A Tale of Two Cities is undoubtedly one of the best works of Charles Dickens. The novel takes place before and during the French Revolution. The story is centered around Doctor Alexandre Manette who, after spending 18 years arbitrarily imprisoned at the Bastille in Paris, is living a quiet life with his daughter, Lucie, in London. Their existence is peaceful, but the dark memories of the doctor’s captivity hang over them. As the French Revolution erupts in the slum of Saint-Antoine in Paris, they are unexpectedly thrown in the middle and forced to face the past.
“You know that you are recalled to life?”
“They tell me so.”
“I hope you care to live?”
“I can’t say.”
The fathomless suffering of Doctor Manette mirrors the impudent tyranny of the powerful, sowing the seeds of the French Revolution that will be as violent as it is sudden. Dickens paints the French Revolution as a formidable double-edged sword, absolute, freeing the oppressed from centuries-old shackles of injustice, but unleashing a bloodthirsty monster: La Terreur.
Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death.
What especially strikes me in A Tale of Two Cities is how Dickens carefully crafts a myriad of characters and story layers that unfold in the most poignant way throughout the novel. There’s, of course, Doctor Manette and his determination to pull through life for the sake of his daughter; or the unyielding couple of revolutionaries formed by Ernest and Thérèse Defarge with her terrifying (death-)sentence “Tell the Wind and the Fire where to stop; not me!”; but above all is Sydney Carton, the archetype of the anti-hero, transcended by the purest love.
A Tale of Two Cities is also a beautiful historical journey between Paris and London with must-see landmarks that should be on any itinerary in these cities. Regardless of how familiar you are with Paris and London, A Tale of Two Cities will shed a unique light on these fantastic destinations.
1. Dover Road, Shooter’s Hill, England
The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.
2. Ship Hotel (Demolished), Dover, England
When the mail got successfully to Dover, in the course of the forenoon, the head drawer at the Royal George Hotel opened the coach door as his custom was. He did it with some flourish of ceremony, for a mail journey from London in winter was an achievement to congratulate an adventurous traveler upon.
The Ship Hotel is widely accepted as the real-life counterpart of the Royal George Hotel in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to visit the Ship Hotel as it was demolished in 1860 just one year after A Tale of Two Cities was published.
Located at the narrowest point of the English Channel, the Port of Dover is the World’s busiest passenger port. If you take a boat to or from the United Kingdom, chances are you will see the famous White Cliffs of Dover!
3. Tellson’s Bank, Temple Bar, Fleet Street, London, England
After bursting open a door of idiotic obstinacy with a weak rattle in its throat, you fell into Tellson’s down two steps, and came to your senses in a miserable little shop, with two little counters, where the oldest of men made your cheque shake as if the wind rustled it, while they examined the signature by the dingiest of windows, which were always under a shower-bath of mud from Fleet-street, and which were made the dingier by their own iron bars proper, and the heavy shadow of Temple Bar. If your business necessitated your seeing “the House,” you were put into a species of Condemned Hold at the back, where you meditated on a misspent life until the House came with its hands in its pockets, and you could hardly blink at it in the dismal twilight.
It is thought that Charles Dickens based Tellson’s Bank on Child & Co Bank located at 1 Fleet Street in London. The bank is now owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Make sure to check it out if you are ever around!
4. Dr. Manette and Lucie’s Home
Soho, London, England, United Kingdom
The quiet lodgings of Doctor Manette were in a quiet street corner not far from Soho-square. On the afternoon of a certain fine Sunday when the waves of four months had rolled over the trial for treason, and carried it, as to the public interest and memory, far out to sea, Mr. Jarvis Lorry walked along the sunny streets from Clerkenwell where he lived, on his way to dine with the Doctor. After several relapses into business absorption, Mr. Lorry had become the Doctor’s friend, and the quiet street corner was the sunny part of his life.
One of the most iconic areas of London, Soho is one of the happy A Tales of Two Cities places: the nest of Doctor Manette and his daughter Lucie is located nearby. The passages of the novel where the doctor and Lucie, but also their friends, are spending peaceful evenings under the plane tree are just beautiful. Especially in the light of the terrible events of the French Revolution in the novel, the cozy house in Soho is an eternal haven to look back and towards.
5. Stryver Trying to Seduce Lucie
Vauxhall Gardens & Ranelagh Gardens, London, England, United Kingdom
As to the strength of his case, he had not a doubt about it, but clearly saw his way to the verdict. Argued with the jury on substantial worldly grounds—the only grounds ever worth taking into account—it was a plain case and had not a weak spot in it. He called himself for the plaintiff, there was no getting over his evidence, the counsel for the defendant threw up his brief, and the jury did not even turn to consider. After trying it, Stryver, C. J., was satisfied that no plainer case could be.
Accordingly, Mr. Stryver inaugurated the Long Vacation with a formal proposal to take Miss Manette to Vauxhall Gardens; that failing, to Ranelagh; that unaccountably failing too, it behooved him to present himself in Soho, and there declare his noble mind.
Two famous London gardens are mentioned in this comic excerpt intended to contrast the honorable but shallow Mr. Stryver with Charles Darnay and later, above all, Sydney Carton and his quest for redemption. Unfortunately, both the Vauxhall Gardens and Ranelagh Gardens have disappeared since then. The first ones were located in Kennington on the south bank of the River Thames while the second ones were in Chelsea.