A Tale of Two Cities is made up of three ‘books’: Recalled to Life, The Golden Thread, and The Track of the Storm.
Recalled to Life alludes to the dominant theme of spiritual rebirth. It begins in 1775 with the discovery in Paris of Dr. Manette by his daughter Lucie. Recently liberated from the Bastille, he is in the care of the revolutionary Defarge, a former servant of Manette. The poor doctor obsessively makes shoes and is shattered mentally. Lucie takes him back to London.
The Golden Thread continues the story five years later and runs into 1792. Its title refers to Lucie’s golden hair and to her hold on the principal characters. Noble French aristocrat Charles Darnay, nephew of the evil Marquis St. Evremonde, is acquitted of falsified treason charges in London because he looks nearly identical to jaded alcoholic lawyer Sidney Carton. Written by Dickens as doppelgangers –the one virtuous, loathing the cruelties of his own family and class, the other selfish and cynical -- the men are both in love with Lucie, Darnay’s eventual wife. Carton declares his love for her just before the wedding, promising any needed sacrifice in the future for her happiness. At the storming of the Bastille Defarge makes a point to locate Manette’s old cell, though it is not clear why. Lucie and Darnay, now a Marquis after his uncle’s murder by revolutionaries, produce a daughter, also named Lucie, who becomes close to Carton.
The Track of the Storm reveals the selfless nature of Darnay. Gabelle, an old employee of his despised uncle, begs for his aid after being imprisoned by the Jacobins. Captured when he returns to Paris, Darnay is condemned when an old letter of Manette’s, found in the Bastille by Defarge, reveals him to be the son of the loathsome Marquis. To save his friend Carton drugs him in his cell, smuggles him to freedom, and replaces him on the guillotine scaffold as a sacrifice for Lucie and his own redemption. At the very end of his life Carton has atoned for his useless existence and equaled both Darnay and Lucie in moral purity. His final act cleanses his soul, making clear Dickens’ point that no one is beyond salvation (not a popular concept in Victorian England, particularly in its approach to criminal justice and the poor).
by Terry Kroenung