A Tale of Two Cities - now open for contributions


The Drum Book Club invites you to help profile A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. A heartbreaking story of tyranny and self-sacrifice, this masterful novel is many things: escape thriller, historical portrait, courtroom drama, revenge tragedy and love triangle. From its famous opening lines to its even more famous closing lines, this is one of Dickens' most powerful and poignant books.

A Tale of Two Cities has been selected for World Book Night on 23 April.

If you haven't read the book yet, you should be able to find it in your local bookstore or library, or you can get it here: 

US edition   UK edition    Free online edition

Many editions of the novel have extensive notes: by all means be guided by these, but don't copy them directly.  You may find it useful to consult (and quote) Thomas Carlyle's book, The French Revolution, available online.  Another useful source is Simon Schama's Citizens.

To contribute a bookmark, a review, a glossary term or a setting, start here.


Here are our suggestions for bookmarks:

5  a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face  [England]

5  a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face  [France]

5  the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes

5  Mrs Southcott

5  the Cock-lane ghost

5  a congress of British subjects in America

6  her sister of the shield and trident

6  making paper money and spending it

6  sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off

6  a certain movable framework [the Guillotine]

6  his tumbrils of the Revolution

6  in his character of 'the Captain'

7  musketeers went into St Giles's

7  burning people in the hand at Newgate

7  burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall

8  as it lumbered up Shooter's Hill

9  a hand on the arm-chest before him

10 got down to skid the wheel for the descent

14 After that there gallop from Temple-bar

21 The little narrow, crooked town of Dover

22 a quantity of strolling about by night, and looking seaward [smuggling?]

22 clear enough to allow the French coast to be seen

23 a hospital procession of negro cupids

26 turning an immense pecuniary Mangle

27 blank forms for the consignment of any one to the oblivion of a prison

29 like a Grenadier wooden measure

32 the suburb of Saint Antoine

32 the fabulous mill which ground old people young

34 The wine-shop was a corner shop [explain French wine shops - life cafes]

36 You are right, Jacques [use of name by all revolutionaries]

38 the two great towers of Notre-Dame

52 To the Barrier!

53 so remote from this little earth [astronomy understanding in Dickens' day]

55 Tellson's Bank by Temple Bar

56 fretted all the fat out of their parchments

56 ferocity worthy of Abyssinia or Ashantee

57 renouncing by proxy the works of darkness

57 Hanging-sword-alley, Whitefriars

59 I'm as sleepy as laudanum

62 They hanged at Tyburn, in those days

63 the Old Bailey was famous as a kind of deadly inn-yard

63 the pillory, a wise old institution

63 extensive transactions in blood-money

63 they paid to see the play in Bedlam

64 he'll be drawn on a hurdle to be half hanged

66 to send to Canada and North America

66 The court was all bestrewn with herbs and sprinkled with vinegar

67 hammer the nails into the scaffold

69 the very first action fought between the British troops and the Americans

70 Ever kicked down stairs? [penalty for cheating?]

75 how that quarrel had arisen [American war]

75 perhaps George Washington might gain almost as great a name in history as George the Third

76 that garrison-and-dockyard town [Chatham]

79 the State Trials

87 down Ludgate-hill to Fleet-street

89 a long winding-sheet

90 the Court of King's Bench

90 between Hilary Term and Michaelmas

91 the pavements of King's Bench-walk and Paper-buildings

91 from the portrait of Jeffries downward

92 a bumper for his throttle

94 fellow-students in the Quartier Latin

95 a quiet street-corner not far from Soho-square

96 There were few buildings then, north of the Oxford-road

102 It was such a curious corner in its acoustical properties [whispering gallery]

103 impoverished French [Huguenots in London]

103 these decayed sons and daughters of Gaul

104 have you seen much of the Tower?

107 The great bell of Saint Paul's

107 on the way between Soho and Clerkenwell

108 in his grand hotel in Paris

109 the blot upon his escutcheon

109 the Comedy and the Grand Opera

109 the Merry Stuart who sold it [Charles II]

109 allied himself per force with a Farmer-General

111 Unbelieving Chemists who had an eye on the transmutation of metals

111 a fantastic sect of Convulsionists

111 'the Centre of Truth'

112 From the Palace of the Tuileries

117 still knitted on with the steadfastness of Fate [cf Fates, Norns]

118 the heavy drag had been adjusted to the wheel

119 attended by the Furies

123 As if the Gorgon's head had surveyed it

124 the fourteenth Louis

124 four extinguisher-topped towers

124 wooden jalousie-blinds closed

134 the German ballad of Leonora

135 Princes that had been, and Kings that were to be

135 neither to walk on pavements of gold, nor to lie on beds of roses

142 working double tides that night

147 to Vauxhall Gardens

147 to Ranelagh

147 on Saint Dunstan's side of Temple Bar

159 like the heathen rustic who has for several centuries been on duty watching one stream

160 Time was, when a poet sat upon a stool in a public place [Dante]

162 A bear-leader, a popular street character of the time

162 the old church of Saint Pancras, far off in the fields

164 the Guards were coming

167 another disciple of Izaak Walton

170 what's a Resurrection-Man?

