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A Tale Of Two Cities

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As its title promises, this brief chapter establishes the era in which the novel takes place: England and France in 1775. The age is marked by competing and contradictory attitudes--"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"--but resembles the "present period" in which Dickens writes. In England, the public worries over religious prophecies, popular paranormal phenomena in the form of "the Cock-lane ghost," and the messages that a colony of British subjects in America has sent to King George III. France, on the other hand, witnesses excessive spending and extreme violence, a trend that anticipates the erection of the guillotine. Yet in terms of peace and order, English society cannot "justify much national boasting" either--crime and capital punishment abound.

On a Friday night in late November of 1775, a mail coach wends its way from London to Dover. The journey proves so treacherous that the three passengers must dismount from the carriage and hike alongside it as it climbs a steep hill. From out of the great mists, a messenger on horseback appears and asks to speak to Jarvis Lorry of Tellson's Bank. The travelers react warily, fearing that they have come upon a highwayman or robber. Mr. Lorry, however, recognizes the messenger's voice as that of Jerry Cruncher, the odd-job-man at Tellson's, and accepts his message. The note that Jerry passes him reads: "Wait at Dover for Mam'selle." Lorry instructs Jerry to return to Tellson's with this reply: "recalled to life." Confused and troubled by the "blazing strange message," Jerry rides on to deliver it.



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