Saturday, July 20, 2013

“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 is similar to Great Expectations. In both novels, readers meet a cruel, domineering woman, and - true to Dickens - elements of gothic fiction. Whether they spill from the 'sharp female called La Guillotine' or are found at the bottom of the graves Cruncher digs, blood and death are prevalent during the French Revolution, the turmoiled time in which the characters of this novel live.


A Tale of Two Cities is a story of tyranny, self-sacrifice, and of course, love. It tells the story of two men, strikingly similar in appearance yet distinct in character: Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, an English lawyer. Darnay is wrongfully convicted for a crime he did not commit, but saved from a sure death by Carton (spoiler alerts: clever foreshadowing on Dickens's part) Both men fall in love with the Lucie Manette, the daughter of a French doctor, and although Darnay ultimately weds Lucie, the fates of both men, in the "shadow of the guillotine" (as the blurb on my copy eloquently puts  it) are inevitably intertwined.

Although many 'flat' (quote E.M. Forster) characters in A Tale of Two Cities simply do not undergo as much character development as Pip does in Great Expectations, the ingenuity of this novel's plot line and the eloquence of Dickens's narrative make up for all the minor foibles in this triumphant work. Just as how Cosette's plain nature does not impinge on the tremendousness of Les Mis, Lucie's one-sided disposition does not affect the ultimate achievement of A Tale of Two Cities either.

This novel was both difficult and lovely to read, the former due to Dickens's oft-archaic prose (not to mention the weight of the volume) and the latter due to the novel's perfect pace and mind-blowing revelations. All the motifs and imagery in the novel - such as the jackal, game of cards and knitting (perhaps I'll write separate posts discussing these motifs) are masterfully used to portend and symbolize the happenings in the novel. It is a truly rewarding - yet heartbreaking - 5-star classic.
I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out...
A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!