It is 1755 and France and England are both brutish and violent. France in particular is ripe for revolution. Jarvis Lorry, an agent for Tellson's Bank in London, is en route for Paris and meets the beautiful, French- born Lucie Manette and her loyal maid Miss Pross in an inn at Dover to reveal that her father, whom she thinks long dead, is in fact alive and has just been released from the Bastille after eighteen years. They are on their way to meet him. In Paris Lorry and Lucie are shown to the squalid garret in which Dr. Manette is lodging by M. Defarge, who runs a wine-shop with his haughty, suspicious, ever- knitting wife Mme. Defarge. Manette is dazed and does not recognise his visitors, concentrating instead on the shoes that he is making. They take him back to England.
Five years later in London we meet Jerry Cruncher, odd-job man at Tellson's and (by night) robber of bodies for dissection. He lives with his very religious wife Mrs. Cruncher and their son Young Jerry in a dirty flat. Young Jerry is his father's assistant in his official occupation. Jerry is sent to the Old Bailey with a note for Lorry and watches the trial of a handsome young Frenchman called Charles Darnay, accused of spying for France. Lorry and the Manettes are also present. Darnay is acquitted when his lawyer, Mr. Stryver, points out that identification is uncertain. To illustrate his point he draws attention to the similarity in appearance between Darnay and a young lawyer in court, Sidney Carton.
Carton is a louche, arrogant young man who could have a brilliant career but seems instead to be content to do tedious work for the older, harder-working Stryver. Carton and Darnay visit the Manettes at home in Soho, where they live happily now that Dr. Manette has recovered his wits after his long imprisonment (to which he never refers). He is, however, prone to deep depressions from which only Lucie can rouse him, and still keeps his shoe-making equipment. The action shifts to France, where Darnay's uncle, the Marquis St. Evremonde, runs over and kills the child of a peasant. He is observed by the Defarges but is unapologetic. Darnay visits his chateau that evening, and we learn that there is no love lost between them. The following morning the Marquis is found murdered, stabbed through the heart in his bed.
A year later Charles Darnay is comfortably established in England as a French tutor. Visiting Dr. Manette, he confesses his love for Lucie. This accepted, he tries to tell Dr. Manette his real name and the purpose of his stay in England, but the Doctor stops him, only wishing to know his secrets when he is married. Carton is also in love with Lucie and visits her to pledge that he will make any sacrifice for her. Meanwhile in France the revolutionaries are gathering momentum. A secret society known as the 'Jacques' meets at the Defarges' wine shop and decides to destroy the Marquis's chateau in due course. A spy named John Barsad comes to the shop and informs the Defarges that Lucie Manette is to marry Darnay, nephew of the murdered Marquis. Despite his great happiness at their marriage, Dr. Manette is still prone to relapses into his former state, characterised by shoe-making and complete subsequent forgetfulness. Lorry encourages Manette to join the newlyweds on their honeymoon and in his absence he destroys the workbench with Miss Pross's assistance.
In time Lucie and Darnay have two children, a daughter also named Lucie and a son who dies young. Carton occasionally visits the happy family and is popular with little Lucie. One night in 1789 Lorry arrives at Dr. Manette's to say that there is great unrest in Paris. The Defarges are commanding the revolutionaries, who storm the Bastille. Once there Defarge rushes to Manette's former cell. Having thoroughly searched it, it is torched. Mme. Defarge decapitates the governor of the Bastille and the mob surges through the city. Sure enough, the Marquis's old chateau is torched.
Three years later, Tellson's has become one of the meeting points for exiled Frenchmen. A letter is delivered there addressed to 'The Marquis St. Evremonde', which Darnay (mindful of his promise to Dr. Manette) undertakes to deliver. When he reads it he resolves to go to France; it is a plea for help from his loyal old servant Gabelle, a prisoner of the revolutionaries. No sooner does he arrive in Paris than Defarge, recognising him as Lucie's husband, imprisons him. Lorry learns of this when he is visited by Manette and Lucie in the Paris branch of Tellson's. As they speak the mob rushes into the courtyard and begin to sharpen their weapons. Realising that time is of the essence if they are to save Darnay, Manette speaks to the mob (with whom he is popular as an ex-prisoner of the Bastille) and is led off.
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