Places: A Tale of Two Cities

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1859

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: French Revolution

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedTellson & Co

Tellson Tale of Two Cities, A & Co. English merchant bank with branches in London and Paris. The bank’s London office is dark, ugly, and staffed by old-fashioned bankers. Dickens describes the bank as resembling both a prison and a grave. As the oldest bank in England, Tellson’s is a symbol not only of English economic dominance but also of resistance to change. The bank’s London office is located “in the shadow” of Temple Bar, a large stone gateway which was used until 1780 to display on spikes the heads of executed criminals. The London office becomes a place of refuge for French aristocrats fleeing the violence of the revolution. In the yard of the bank’s Paris branch, the mob sharpens its weapons on a large grindstone, while the blood of already-executed victims drips from their clothes.

For Dickens, England is peaceful only on the exterior. Like France, it suffers from cruelty and widespread oppression of the majority of its population. The Old Regime in Europe comprises an upper class resistant to change and high-handed kings attempting to maintain the status quo. Dickens models Tellson’s Bank on Child and Company (founded in the seventeenth century on 1 Fleet Street and Thelusson’s Bank in Paris, in which a major financial adviser to King Louis XVI named Jacques Necker once worked).

*Saint Antoine

*Saint Antoine (sah[n]-tahn-twahn). Poor and densely populated district in Paris’s eastern suburb, where the attack on the Bastille takes place. It is an emotionally charged setting in which actions of violence and vengeance take place during the revolution. Descriptions of streets and buildings in Saint Antoine take on the character of the residents. It is at the main fountain in St. Antoine that a child is accidentally hit by the speeding coach of the marquis, who offers a few coins as a compensation for the child’s life.

Defarge’s Wine Shop

Defarge’s Wine Shop. Parisian wine shop which for Dickens is the eye of the storm that becomes the French Revolution. The shop serves as a meeting place for the leaders of the revolution. It is in front of the wine shop that one of the most memorable scenes in the novel takes place. A broken casket of wine results in neighborhood people rushing to salvage the precious drops of wine from the casket with their earthenware mugs, thus establishing not only an intoxicating brotherhood of blood but also one of wine.


*Bastille. Massive fortification in Paris that served as an armory and a prison for the four centuries preceding the French Revolution. Although it houses only four prisoners in 1789, the Bastille stands as a gargantuan symbol of the oppression of the Old Regime. In Cell 105, North Tower (a fictional creation), Dr. Manette languishes for eighteen years. As the revolution begins, a great firestorm surrounds the Bastille. Dickens borrows from Thomas Carlyle’s history The French Revolution (1837) in describing the storming of the Bastille in minute detail. It was at the Bastille that Defarge finds the letter from Dr. Manette that will later be used to condemn Darnay.

Château St. Evrémonde

Château St. Evrémonde (shah-toh sah[n]-tev-ray-MOHND). Sumptuous but heavily stoned mansion of the marquis. The villagers meet at the fountain at the château, and their rural poverty is stressed by Dickens. The descriptions of the stony home symbolize the coldness and inhumanity of the French aristocracy. The decadence of the marquis’ salon, at the château and in Paris, stands in stark contrast to the poverty of the general populace. It is the château life that Charles Darnay, the nephew of the marquis, rejects. Ultimately, after the assassination of the marquis, the château is destroyed by fire. Water boils in the fountain, followed by molten lead and iron; fountains symbolized life and also death for Dickens.


*Beauvais (boh-VAY). French province that was the center of the fourteenth century serf revolt against the aristocracy. The revolt was bloodily suppressed. The Defarges originate from Beauvais, and their blood lust is an attempt to gain retribution for historical crimes. Beauvais, which is thirty miles north of Paris, is also the hometown of Dr. Manette. It is in Beauvais, a symbol of the rural violence of the French Revolution, where Darnay is almost killed by an infuriated mob.

*Dover Road

*Dover Road. Filled with ruts and clouded with steamy mist and fog, this access road to the ferry leaving Dover for France is a dangerous road to travel. Dickens uses it as a symbol of the rampant lawlessness still a part of England. Shooter’s Hill, near the road, is a thickly wooded rise that is the scene of many robberies by highwaymen. The hill was so named because of the many armed robberies that took place in the vicinity. In the novel, Dickens discusses many roads, all of which have metaphorical significance. In short, Dickens attempts to portray England as similar to France in burglaries, highway robberies, and exploitation of the general population by the elite minority.

*Soho Square

*Soho Square. London neighborhood that is the site of the Manettes’ secure and peaceful household, which is located in a fashionable square laid out in 1681. It is here that Lucie hears footsteps in a rainstorm, a symbol of the threat of revolution within England. For Dickens, although England is just across the English Channel, it is relatively secure compared to events on the Continent.

*La Force

*La Force. Prison used during the French Revolution for the proceedings of the Revolutionary Tribunal courts. La Force was the scene of the 1792 September Massacres, in which more than 1,100 accused counterrevolutionaries were massacred. The killing of prisoners is meant by Dickens as an ironic contrast to the saving of prisoners at the Bastille, three years earlier. It is at La Force (and three other prisons) that Dr. Manette tends to the medical needs of inmates.

BibliographyBeckwith, Charles E., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “A Tale of Two Cities.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972. A collection of scholarly critical essays followed by commentaries on the novel by such literary figures as George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell.Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1988. Contains a useful chronology of the French Revolution, as well as information on the history of the novel.Glancy, Ruth. “A Tale of Two Cities”: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993. An invaluable tool for both the student and the scholar. The references to the novel are arranged under the general headings of text and studies.Glancy, Ruth. “A Tale of Two Cities”: Dickens’s Revolutionary Novel. Boston: Twayne, 1991. this in-depth study places the novel in its historical and literary context and provides a careful analysis of the plot.Kaplan, Fred. Dickens: A Biography. New York: William Morrow, 1988. Scholarly and well-written. It is particularly valuable in addressing Dickens’ personal identification with the characters of Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay.Nelson, Harland S. Charles Dickens. Boston: Twayne, 1981. An excellent introduction to Dickens’ life and works.
Categories: Places