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Encyclopedia > Sydney Carton

Sydney Carton is a significant character in the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. He is a shrewd young Englishman who works as an assistant to his fellow barrister C.J. Stryver. In the novel, he is seen to be a drunkard, to indulge in self-pity because of his wasted life, and to have a strong love for Lucie Manette. Sydney Carton has come to be one of the most memorable characters in all of literature. A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a historical novel by Charles Dickens. ... Dickens redirects here. ... Motto (French) God and my right Anthem God Save the King (Queen) England() – on the European continent() – in the United Kingdom() Capital (and largest city) London (de facto) Official languages English (de facto) Government Constitutional monarchy  -  Queen Queen Elizabeth II  -  Prime Minister Tony Blair MP Unification  -  by Athelstan 967  Area... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... Lucie Manette is a fictional character in Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. ...

Role in novel

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Carton is first encountered as barrister in the trial of Charles Darnay, a respectable young Frenchman to whom he bears a strong resemblance. Carton defends Darnay against charges of treason towards the English government. During the trial, Carton notices Lucie Manette, who is forced to testify against Darnay along with her father, Dr. Manette. Carton becomes enamored of her and jealous of Darnay because of the sympathy she has for him. Charles Darnay or St. ... Traitor redirects here. ... Doctor Manette is a character in Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities. ...

Afterwards, Carton visits his friend and colleague C.J. Stryver, who had also defended Darnay during his trial. He spends the night doing paperwork and drinking with Stryver. Stryver boasts about being the more successful of the two, but in reality it is Carton who is the brain behind him, while Stryver merely lives off Carton's labor and craft. Carton shows regret for the fact that he has wasted much of his life drinking. He attempts to rationalize this unsatisfying state of affairs with the excuse that he has already tried to change his ways, but proven himself incapable of the great effort that would take. He one day reveals this to Lucie Manette, and also tells her that he would be willing to do anything for her if it would ensure the well-being of her or any of the ones she loves. Alcoholism is the consumption of, or preoccupation with, alcoholic beverages to the extent that this behavior interferes with the drinkers normal personal, family, social, or work life, and may lead to physical or mental harm. ...

Carton's next significant appearance is in France, after the French Revolution has taken place and the Reign of Terror begun. Charles Darnay had left England for France on behalf of a friend in distress, but Darnay had been arrested because he was a member of a notorious family of French aristocrats, the Evrémondes. Lucie Manette (now Darnay's wife), their child, Dr. Manette, and Miss Pross, followed Darnay to France shortly after hearing of his departure, which he had kept a secret. Shortly after arriving, Darnay was arrested and put on trial, but was later released with the help of Dr. Manette. He is arrested again, though, when he is denounced by Madame Defarge, a vindictive Frenchwoman who bears a grudge against the Evrémondes for having harmed her family, and her husband Ernest Defarge, who had found an important piece of information: a letter that Dr. Manette had written describing the actions of Darnay's aristocratic family. In a way, Dr. Manette had unintentionally used his influence as a former Bastille prisoner to have Darnay acquitted of charges against the French Republic. Darnay is convicted soon after and sentenced to be guillotined the following day. The French Revolution (1789–1815) was a period of political and social upheaval in the political history of France and Europe as a whole, during which the French governmental structure, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on... The Reign of Terror (5 September 1793 – 28 July 1794) or simply The Terror (French: la Terreur) was a period of about eleven months during the French Revolution when struggles between rival factions lead to mutual radicalization which took on a violent character with mass executions by guillotine. ... Aristocracy is a form of government in which rulership is in the hands of an upper class known as aristocrats. ... Madame Defarge is the wife of Ernest Defarge and a tireless worker for the French Revolution in the book A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. ... Ernest Defarge is, in Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, the owner of a Parisian wineshop and the husband of Madame Defarge. ... The Bastille The Bastille ( ) was a fight in Paris, known formally as Bastille Saint-Antoine—Number 232, Rue Saint-Antoine—best known today because of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, which along with the Tennis Court Oath is considered the beginning of the French Revolution. ... The Maiden, an older Scottish design. ...

Carton arrives in France just before this second trial has taken place. He confronts a man called John Barsad, who had testified against Darnay in his first trial. Carton threatens to reveal that he knows Barsad is a spy for the British government unless Barsad agrees to help Carton rescue Darnay, assuming he will be convicted; Barsad agrees to do so. That night, Carton wanders the streets, meditating on what will take place the following morning. During this time, he visits the wine shop of the Defarges, where he hears of Madame Defarge's plan to have Darnay's entire family killed. He returns to Mr. Lorry's residence and warns him of this, telling him to leave France with the others tomorrow. He also tells him that he would like to visit Darnay before his execution, and for him and the others to wait in their carriage outside the prison until Carton returns. Spy and secret agent redirect here; for alternate use, see Spy (disambiguation) and Secret agent (disambiguation). ...

