Business and Terror in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities


  • Lynn Shakinovsky


Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, economics, banking, terror


A Tale of Two Cities is saturated with violence: execution, mutilation, rape, and mass slaughter abound; broken, discarded, forgotten, nameless bodies are everywhere. Dickens’s narrator, as the title teaches us, recounts one tale about two cities; as the novel progresses, it emerges as a single (and singular) tale of state-sanctioned violence and torture with the horrors and brutalities that occur on one side of the channel functioning as a kind of distorted mirror for those happening on the other. From the outset of the novel, the connective tissue between the two worlds of the novel (London and Paris) is Tellson’s Bank whose representative Jarvis Lorry functions as the intermediary between them. The novel opens with Lorry on a “secret service” (29) between France and England to rescue an old customer of the French branch of the bank who has been imprisoned in France for the last eighteen years; as the plot winds its intricate way forward, the bank is not only ubiquitous but also frequently instigative of and responsible for the turn of crucial events in the novel. The violence in A Tale of Two Cities has been extensively discussed, as has its connection to the revolutionary impulse in the novel; as early as 1937, for example, Thomas A. Jackson states that in this novel, Dickens “gets nearer than ever to a positive assertion of revolution as the only road to hope, to justice, to peace and to general happiness” (173). What has not been addressed, however, is the bank’s role as the representative of the prevailing economic system in England and its complicated and subterranean relationship to the terrible violence in the novel.