177 the last King, Louis Fifteen

177 The name of that prisoner was Damiens

179 the knitted register of Madame Defarge

180 the shining Bull's Eye of their Court

181 there were gardens, court-yards, terraces, fountains [Versailles]

183 the usual stoppage at the barrier guard-house

185 the rage and discontent to which the Jacquerie addresses itself

193 All the women knitted

194 melted into thundering cannon [looking forward to Napoleonic wars?]

218 the Divine friend of children

221 On a night in mid-July, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine

221 we have actually a run of confidence upon us! [bank run]

223 Patriots and friends, we are ready!  The Bastille!

224 Deep ditches, double drawbridge, massive stone walls, eight great towers

225 as if he had been struggling in the surf of the South Sea

225 the outer court-yard of the Bastille

225 The instruments of torture [in the Bastille]

228 marched to the Hôtel de Ville for judgment

229 as if the Last Day were come

231 As if a train of powder laid

231 pulled off a red cap he wore

231 Foulon, who told the famished people that they might eat grass

232 like all the forty Furies at once

233 acted as a telegraph between her and the crowd outside  [technology of telegraphs in 1789??]

235 in Wolf-procession through the streets

237 to reflect that dust he was

240 there might be a need to ring the tocsin

243 Drawn to the Loadstone Rock

243 tumultuous under a red flag

243 Like the fabled rustic who raised the Devil with infinite pains

243 reading the Lord's Prayer backwards

243 Sardanapalus's luxury

243 Royalty was gone; had been besieged in its Palace and 'suspended'

246 an English bulldog

247 the abolition of eagles by sprinkling salt on the tails

250 Prison of the Abbaye

252 Like the mariner in the old story

255 the dawning Republic One and Indivisible, of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death

256 two mounted patriots in red caps and tricolored cockades

257 when they came to the town of Beauvais

258 a decree for selling the property of emigrants

259 a shrivelled tree of Liberty

259 singing a Liberty song

259 The barrier was closed [outside Paris]

262 sanded it [writing paper - to dry the ink?]

263 the king was in prison

264 The horrible massacre, days and nights long [September massacres, 1792]

265 The prison of La Force was a gloomy prison, dark and filthy

268 in the Saint Germain Quarter of Paris

268 in his metempsychosis

268 into the Gazette

269 Tellson's had whitewashed the Cupid, but he was still to be seen on the ceiling

269 in Lombard-street, London

277 as if it were the finger of Fate

280 eleven hundred defenceless prisoners of both sexes and all ages had been killed by the populace

282 the king was tried, doomed, and beheaded

283 the black flag waved night and day from the great towers of Notre-Dame

283 as if the dragon's teeth had been sown broadcast

283 against the deluge of the Year One of Liberty

283 the executioner showed the people the head of the king

283 the head of his fair wife which had had eight weary months of imprisoned widowhood and misery, to turn it grey

283 a law of the Suspected

284 on breasts from which the Cross was discarded

284 the strong man of Old Scripture [Samson]

284 the rivers of the South were encumbered with the bodies of the violently drowned

284 prisoners were shot in lines and squares [in South France]

285 through the stony streets, the tumbrils now jolted heavily, filled with Condemned

288 the popular Revolution song

289 This was the Carmagnole

290 removed to the Conciergerie

291 The dread Tribunal of five Judges, Public Prosecutor, and determined Jury

295 as the foe of England and a friend of the United States

296 the customary prison sign of Death - a raised finger

296 a pike with a red cap on its top

297 the Goddess of Liberty

300 Old Nick's

300 Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks

304 the bridge of the Pont-Neuf

304 where the barges were stationed in which the smiths worked

304 the Army of the Republic

304 The Good Republican Brutus [Lucius Junius Brutus]

304 not far from the National Palace

305 the popular, high-shouldered shaggy black spencer

305 as so much Hebrew or Chaldean to Miss Pross

308 the Father of Lies

309 a Sheep of the Prisons

312 the spy of Pitt

315 the Cow with the crumpled horn in the house that Jack built

316 at the risk of being ducked to death

321 He wore the white riding-coat and top-boots, then in vogue

325 I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord

325 of to-morrow's and to-morrow's [Macbeth]

331 in the Street of the School of Medicine

337 it is among the Rights of these Nobles to harness us common dogs to carts, and drive us

340 the communications of patients are always received in confidence [Hippocratic oath]

341 a rouleau of gold

345 self-immolations on the people's altar

349 I will go to others whom it is better not to name [the leaders of the Revolution - who?]

361 the relics of prisoners which the populace had discovered there [in the Bastille]

384 Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble [what was the route?]

385 flaring Jezabels

385 the wise Arabian stories

386 the long street of St Honoré

387 the place of execution

387 to the Guillotine

387 a number of women, busily knitting

388 Him who was put to death [Christ]

388 these two children of the Universal Mother