to this interpretation, the bright prophecies
of better times ahead are basically Dickens' way of copping out, of
pleasing his audience with a hopeful ending.

If Sydney Carton's motives seem complicated to