I remember when my mother bought me a copy of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, she said it to be an exquisite tale of true heroism and dark history. I was in grade 8 then ( if my memory serves me right) and reading classics seemed as bland as attending an interminable class of history. So, no thank you, it didn’t appeal to me at all, and that feeling was reinforced after skimming through the first few pages where the language struck me as enigmatic as some ancient Egyptian hieroglyph.Yet, thankfully over the years I’ve realized the importance of classical texts; their irreplaceable strength in shaping, even thousand years on, our society today.
A Tale of Two Cities: a story of profound pathos and raw reality combined. Written by Charles Dickens in 1859, it relates to drastically changing events around social and economic landscape in Europe, France in particular, leading up to the pinnacle of French Revolution. The story starts early in 1775 when turbulent times were just brewing as described by his famous quote ” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity….”There was marked disconcert among people due to prevalent atrocities – subjugation by aristocracy including clergy, and the blatant lawlessness which hung as doom mainly over the lower echelons of society. It was in that period Dr. Alexandre Manette, a French Physician, became incarcerated, after a spate of ill fate experienced at the hands of an oligarch Marquis de st Evermonde. The misery endured over 18 years in captivation didn’t end at his salvage by his daughter Lucie Mannette, aided by another faithful companion Mr. Jarvis Lorry, but rather extended to a more rueful journey in the aftermath. Charles Dickens has carefully chronologised events both in Paris and London simultaneously while also acquainting his readers with the most diverse characters who live not just in the story but in the minds of many. There is a contrast between characters as well, which captures his inherent style of satirical writing – Lucie Manette is portrayed as feeble natured who lives with her robust English caretaker Miss Pross; Mr. Styver as a “glib man” with a veneer of an advocate never denying Sydney Carton’s, an uncultivated “idlest and most unpromising of men”, proffer of abilities as a barrister. The choice of vantage points in the story has also been crucially selected. Tellson’s Bank by Temple bar in London and Defarges’ wine shop in Saint Antoine form two pivotal places in England and France respectively which faced the same crippling circumstances in and out of their vicinity. Tellson’s Bank which being ” very ugly, very incommodious” yet resiliently proud of its situation mirrored the circumstances of England. England too, in that era, seemed complacent with itself and there too the law was in shambles. Whereas, ‘The wine shop’, famous chapter about spillage of wine in the street, depicted the morbid reality of France. It was where the owners Monsieur Defarge and his wife Madame Defarge, a calculating woman with a haunting past, together with two other revolutionaries, conspired against the tyranny and were at the forefront in the carnage and upheaval later in the story.
However, A Tale of Two Cities, is intrinsically about love. Lucie Mannette is not only the love interest of Mr. Charles Darney, who after repudiating his title as an Evermonde moved to London and became entangled with a case of treason against the King of England and then later in France for emigrating, but of Sydney Carton whose secret affection is only displayed from afar by his actions. Here too, Dickens has infused his readers with the dichotomy of carnal affection and spiritual affinity. Sydney Carton who desperately wanted to be Lucie Manatte’s Charles Darney; to “have been looked at by those blue eyes as he was, and commiserated by that agitated face” knew he could never replace him. His sacrifices to Lucie, nevertheless, raised him to mean much more. Their destiny interwoven with tragedy, love and hope is what has made this tale most poignantly lasting.
A Look into History
The historical aspect obviously cannot be neglected.The Revolution, which remained during the years 1789 to 1799, was indeed a harsh reprisal. It is said to have been brought on by various factors: ‘Following the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution War, the French government was deeply in debt and attempted to restore its financial status through unpopular taxation schemes‘ (source: Wikipedia). The working class were mistreated, underfed, underpaid and were deprived of all basic facilities.There was rampant sentencing to death without any legal proceeding even for crimes as inconsequential as not having ” kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed with his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards”. Naturally, people were fatigued and this fueled a revolt more harrowing than the causing circumstances. Denouncement of multitudes, even who weren’t complicit of any charge against them,to Le Guillotine was itself another dark era. “Headlong, mad and dangerous footsteps” are words which develop the resounding momentum of the republicans, as they called themselves, when they took over The Bastille and unleashed the indiminishable savageness. The roles had been reversed.
Charles Dickens had undoubtedly the knack for engendering reality from mere fiction in a way that allows readers to feel their way around and be abreast with the intricacies of characters’ emotion. A tale of Two Cities, has surmounted much more than the historical impact created by the story. The ingenuity of Charles Dickens has elicited sheer passion and soul from the narrative. It has been said that Dickens had done an exhaustive study of Carlyle’s The French Revolution along with other contemporary historical sources and his own investigation of the surviving historical sights of the Revolution (source: Introduction to A Tale of two Cities, Wordsworth Classics, 1993). Albeit, a short story, as compared to his other works such as Bleak House or Pickwick Papers, this masterpiece satiates all expectations, in terms of a riveting plot, enlightening history and effusive sentiments. This will remain to be the most cherished Dickens I’ve ever read.
Film Adaptations Review
I’ve only had the opportunity of watching two versions:
Directed by: John Goddard. I didn’t much enjoy the double role performed by Chris Sarandon as Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. I felt the movie didn’t map exactly to the text and missed the essence of the tale.
Directed by: Phillipe Monnier. This was said to be originally made for Television’s Master Piece Theater Series (source: Cliffnotes.com). Thereby, it was a more detailed depiction of the plot. I loved the character played by James Wilby as Sydney Carton. In my view he was the closest in realizing Carton’s character. Even Jean-Pierre Aumont as Dr. Alexandre Manette did a wonderful role play. Even though, it got a bit tedious to watch in one sitting but it truly did justice to Dickens’ work. Having said that, I do feel there needs to be a remake of ‘A Tales of Two Cities’. With the advanced methods of cinematography, bringing alive these timeless characters on screen would be worth watching again.With that note, I bring my post to an end.Hope for all those avid fans of Dickens, this piece wasn’t thoroughly disappointing. In any case, do leave a comment below and thank you for reading.