Guide: an A to Z compendium of the greatest literary authors (abridged)

D is for Dickens


by Charles Dickens

It was the best of plots, it was the worst of plots. It had been used countless times before, it would be used countless times again.

In short, it was a new twist on that old pantomime joke where the physical resemblances of two people lead to a confusion over identities – only nobody had taken it seriously before.

It was fortunate that Charles Darnay had decided to leave France when he did, for this was 1789, and Paris in the middle of the French Revolution was no place for a French aristocrat to be. It was unfortunate that Charles Darnay had decided to arrive in England when he did, for this was 1789 here too, and London in the middle of anti-French hysteria was no place for a French aristocrat to be.

“Are you sure this is the French spy you saw making detailed drawings of the Union Jack?” asked Mr Stryver, the council for the defince, pointing directly at his client in the dock.

“Yes ,” replied Barsad, the chief prosecution witness, obviously lying through his teeth except that he had no teeth because he was a despicable piece of messy nastiness and ugly too.

“Don’t lie to me, you slimy toe-rag of a paid informer!” snapped Mr Stryver, “Even if the jury hasn’t recognised that you are totally evil from your name, your disgusting appearance and your grovelling manner, I will prove it to them by my stunning advocacy.” A gasp ran through the court. “Please note, members of the jury,” continued the clever lawyer, “that I have nothing up my sleeves.” He flourished his bared forearms to the assembled crowd. “Now, on my right-hand side you see Charles Darnay, the defendant, and on my left-hand side, my associate, Sidney Carton who just happens to bear a remarkable resemblance to Monsieur Darnay. I will now shuffle these two men around behind my back a few times like so, and when I bring them out again, I will ask the witness if he can still be so positive about his identification. Well, you slobbering sycophant! Which is the real Darnay?”

“Erm.....the one on the....left?”


A cheer rang out from the crowded courtroom as the judge found the case against the defendant not proven.
Immediately following this pronouncement an attractive young woman began to squeeze her way through the jubilant throng as people danced with excitement and whooped with delight, especially those she squeezed against. She approached Monsieur Darnay and threw her arms around his neck. He kissed her passionately. Their tender reunion was interrupted, however, by the arrival of the victorious lawyer at their side.

“Ah, Mr Stryver,” said the grateful Frenchman, “allow me to introduce my fiancé, Mademoiselle Manette .”

“Delighted, mademoiselle,” said Stryver, gallantly.

“Well, sir,” continued Darnay, “I owe you my life. How can I ever repay you?”

“Alas, I cannot take all the credit myself, Monsieur Darnay. My young associate, Sidney Carton, was of invaluable assistance in procuring your acquittal. So you’ll understand when you receive a bill from each of us. Ah, there is the young man now. Carton! Come over and meet the man your bear such a striking resemblance to.”

Sidney Carton moved with slow, languid steps across the room, his face expressing nothing but the contempt he felt for everyone involved in the revelry that continued around him.
That is, until his sullen gaze fell unexpectedly upon Miss Manette who was just taking her leave of the company. Then, all at once, his eyes were roused from their stupor.

“Who was that delicious, divine creature you were talking too?” he asked Stryver, impatiently, “I must have her.”

“Impossible I’m afraid, old fellow.” Replied Stryver, “She’s engaged to Monsieur Darnay here.”

“Oh,” said the disappointed man, sinking once again into inertia.

“Mister Carton,” interjected Charles Darnay, “It is a great pleasure to make your acquaintance. It seems we have much in common. Not only do we share the same handsome features, the same build, the same colouring and the same manly bearing, but it appears we also have the same taste in beautiful women, n’est-ce pa?”

“Yes,” replied Carton laconically, “It’s a pity we don’t share the same name as well, then we could have called this ‘A tale of two Sidneys’.”

“And now,” said Darnay, “I’m afraid I must bid you gentlemen farewell for I must return to France on some unfinished business.”

“Isn’t that strange,”  said Carton, suddenly animated again, “So do I.”

“You must both take great care how you proceed,” said an anxious Stryver.

“You mean because of the revolutionary mob in France?” asked Darnay.

“No, because you’re pushing our credulity too far with all these outlandish coincidences!”

It was some months later that a battered and bedraggled Charles Darnay arrived back at his home in England to be met on the doorstep by his concerned fiancé.

“Darling,” cried the lovely Miss Manette as she helped him inside, “What has happened to you?”

“A disaster!” explained the distressed Frenchman, “As soon as I landed in France someone betrayed me to the authorities. They arrested me and I was tried as an aristocrat and sentenced to the guillotine.”

“Then how did you escape?”

“Yet again I owe my life to Sidney Carton. He came to visit me in prison and, when I wasn’t looking, he knocked me out, changed into my clothes and had me carried to a waiting carriage while he remained behind in the prison cell.”

“You mean,” began the astonished young lady, “that Sidney Carton died in your place?”

“Yes !” exclaimed the distraught Darnay and pressed his head deep into her bosom to hide his tears.

“What a noble thing to do,” commented Miss Manette.

“I know,” came the muffled reply.

“But Charles,” said the young lady with a note of curiosity in her sweet voice, “What has happened to your lovely French accent?”

“Ah well,” spluttered Darnay, “I’ve been through a traumatic experience, you know.”

“You sound just like poor Sidney Carton.”

“I’m doing it in memory of him.”

“What a fine gesture,” affirmed Miss Manette.

“Yes. It’s a far, far better thing I’m doing than I have ever done; it’s a far, far better place I’m in than I’ve ever known.”

“What’s that you said darling?” asked the young lady, clutching him tightly to her breast.

“Oh, I was just thinking, this is a far far better way to end the story than having your head chopped off, nestpa?” replied......Darnay?