The next morning, Carton visits Darnay in his cell and tells him to trade clothes with him; as the two are very much alike in appearance, he believes Darnay could escape the cell disguised as himself. As Darnay is not compliant, Carton drugs him, using chemicals which he had bought the previous night, and makes the exchange of wardrobe. He then tells Barsad, who had waited for him at the prison, to escort Darnay to his carriage, and to tell the prison guards that Carton had suffered a fainting spell.

Sydney Carton soon after dies in place of Charles Darnay. It is said that if, before his death, his thoughts could have been heard, and had they been prophetic, they would have included such incidents as Mr. Defarge and John Barsad being later sentenced to the guillotine themselves, and a future child of Charles and Lucie Darnay being named after him. The words of the last of these thoughts are very famous:

 "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known". 
Spoilers end here.

Character analysis

The most common interpretation of Sydney Carton is one in which he is the selfless benefactor of others. Having grown weary of his life of self-indulgence, he decides to sacrifice it in order to save the life of Charles Darnay, who had shown himself more worthy of living it than Carton had his own. However, a more self-centered interpretation of Carton also exists. In this interpretation, Carton regrets his being regarded as a ne'er-do-well for having wasted his life, and chooses to give it up, hoping that his past will be forgotten and that he will be remembered for his sacrifice. This interpretation suggests that Carton is more concerned with his reputation than with the well-being of Darnay and his family.

A sign of Carton's selfishness is seen when he visits Lucie Manette alone, and tells her of his disappointment with his life. Lucie asks Carton if she can possibly help him, but he responds that he has tried to change his ways and failed, and that she can be of no assistance to him. If he believes that she is not able to help him, then it would seem pointless for him to trouble her with his problems. His motivation for talking with her is not to find help from her, but simply to gain her sympathy. He shows further lack of consideration when he asks Lucie to tell no one, not even her husband, what he has told her. In doing this, he is obligating her to give him a place of special status in her life, one which even her husband does not hold, and one which he knows he does not deserve. It is Carton's dual character, one that is both selfless and sensitive, as well as self-pitying and inconsiderate, that makes him one of literature's most fascinating characters. Carton also makes the great sacrifice for his love of Lucie.

Another possible interpretation of Carton's actions is that he is a (reasonably) self-aware functional alcoholic. He knows that even with Lucie Manette's influence he will be unable to give up drinking, but that his abilities may be of use to her in the future. This theory of Sydney's view of himself is supported in the following quote:

  • "Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away." (Book 2, Chapter 5)

Other notes

  • Whenever Sydney Carton and C.J. Stryver are contrasted, Stryver is referred to as the "lion", while Carton is referred to as the "jackal". This is an allusion to the way in which a lion and a jackal interact, and it has a double meaning. To the casual observer, it would seem that the lion is the mighty hunter, while the jackal merely eats from what the lion has caught itself. This alludes to Stryver's seeming success in contrast to Carton. However, the jackal actually prepares the food for the lion, making it suitable for the lion to eat. Therefore, it is actually the lion who is dependent on the jackal. This situation alludes to the fact that, though Stryver seems to be the more prominent of the two, his success is in reality reliant on Carton's hard work and shrewd mind.
  • It is also implied in an early section of the book that Carton may have contracted syphilis in France.[citation needed]
  • Dickens is said to have identified with Charles Darnay, who shares his first name and initials, and with Sydney Carton, who is intended to be a personification of his love for Ellen Ternan in 1859.
  • A dissection of Carton's name reveals his fate. Dickens is famous for his choice of character's names, as well as his excellent historical backgrounds. The name Sydney is derived from the Anglicization of Saint Denis, who was beheaded. The surname Carton, when reversed as "On cart", refers to his final scene, as he awaits his beheading.
  • In 1857 Dickens produced the play The Frozen Deep which, as with A Tale of Two Cities, involves two men who love the same woman and the self-sacrifice of one of them for the other. Dickens himself played the part of Richard Wardour, the character analogous to Sydney Carton.

  Results from FactBites:
123Student (2007 words)
Sydney Carton could have let Darnay die, and he could have had Lucy, the love of his life for himself, he could have enjoyed her all his life.
Sydney Carton believed and knew very well that what he was about to do was going to provide happiness to everyone around him, to Lucy Darnay, Charles Darnay, young Lucy (their daughter) and to Dr. Manette.
Carton believed that it was the best thing to do, he believed that by making his loved one happy, he would be loved, he would be satisfied and he would be respected.
carton and defarge- compaing and contrasting (878 words)
While Dickens presents Sydney Carton as a worthless drunk, in contrast to Madame Defarge, he is the Christ-like noble figure of the novel.
Sydney is willing to do anything for her and tells her so in a beautiful speech he made to her.
The contrast between Sydney Carton and Madame Defarge serves to develop a reoccurring theme in the novel, man's persistency to achieve his goal.
  More results at FactBites »



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