A Tale of Two Cities

  • A Background Note about A Tale of Two Cities

  • Narrator

    The events of A Tale of Two Cities take place from 1775 to 1793 in London, England, and Paris, France— the “two cities” of the title.

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  • When the novel opens, England and France are each about to be involved in major wars.

  • In 1776, England would be at war with its American colonies, a conflict now known as the American Revolution.

  • And in 1789, the French Revolution would begin, as the people of France rose up to overcome their oppressive government in one of the bloodiest times any country has ever known.

  • Travel in the late 1700s was very different from what we know today.

  • There were no automobiles, trains, or airplanes.

  • People traveled on horseback or in stagecoaches that also carried the mail from city to city— one of these was the “Dover mail.”

  • Narrator

    Trips between England and France involved crossing the English Channel, a 21-mile-wide body of water between Dover (England) and Calais (France), by a small boat somewhat like our ferryboats.

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  • Names were also treated differently in the late 18th century.

  • At this time, people usually called each other by their last names.

  • In addition, because many of the characters are French, French names and titles occur often in A Tale of Two Cities.

  • Lucie Manette, a major character, spells her name with an IE instead of a Y. You will also meet characters called Monsieur (meaning “Mr.”), Madame (“Mrs.”), Mademoiselle or Mam’selle (“Miss”), and titles of nobility such as Marquis and Monseigneur (My Lord).

  • Chapter 1 The Period

  • France and England, 1775

  • Narrator

    It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

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  • It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness.

  • It was the season of Light; it was the season of Darkness.

  • It was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.

  • Some people had everything to look forward to, while others had nothing to look forward to— much like today.