A Tale Of Two Cities
[Note: the reason for the fancy language is that this was done as a school project. If it’s a bit (okay, 932 words) long, that’s because nine paragraphs were required. If I divulge a little less of the plot than usual, again, school requirements. But hey, I kept my slight snark, because my english teacher (Hi, Ms. Cooney!) is awesome.]
A Tale Of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, opens in the quiet excesses (for some) of England, where a nobleman may have six servants to feed him his chocolate. It then quickly flips to France, to the ravaged streets where peasants attack each other for a cask of spilled wine. Revolution and unrest is in the air, but the English are unknowing of the oncoming storm (heh, the Oncoming Storm)…
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had nothing before us, we had everything before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” (1).
As you may be able to tell from the famous first sentence, this is a novel of extremes – and extremely long sentences.
One of the reasons I liked A Tale Of Two Cities was the vibrant characters, though less the main characters than the background characters. Two of the main characters, Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay, were characters that seemed a bit flat. Lucie is the stereotypical “perfect woman” of the era, fainting and weeping constantly and exaggeratedly emotional to absolutely everyone. Charles Darnay is the dashing handsome man, as “perfect” as Lucie. I felt no emotional connection to them, and wouldn’t really care if they died. However, the other characters were much more vibrant and realistic.
The other main characters, Dr. Manette, Madame Defarge, and Sydney Carton, are very interesting characters. Dr. Manette, a physician born in France and Lucie’s father, was a character that I was very emotionally invested in. His mysterious past, dosed out in small bits, really intrigued me, his adorable (and sometimes heartbreaking) interactions with Lucie almost made me like her, and his emotional moments (unlike others, *coff*Carton*coff*) felt real. His establishing moment of the book, not knowing his own daughter because he was imprisoned during her upbringing, and later his slow warmth to her, was touching enough to have its own rather twinkly-sounding song to go with it, but not sappy either.
When Dr. Manette and Lucie come home to England, they attend the the trial of Charles Darnay, where he is aquitted for treason, having a strange resemblance to one Sydney Carton. Mr. Carton is a drunken lawyer, depressed and bullied by his long-time frenemy, Mr. Stryver. Mr. Carton, to me, was a character who it seemed obvious would realize his true potential by the end, and be heartwarming and noble. I liked him better when he was depressed, because that part felt more honest than the overblown emotionality (Is that a word? Oh well, it is now.) of his heartwarming speeches.
Slowly, Lucie falls in love, and gets married to Darnay. Everything seems perfectly calm, rather like a Jane Austen novel, but then Madame Defarge appears. Madame Defarge, intertwined in the terrible violence of the French Revolution, is a foreboding character, always looming at the corner, “knitting her patterns of death”, as my book says. She does the dirty work of the Revolution. Her appearance and the sudden violence in France is a shock after the subdued drama that unfolds in England, but it’s just at the right time. Before the book becomes just another boring tragedy, been there and done that, she comes in and tears it all down. Honestly, Madame Defarge scared me, and the blood and gore of her chapters and the horrible descriptions of the Revolution were a bit much. From the cover, the title, the author, and the book’s reputation, I really wasn’t expecting this to be a horror story, and yet it was. Was it ever.
But it was the most poetic horror story ever. A Tale Of Two Cities is packed with metaphor, personification, and simile, just to name a few. One of my favorite metaphors was the sea as the crowd of the revolutionaries, and the looming Revolution as the tide coming in. The metaphors and similes really help to establish character, for example: “Ms. Pross…had on her head a most wonderful bonnet like a great Stilton cheese…” (35).
Speaking of Ms. Pross, she was one of the dark horses of the book, and I ended up absolutely adoring her. She started out as simple comedic relief, but slowly we learn she is better, oh so much better… I won’t spoil the surprise, but I will say she reminded me of Donna Noble at her best.
The theme of the novel is the idea that people, even careless drunks and disappointed drudges, can change and redeem themselves, even if they don’t believe it. Perhaps they need someone to help them believe in themselves, but they can change. I liked this theme, though it was rather obvious and overblown at times.
So, what will happen to our intrepid bunch as they enter the danger of the Revolution? Will Lucie faint for the last time? Will Darnay dash away to prison? What is Dr. Manette’s mysterious past? AND WHAT ABOUT MR. CRUNCHER? All will be revealed in A Tale Of Two Cities, albeit a bit slowly.