Summary: Chapter 1: The PeriodIt was the best of times, it was theworst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.. . .See Important Quotations ExplainedAs its title promises, this brief chapter establishesthe era in which the novel takes place: England and France in 1775.The age is marked by competing and contradictory attitudes—“It wasthe best of times, it was the worst of times”—but resembles the“present period” in which Dickens writes. In England, the publicworries over religious prophecies, popular paranormal phenomenain the form of “the Cock-lane ghost,” and the messages that a colonyof British subjects in America has sent to King George III. France,on the other hand, witnesses excessive spending and extreme violence, atrend that anticipates the erection of the guillotine. Yet in termsof peace and order, English society cannot “justify much national boasting”either—crime and capital punishment abound.
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Read a translation of Chapter 1: The Period→
Summary: Chapter 2: The Mail
On a Friday night in late November of 1775,a mail coach wends its way from London to Dover. The journey provesso treacherous that the three passengers must dismount from thecarriage and hike alongside it as it climbs a steep hill. From outof the great mists, a messenger on horseback appears and asks tospeak to Jarvis Lorry of Tellson’s Bank. The travelers react warily,fearing that they have come upon a highwayman or robber. Mr.Lorry, however, recognizes the messenger’s voice as that of JerryCruncher, the odd-job man at Tellson’s, and accepts his message.The note that Jerry passes him reads: “Wait at Dover for Mam’selle.”Lorry instructs Jerry to return to Tellson’s with this reply: “Recalledto Life.” Confused and troubled by the “blazing strangemessage,” Jerry rides on to deliver it.Read a translation of Chapter 2: The Mail→
Summary: Chapter 3: The Night Shadows
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, thatevery human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mysteryto every other. . . .See Important Quotations Explained
The narrator ponders the secrets and mysteries that eachhuman being poses to every other: Lorry, as he rides on in the mailcoach with two strangers, constitutes a case in point. Dozing, hedrifts in and out of dreams, most of which revolve around the workingsof Tellson’s bank. Still, there exists “another current of impressionthat never cease
to run” through Lorry’s mind—the notion thathe makes his way to dig someone out of a grave. He imagines repetitive conversationswith a specter, who tells Lorry that his body has lain buried nearlyeighteen years. Lorry informs his imaginary companion that he nowhas been “recalled to life” and asks him if he cares to live. Healso asks, cryptically, “Shall I show her to you? Will you comeand see her?” The ghost’s reaction to this question varies, as he sometimesclaims that he would die were he to see this woman too soon; atother times, he weeps and pleads to see her immediately.
Summary: Chapter 4: The Preparation
The next morning, Lorry descends from the coach at theRoyal George Hotel in Dover. After shedding his travel clothes,he emerges as a well-dressed businessman of sixty. That afternoon,a waiter announces that Lucie Manette has arrived from London. Lorry meetsthe “short, slight, pretty figure” who has received word from thebank that “some intelligence—or discovery” has been made “respectingthe small property of my poor father . . . so long dead.” Afterreiterating his duties as a businessman, Lorry relates the real reasonthat Tellson’s has summoned Lucie to Paris. Her father, once a reputeddoctor, has been found alive. “Your father,” Lorry reports to her,“has been taken to the house of an old servant in Paris, and weare going there: I, to identify him if I can: you, to restore himto life, love, duty, rest, comfort.” Lucie goes into shock, andher lively and protective servant, Miss Pross, rushes in to attendto her.Read a translation of Chapter 4: The Preparation→
Analysis: Chapters 1–4
The opening sentence of the novel makes clear, as thetitle itself does, the importance of doubles in the text:It was the best of times, it was the worstof times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, itwas the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was thespring of hope, it was the winter of despair. . . .
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Doubles prove essential to the novel’s structure, plot,and dominant themes. The idea of resurrection, a theme that emergesin these early pages, would not be possible without some form ofits opposite—death. In order to pave the way for the first suchresurrection—the recalling to life of the long-imprisoned DoctorManette—Dickens does much to establish a dark, ominous tone suggestiveof death. From the mist-obscured route of the Dover mail coach tothe darkly paneled room in which Lorry meets Lucie Manette, theopening chapters brim with gloomy corners and suggestive shadows.