The story begins in aristocratic France: obscene with privilege and poverty, disfigured by `the leprosy of unreality', governed by men like the Marquis de St
Evremonde. He rapes a peasant girl who takes his fancy, and fatally wounds her brother when he dares to intervene. Dr Manette is summoned to attend the dying boy, but learns too much of what has happened. To secure his silence, Evremonde arranges for Manette's abduction and imprisonment in the Bastille - where he remains for eighteen years. Manette - now half mad - is at last released and reunited with his daughter
Lucie, who brings him to London, where he gradually recovers his sanity.
Lucie falls in love with Charles Darnay, lately acquitted at the Old Bailey on a charge of treasonably helping the French Government, through the timely intervention of a wastrel barrister - Sydney Carton. Darnay's acquittal is assured when Carton discredits a key witness by pointing out the extraordinary similarity between himself and the accused. Can the witness's identification of Darnay be reliable?
Carton's unrequited love for Lucie survives her marriage to
Darnay, who -on the morning of the wedding, little knowing Dr Manette's tragic history, tells him that he is in fact a nephew of the Marquis de
St Evremonde, but that he left France and renounced his heritage in protest at the cruelty of the ancient regime.
During the terror that follows the revolution, Darnay goes to Paris to try and save a faithful servant from the revolutionary courts. He is himself arrested, tried and - despite the heroic intervention of Dr Manette -condemned to death. At the very last moment, however, he is rescued by Sydney Carton, who - because of his generous devotion to Lucie -substitutes himself for the condemned man, and takes his place on the scaffold.
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