Written in 1859, A Tale of Two Cities was published in weekly installments in Dickens’s own journal, All The Year Round. It left its mark on my reading history as the first Dickens that I’d read. They did say this was the less “Dickesian” of all Dickens’ books though. I had tried Great Expectation last year but gave up after 10 pages. So, let’s get on with the review, shall we?
The first 70% of A Tale of Two Cities was a build-up to the climax. While written as a story of the French Revolution, Dickens also explored the human emotions, reactions and interactions with each other. These very humane traits are what have been defining us for ages past and still is. Human suffering doesn’t merely happen during the French Revolution, it has happened long before, is still happening amd potentially will persist for as long as violence and inequity continue to flourish.. Just look at the daily news. Dickens delivered all these by writing alternately from the sides of the Manette, the Evremonde, the Defarges, the Crunchers, Mr. Stryver, Sydney Carton and Mr. Jarvis Lorry. The most interesting story among these was definitely the Defarges whom we can see from miles away would definitely play pivotal role in the revolution. There were lots of foreshadowing in the novel and it was chilling because you know things are going wrong and it is only getting worst.
Once the revolution started, I confessed I can’t put the book down! I actually cheered out loud once the people finally fought for their rights. However, their leaders—The Defarges, the Jacques, The Vengeance—soon abused their power. They became exactly like the people they’d overthrown; not caring on who they punished and murdered. The customary machinery of oppression—prisons, detention without trial, inequality, the abuse of power, complacency, and arrogance—which originally gave rise to the political revolution were again used to suppress the people. Once La Guillotine was erected, they easily sent away aristocrats and poor innocent peasants alike to the national razor. And far from being merciful to their fellow creatures, the people even invented the mad dance of “Carmagnole” to celebrate the death or the release of the prisoner. This further symbolized the chaos and violence of the crowd. Even Dr. Manette’s position as a former prisoner of Bastilles and respected physician in the middle of the revolution was not enough to overturn the cruel, vile Revolutionary Tribunal.
Despite the dark hours, Dickens inserted moral theme to remind us that only kindliness and virtues brought peace in life. This was evident in his writing of Lucie as an angel—nurturing people with true love and inspiring them to do good in return; in Dr. Manette’s ability to heal and look beyond the past affliction; in Miss Pross’ determination to not back down and fought her way through hardship; in Mr. Lorry’s loyalty to the people he loved; in Darnay’s perseverance through bleak time; and in Sydney Carton who gave his all for the best thing in his life, thus leading him to show the best of him—his comforting of the poor seamstress. I admit I sobbed at this.
Note I: All featured illustrations are by Frederick Barnard from the 1872 edition.
Note II: On the preface, Dickens wrote that he first conceived the main idea of this story was when he was acting with his children and frieds, in Wilkie Collins’s The Frozen Deep. You bet that’s going to be on my to-be-acquired-pronto shelf.
Have you read A Tale of Two Cities or any book by Charles Dickens?