Book the First: Recalled to Life
As the title suggests, the first chapter immediately establishes the era in which the novel takes place: England and France in 1775.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch 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...
Mr. Jarvis Lorry and Miss Lucie Manette travel to Saint Antoine, a suburb of Paris, and meet Monsieur Defarge The Defarges operate a wine shop which they use to lead a clandestine band of revolutionaries; they refer to each other by the codename "Jacques," la jacquerie.....
Book the Second: The Golden Thread
In Paris, the despised St. Evrémonde orders his carriage driven recklessly fast through the crowded streets, hitting and killing the child of a peasant, Gaspard. The Marquis throws a coin to Gaspard to compensate him for his loss. Defarge, a witness to the incident, comforts Gaspard. As the Marquis's coach drives off, the coin thrown to Gaspard is thrown back into the coach by an unknown hand, probably that of Madame Defarge, enraging the Marquis.
"Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend," observed the Marquis, "will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof," looking up to it, "shuts out the sky."
That night, Gaspard, who followed the Marquis to his château by riding on the underside of the carriage, stabs and kills the Marquis in his sleep. He leaves a note on the knife saying, "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from JACQUES." After nine months on the run, he is caught, and hanged above the village's fountain.
In London, Darnay gets Dr. Manette's permission to wed Lucie; but Carton confesses his love to Lucie as well. Knowing she will not love him in return, Carton promises to "embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you".
On the morning of the marriage, Darnay reveals his real name and who his family is, a detail which Dr. Manette had asked him to withhold. Dr. Manette reverts to his obsessive shoemaking. His sanity is restored before Lucie returns from her honeymoon and the whole incident kept secret from her. Lorry and Miss Pross destroy the shoemaking bench and tools, which Dr. Manette had brought with him from Paris.
It is 14 July 1789. The Defarges help to lead the storming of the Bastille, a symbol of royal tyranny but also a massive ammunition store. The demonstrators of the Third Estate needed gunpowder for the muskets they had already seized from the Hôtel des Invalides. The Bastille is nearly empty of prisoners, housing only seven old men annoyed by all the disturbance: four forgers, two lunatics and one deviant aristocrat, the Comte de Solages. Defarge enters Dr. Manette's former cell, "One Hundred and Five, North Tower". The reader does not know what Monsieur Defarge is searching for until Book 3, Chapter 10. It is a statement in which Dr. Manette explains why he was imprisoned.