I’ve been slowly plodding through A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, which I first read when I was a kid.
I had forgotten that this classic piece historical fiction depicting the French Revolution was printed in serialized format in the twopenny periodical All the Year Round — and I was thrilled to find an edition (by Penguin Classics) that publishes the full text of this story as it appeared in 1859 and includes the original illustrations by H. K. Browne (‘Phiz’).
I had also forgotten how easy it is to get confused about the plot, so I was thrilled to see that this edition includes a timeline of Dickens’s fictional events and historical French Revolution events.
I’ve included the timeline here for easy reference as I continuing reading this masterpiece.
This timeline represents two kinds of events. Fictional events, involving characters invented by Dickens, are represented in plain type; historical events described or alluded to within the novel in italics. This timeline excludes famous events of the French Revolution not described or alluded to by Dickens; in other words, it is designed to suggest what parts and aspects of the Revolution the novelist works to make visible and to intertwine, and to a greater or lesser degree, with the private, invented action of his narrative.
- 1756-63: The Seven Years War (II.2)
- 5 January 1757: Robert Damiens attempts the assignation of Louis X V; two months later, Damiens is executed, as described by the mender of roads in conversation with the Defarges and their revolutionary associates (II.15)
- 22 December 1757: The twin Evremonde brothers hire Dr Manette (III.10)
- 29 December 1757: Death of the elder sister of the future Mme Defarge – seduced by the uncle of Charles Darnay (III.10)
- 31 December 1757: Dr. Manette arrested and confined within the Bastille (III.10)
- 1766: The Chevalier de la Barre accused, tried and executed (I.1)
- December 1767: Manette starts to write his confessions (III.10)
- 1775-83: The American Revolution (I.1)
- November 1775: Manette released from Bastille (I.4-6)
- March 1780: Darnay tried at Old Bailey (II.2-3)
- June 1780: Lorry, Darnay and Carton attend a gathering at Dr Manette’s Soho house and sense (in Carton’s words) ‘a great crowd bearing down upon us’ (II.6)
- July 1780: Monsieur (the uncle of Darnay) attends Monseigneur’s reception in Paris; returning to the country, he receives Darnay at his chateau and, the morning after, is found dead (II.7-9)
- Summer 1781: Lucie Manette marries Darnay; Manette reverts temporarily to shoemaking; Jerry Cruncher participates in the ‘funeral’ of Roger Cly and later tries to dig up his body; the Defarges consult with the mender of roads and visit Versailles (II.10-20)
- 1783: Lucie Darnay’s daughter born (II.21)
- 14 July 1789: Storming of Bastille, recovery by Defarge of Manette’s confession (II.21)
- July 1789: The first emigration (II.23)
- Late July and early August 1789: The Great Fear, Evremonde chateau destroyed (II.23)
- 21 June 1792: Prussians issue the Brunswick Manifesto, threatening revenge on Paris and the Revolution. Lorry very worried about integrity of documents at Tellson’s in Paris (II.24)
- 13 August 1792: Louis XVI and family imprisoned in the Temple (III.1)
- 14 August 1792: Finally receiving Gabelle’s letter, Darnay leaves for Paris (II.24)
- 15-18 August 1792: Darnay arrested and imprisoned (III.1)
- 2-6 September 1792: September massacres in Paris (III.2-3)
- 3 September 1792: Lucie and Manette follow Darnay to Paris (III.2-3)
- September 1792-October 1793: They live in Paris, while Darnay languishes in prison (III.4)
- 21 September 1792-20 September 1793: The Year One of Liberty – l Vendemiaire to 30 Fructidor (III.4)
- 23 October 1792: Condemnation to death of returning emigrants (III.6)
- 21 January 1793: Execution of Louis XVI (III.4)
- 24 February 1793: 300,000 men recruited for armies, to combat internal rebellion and threat of invasion (III.4)
- 17 September 1793: Law of suspects (III.4)
- 16 October 1793: Execution of Marie-Antoinette (III.4)
- 31 October 1793: Execution of Girondins (III.4)
- November-December 1793: Lucie’s vigils outside the prisons of La Force (III.5)
- 9 November 1793: Execution of Madame Roland (III.15)
- December 1793: The Terror in Lyon (mass drownings in DIckens’s ‘rivers of the South’) (III.4)
- December 1793: Darnay’s first trial; he is acquitted and rearrested; Carton arrives in Paris (III.6)
- December 1793 or January 1794: Second trial of Darnay; Darnay saved by Carton (III.9-15)