A Tale of Two Cities is a novel categorized as historical fiction. Historical fiction is a composite material, with a portion of history embedded in a matrix of fiction. A Tale of Two Cities is appropriately titled, as the novel is the story of England and Revolutionary France; as a result it can be categorized as historical fiction. A Tale of Two Cities is parallel to history in many different respects. The English setting, and atmosphere, is similarly portrayed, as it actually existed in the seventeenth century. In the novel, Dickens goes into more detail about Revolutionary France in history with regards to setting, politics and the social structure, as well as the events, which occurred during the revolution. Dickens may not have been totally accurate with his historical information, but he vividly portrays the atmosphere of England and France during this period.
The French Revolution, by Carlyle, was the main source of Dickens’ information for his novel with the two settings, London and Paris. Adopting Carlyle’s philosophy of history, Dickens created A Tale of Two Cities with a tightly structured plot, developed through a series of amazingly detailed and vivid pictures. The English setting of A Tale of Two Cities is very realistic with respect to the time period. Dickens starts the story by describing the atmosphere in England by illustrating the poverty and the economic situation. It is a tale, which tells of life in two cities and the dreadful happenings, which link them together (Osbourn 3).
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, was the epoc of belief, it was the epoc of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only" (Dickens 35).
In England it was the dawn of the industrial revolution, and for the growing middle class it was the best of times. For the poor, it was the worst of times because illiteracy and unemployment were high. In France, for the aristocracy it seemed like the best of times but many lived in a world insulated from what the reality was for the poor: hunger, and unemployment. Whether it was the best of times or the worst of times depended on one's point of view. The quote describes the spirit of the era in which this story takes place.
Dickens also shows that crime ran rampant and robbery and murder were common occurrences in England at the time. “Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night” (Dickens 36). This shows the terror that the highwaymen brought to the people in England.
The Old Bailey, a court of law, which stands beside the famous Newgate Prison, is the place where Charles Darnay was tried for treason. The Old Bailey was a real court in London. Prisoners were kept in the gaol, brought next door for trial, and hung on the street outside, until 1866 (Dickens 406). “ ‘You know the Old Bailey well, no doubt?’ said one of the oldest of the clerks to Jerry the messenger” (Dickens 89). The Old Bailey was a court of law until it was renovated and called the Central Criminal Court.
The Tellson’s Bank, where Mr. Lorry works is based on a real life bank called Thelusson’s Bank. “Tellson’s Bank by temple bar was an old fashioned place even in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty” (Dickens 83). Dickens needed a name for the organization, which brings Lucie and Dr. Manette from France to England; he had read about Thelusson’s Bank in Carlyle’s work and shifted the name to Tellson’s Bank, which...