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 was the epoch of incredulity, 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 everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.This. Everyone knows these words, or at least the beginning of them and yet I have to point them out, because firstly they are obviously heartbreakingly beautiful and secondly: Did you notice what Dickens is doing here? After finishing A Tale of Two Cities, my second one of his novels, I feel already surprisingly familiar with his writing and have come to notice a certain pattern in it.
In this specific passage Mr Dickens does what he can best: he creates an atmosphere which is so tense that you are immediately sucked into the
While reading Dickens's tale of love and hate, of uproar and peace, I felt as if I was standing in the bloodstained streets of Paris myself. I smelled the smoke and watched dizzily the silhouettes of the loathed nobility's burning palaces against the dark night sky. I wept for the tragedy of a hero whom no one would recognise as one until the very end and I am not afraid to say that I had to pause reading to get a handkerchief before I read the final scenes.
So, did I like A Tale of Two Cities? I think it is enough to say that my adoration of it even surpasses my love for Great Expectations. I cannot remember when I last looked forward to re-reading a book so much; but, to get my thoughts in order, why did I love it so much?
A huge part of the answer to this question is a name: Sydney Carton.
To be honest, I already knew roughly how the novel would end, so my perception of him was perhaps altered from the beginning, but I think he would have impressed me anyway. I cannot do my love for this constantly drunk, lazy, discourteous, honourable and lion-hearted man justice in a post about the book in general (or else I would have to neglect all other amazing aspects of it and this would become mere swooning), so I intend to do the February Prompt of November's Autumn's Classic Challenge about him.
Until then, let's focus a little on the historical side of Dickens's story.
Of course I had known before how horrible the French Revolution was, but not until now did I realise that it was in fact the most senseless, cruel, indescribable, stupid, incomprehensible bloodshed one can possibly imagine. It is beyond words how the long oppressed people reacted to their new freedom; yes, they had been treated like mangy dogs for decades, but why didn't they use their recaintly gained power to truly build up a state of liberty, equality and fraternity instead of introducing a new form of terror? Through the horrible Madame Defarge, Dickens, the great judge of human nature, has made me understand these people better, although I am still convinced I would act differently (but probably even Madame Defarge was before her family was destroyed by the ancien régime).
Perhaps the most shocking thing in the whole parade of cruelties called the Revolution, is how normal citizens, peasants, tradesmen and mothers transform into inhuman monsters, incapable of pity or sympathy.
The following conversation takes place after the arrest of Charles Darnay, Lucie's innocent husband.
"As a wife and mother," cried Lucie, most earnestly, "I implore you to have pity on me and not to exercise any power that you possess, against my innocent husband, but to use it in his behalf. O sister-woman, think of me. As a wife and mother!"
Madame Defarge looked, coldly as ever, at the suppliant, and said, turning to her friend The Vengeance:Does this make anyone else shiver? I have to admit that I was relieved when Madame Defarge was killed, for her revengefulness and dangerous patriotism knew no limits. It almost physically hurts to imagine the hundreds and thousands of citizens like her who really lived and all the innocent people they slaughtered.
"The wives and mothers we have been used to see, since we were as little as this child, and much less, have not been greatly considered? We have known their husbands and fathers laid in prison and kept from them, often enough? All our lives, we have seen our sister-women suffer, in themselves and in their children, poverty, nakedness, hunger, thirst, sickness, misery, oppression and neglect of all kinds?"
"We have seen nothing else," returned The Vengeance.
"We have borne this a long time," said Madame Defarge, turning her eyes again upon Lucie. "Judge you! Is it likely that the trouble of one wife and mother would be much to us now?"
But, Dickens offers a counterweight to all the terror and as corny as it may sound; this counterweight is love. And while the word "liberty" will forever leave a bad taste in my mouth fom now on, even though I am not religious, there are some other words I will never be able to forget:
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die."