Charles Darnay in Tale of Two Cities: Character Analysis & Overview

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  • 0:01 Frenchman, but Not!
  • 0:42 Darnay vs. Carton
  • 1:19 On with the Story
  • 2:03 Darnay's Daring Decision
  • 2:43 Great Personal Risk
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
There are two protagonists in Dickens' novel 'A Tale of Two Cities,' and Charles Darnay is one of them. In this lesson, we will analyze both his character and motivations and see how he changes as the plot progresses.

Frenchman, but Not!

Charles Darnay is a young Frenchman who, of course, lived during the French Revolution in the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities. He has chosen to live in England because he despises the apathetic and often cruel acts of aristocrats such as his uncle, Marquis Evremonde. In fact, Darnay hides his connection to the name 'Evremonde.'

When we meet Darnay, he is in court, accused of being a spy. He is defended by a gregarious lawyer named Stryder, but it is Sydney Carton, Stryder's junior partner, who wins Darnay's case by pointing out that this could be a case of mistaken identity, making the point that even Darnay and Carton look very much alike. Darnay is acquitted.

Darnay vs. Carton

Charles Darnay has a new lease on life. He is almost in shock over his acquittal. After the trial, he has formed somewhat of a friendship with Sydney Carton, despite saying he doesn't like him. Although the two look alike, they are very much different in character. Sydney Carton has a rogue strength and a careless attitude, while Darnay is very much the polite, mild-mannered young man. In fact, we want to see more depth from Darnay in the novel. But Dickens gives us a good, but fairly flat character in this man at this point in the story. Darnay is described as being in 'all good-humour and good-fellowship.' Charles Darnay is simply a nice guy.

On with the Story

Darnay is deeply in love with Lucie Manette, whom he marries. All the while, Carton remains their friend, in his own melancholy, aloof way. Darnay doesn't see Carton the way Lucie does. She sees the pain in Carton's heart, at least the pain he at one time revealed to her. Darnay just sees him as, well, Carton—the rogue, the one who drinks too much.

But Darnay is to be commended for agreeing to treat Carton kindly when Lucie says, 'My husband, it is so. I fear he is not to be reclaimed; there is scarcely a hope that anything in his character or fortunes is reparable now. But, I am sure that he is capable of good things, gentle things, even magnanimous things.' Darnay listens and takes Lucie's words to heart.

Darnay's Daring Decision

For simply being a nice guy, Darnay makes a courageous decision. A former servant, Gabelle, has been imprisoned for treason in France simply because of his service to Darnay's uncle, Marquis Evremonde. His 'only crime was fidelity to himself and his family.'

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