It depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the correspondingbrutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same time period. It follows the lives of several protagonists through these events, most notably Charles Darnay, a French once-aristocrat who falls victim to the indiscriminate wrath of the revolution despite his virtuousnature, and Sydney Carton, a dissipated British barrister who endeavours to redeem his ill-spent life out of love for Darnay's wife, Lucie Manette.
The novel was published in weekly installments (not monthly, as with most of his other novels). The first installment ran in the first issue of Dickens' literary periodical All the Year Round appearing on 30 April 1859; the thirty-first and last ranon 25 November of the same year.
T he year is 1775, and social ills plague both France and England. Jerry Cruncher, an odd-job man who works for Tellson’s Bank, stops the Dover mail-coach with an urgent message for Jarvis Lorry. The message instructs Lorry to wait at Dover for a young woman, and Lorry responds with thecryptic words, “Recalled to Life.” At Dover, Lorry is met by Lucie Manette, a young orphan whose father, a once-eminent doctor whom she supposed dead, has been discovered in France. Lorry escorts Lucie to Paris, where they meet Defarge, a former servant of Doctor Manette, who has kept Manette safe in a garret. Driven mad by eighteen years in the Bastille, Manette spends all of his time making shoes,a hobby he learned while in prison. Lorry assures Lucie that her love and devotion can recall her father to life, and indeed they do.
The year is now 1780. Charles Darnay stands accused of treason against the English crown. A bombastic lawyer named Stryver pleads Darnay’s case, but it is not until his drunk, good-for-nothing colleague, Sydney Carton, assists him that the court acquits Darnay.Carton clinches his argument by pointing out that he himself bears an uncanny resemblance to the defendant, which undermines the prosecution’s case for unmistakably identifying Darnay as the spy the authorities spotted. Lucie and Doctor Manette watched the court proceedings, and that night, Carton escorts Darnay to a tavern and asks how it feels to receive the sympathy of a woman like Lucie. Cartondespises and resents Darnay because he reminds him of all that he himself has given up and might have been.
In France, the cruel Marquis Evrémonde runs down a plebian child with his carriage. Manifesting an attitude typical of the aristocracy in regard to the poor at that time, the Marquis shows no regret, but instead curses the peasantry and hurries home to his chateau, where he awaits thearrival of his nephew, Darnay, from England. Arriving later that night, Darnay curses his uncle and the French aristocracy for its abominable treatment of the people. He renounces his identity as an Evrémonde and announces his intention to return to England. That night, the Marquis is murdered; the murderer has left a note signed with the nickname adopted by French revolutionaries: “Jacques.”
A yearpasses, and Darnay asks Manette for permission to marry Lucie. He says that, if Lucie accepts, he will reveal his true identity to Manette. Carton, meanwhile, also pledges his love to Lucie, admitting that, though his life is worthless, she has helped him dream of a better, more valuable existence. On the streets of London, Jerry Cruncher gets swept up in the funeral procession for a spy named...