|A Tale of Two Cities character|
Sydney Carton telling Lucie Manette of his devotion to her, by Fred Barnard
|Created by||Charles Dickens|
Sydney Carton is a central character in Charles Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities. He is a shrewd young Englishman and sometime junior to his fellow barrister C.J. Stryver. Carton is portrayed as a drunkard, depressed and self-loathing because of his wasted life. He feels a strong unrequited love for Lucie Manette.
Sydney Carton is introduced into the novel A Tale of Two Cities as a young, sloppy, but brilliant lawyer who bears an uncanny likeness to Charles Darnay (whose original name is Charles Evrémonde), the prisoner he is defending. He uses his great skill to save Darnay from death, passing his case to his colleague Stryver, who takes all the glory for saving Darnay. It is then revealed that Carton both likes and hates Darnay, as he sees him as everything he should be but is not. Carton is called a "jackal" because it appears that, while Mr. Stryver very deftly presents each case, it is Carton's legal acumen that helps win them, though Stryver gets all the credit (a reference to how the jackals help lions with kills, while the lions take all the glory). It is also seen that Carton is an alcoholic who faces a great lack of self-confidence and a great bounty of self-hatred. He develops an unrequited love for Lucie Manette, which he tells her about. He says that he would do anything for her or for anybody she loves.
Darnay returns to France and is arrested for being an aristocrat. Before his execution by guillotine, Carton steps in and tricks Darnay into trading places with him, both for the sake of their friendship and for Lucie. This is accomplished with the help of John Barsad, an English spy working at one of the French prisons, after a conversation described as a "hand at cards". His final words are among the most famous in English literature:
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.— A Tale of Two Cities. Literature.org: The Online Literature Source. Book 3, chapter 15
- The historical novel A Far Better Rest (2000) by American author Susanne Alleyn is a re-telling of A Tale of Two Cities from Carton's perspective, and including the story of his entire life.
- The historical novel The Carton Chronicles : The Curious Tale of Flashman's True Father (2010) by Keith Laidler imagines that Sydney Carton had a last minute change of heart, escaped the guillotine and went on to work as a spy for Robespierre whilst attempting to win Lucie Manette / Darnay's heart. In his narrative Carton also confesses to being the real father of Harry Flashman the roguish hero of the series of books created by George MacDonald Fraser who in turn borrowed him from Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes.
- In the young adult series "The Infernal Devices" (2013) by Cassandra Clare, the final installment in the series "Clockwork Princess" is said to be a loose retelling of "A Tale of Two Cities." One of the series's main protagonists, William "Will" Herondale, often quotes Sydney Carton. As he believed he was cursed that those who love him would die in the second book, he sees himself as Sydney Carton with an unrequited love towards Tessa Gray (who actually did love him). He cannot be with her, however, for she is engaged to his best friend, or Parabatai (meaning "bound warrior"), James "Jem" Carstairs. Though Will and Jem do seem to swap places in the end of the story, Will goes on to marry Tessa while Jem "dies" from his illness, actually going on to become a Silent Brother. He and Tessa can no longer be together due to Silent Brothers not being allowed to marry. The story takes place in Victorian London, a hundred years after the events of the book.
On film and television, Sydney Carton has been portrayed by:
- Maurice Costello (film, 1911)
- William Farnum (film, 1917)
- Clive Brook (film, 1922)
- Ronald Colman (film, 1935)
- Wendell Corey (TV, 1953)
- Peter Wyngarde (TV/BBC, 1957)
- Dirk Bogarde (film, 1958)
- John Wood (TV/BBC, 1965)
- Paul Shelley (TV/BBC, 1980)
- Chris Sarandon (TV, 1980)
- James Wilby (TV/BBC, 1989)