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A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

  

by Charles Dickens

Sydney Carton Timeline and Summary

  • Sydney Carton is orphaned as a young boy.
  • He spends his schooldays writing other people’s papers.
  • He spends his adult life doing all of Stryver’s legal work.
  • We first meet him at Charles Darnay’s trial, where he convinces the jury that he looks exactly like Darnay.
  • The jury acquits Darnay based upon this.
  • In the courtroom, Carton points out that Lucie is fainting.
  • How does he notice before anyone else?
  • By this point, the case is pretty much over.
  • Carton’s appearance has introduced too much doubt into the trial.
  • Carton, who still seems pretty cynical about the justice system, wants to get out of the general area of the court.
  • He asks Darnay to come out to dinner with him.
  • Darnay can’t seem to break through Carton’s cynicism. And Carton’s already seen how Darnay looks at Lucie.
  • In fact, just because Carton seems to like rubbing salt in his own wounds, he gets Darnay to propose a toast to "Miss Manette!"
  • After sharing a drink or two together, Carton’s pretty sure he doesn’t like Darnay.
  • Darnay sure doesn’t like Carton.
  • Perhaps they might even get into blows over a girl… until, of course, Darnay realizes that Carton has just saved his life.
  • Before they part, however, Darnay wants to know why Carton seems so angry and depressed.
  • Muttering that he’s a "disappointed drudge," Carton says that he’s been worth nothing all this life.
  • As Darnay leaves, Carton engages in a little bit of existential self-questioning.
  • Why hasn’t he been able to change his own circumstances in life? Why isn’t he ever able to change his ways or become a better human being?
  • Tough questions. And Carton’s got no answers.
  • Next, we see Carton working for Stryver.
  • Carton can’t stand the fact that Stryver’s a big jerk.
  • Nonetheless, he spends most of his nights solving Stryver’s cases for him.
  • Stryver, meanwhile, gets very, very drunk and mumbles to himself.
  • As Stryver pours himself another drink, he wants Carton to drink to the "pretty witness" who came to court today.
  • Carton gulps for a second, and then he mutters some unpleasant things about Lucie.
  • Stryver’s taken aback. He was sure he caught Carton staring at Lucie for most of the day.
  • Carton insists that Lucie means nothing to him. Nothing. Seriously.
  • In the months that follow, Carton visits the Manette house often.
  • One night, Stryver has a confession: he has decided to marry.
  • Carton knows Stryver pretty well. He asks if the woman has money.
  • Stryver takes Carton to task for being such a cynic. He’s actually fallen in love this time.
  • In fact, Stryver’s a bit worried that Carton won’t like his choice of a bride.
  • Once upon a time, Carton spoke slightingly of the woman whom Stryver has decided to make the happiest woman on earth.
  • Could Stryver mean…
  • Yes. Stryver means to marry Lucie.
  • Luckily, that doesn’t work out too well.
  • One day, Carton finds Lucie alone. She asks him what the matter is. He responds that his life is miserable and hopeless.
  • She asks why he can’t change. Carton doesn’t answer directly.
  • See, Carton knows that Lucie couldn’t love a man like him.
  • In fact, that’s exactly what he tells her.
  • Dismayed, Lucie doesn’t know what to say.
  • Sure, she feels badly for Carton. She evens cares about him. But the saddest thing in this whole deal is that he’s right—and they both know it.
  • True to her good-natured self, though, Lucie asks if there’s anything that she can do to help him without promising to love him.
  • Carton says that if anyone could have reformed him, she could have.
  • Apparently, Carton just dropped by to unburden himself… sort of like a very, very painful self-help session.
  • Distraught, Lucie asks again if there’s no way that she could be a force for good in his life.
  • Carton seems to have moved past this, however.
  • He begs her to keep this conversation confidential; it’s the last time he’ll ever confide in anyone, and he’d like to remember that it ended well.
  • Seeing that Lucie seems upset, he entreats her not to be troubled by his sorrows.
  • More than anything, he wants her to be happy.
  • In fact, he’s so committed to her happiness that he begs her to remember (once she gets married) that he would give his own life to keep those whom she loves safe.
  • Bidding Lucie farewell, Carton rushes out the door.
  • The first person to visit Lucie and Darnay after they get married is Sydney Carton.
  • Carton makes a rather strange request: he wants to be Darnay’s friend.
  • More specifically, he wants to be able to pop over to their house without any warning, just like an old family friend would.
  • Darnay doesn’t seem especially inclined to agree, but Carton reminds him of how he saved Darnay’s life in court.
  • Darnay agrees to be friends.
  • In the years that follow, Carton becomes an uncle to the Darnays's children.
  • When Darnay is jailed in France, Carton comes over to help.
  • He meets with John Barsad, a spy, and convinces him to allow Carton to enter the prison.
  • He also buys a potion from a chemist.
  • He visits the Defarges, where he overhears Madame Defarge’s plan to kill the entire family.
  • Telling Mr. Lorry of her plan, he persuades Mr. Lorry to get the Manettes to leave town.
  • He’s got a pressing request for Darnay: he doesn’t have time to explain why he’s asking for the things he needs.
  • Startled, Darnay does what Carton asks. They change boots, hair-ties, and shirts.
  • Darnay begins to understand Carton’s plan, but he’s certain that it won’t work.
  • Speaking rapidly, Carton asks Darnay to sit down and write a letter that he’ll dictate.
  • Darnay complies.
  • Carton tells him to write an unaddressed letter saying that the time has come for him to make good on the promise he once gave.
  • He knows that the reader won’t forget the promise. He wants her to be assured that he’s glad that his time has come.
  • Puzzled, Darnay stops writing. He thinks he smells a strange vapor.
  • He starts to rip the bottle out of Carton’s hand, but Carton’s too quick for him.
  • Darnay slumps to the ground, drugged.
  • Carton calls Barsad, who drags Charles out of the jail.
  • They place Charles on a stretcher, and Barsad carries him away.
  • At two, a jailer comes into the room and calls for Evrémonde. Carton follows him.
  • He gets into a line with fifty-one other prisoners, all of whom are scheduled to die.
  • As the guillotine begins to crash, the audience counts the number of heads that roll to the ground.
  • Scared, the little seamstress clings to Carton.
  • She thinks that he’s an angel sent to be with her in her time of trouble.
  • He comforts her, telling her that she’s going to a place with no suffering. She’ll be able to be with her family there.
  • They kiss, and she steps up onto the guillotine before Carton.
  • The audience counts to twenty-two.
  • Carton murmurs the words of Christ, "I am the Resurrection and the Life…" as he steps onto the platform.
  • The audience counts to twenty-three.
  • Afterwards, the narrator tells us what Carton was thinking as he walked to the guillotine:
  • He foresees a time when vengeance in France will end.
  • He sees a nation rising out of the blood and ashes of this time, a nation stronger and better for the struggles it has had to endure.
  • He sees the Manettes in the future, with a child that bears his name.
  • He imagines the stories that they’ll tell of a man who gave his life for their happiness.
  • He sees his own name, cleared of all the stains he’s placed on it, living again through Lucie’s son.
  • Carton reflects that this action is perhaps the best one that he’s ever taken.
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