"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 season of light, it was the season
of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."
In these introductory lines of "A Tale of Two Cities" one cannot help remembering
the famous lines of Macbeth:
F.witch: When shall we meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
S. witch: When the hurly burly's done
When the battle's lost and won.
Both openings sound a keynote for the works: what appears to be is not what it is. In fact, there are lots of things ranging from characters to the Revolution which are not in the way they are represented. Here, the main categories which will be dealt with are the French Revolution, the characters, the imagery and the cities Paris and London. When Dickens wrote the novel in 1859 , it was exactly 70 years after the fall of the Bastille. The ambivalence felt by Dickens was the violence brought by the Revolution. In fact, the Revolution was fed by the new romantic ideas: the ordinary people defying the outdated traditions, tyrannical old system. Their heroes all came from the ordinary people, they came with the support of the people from all walks of life intending to change the oppression. Nevertheless, the revenge of the oppressed people became more violent and bloody when 2800 people were guillotined in Paris in two years which led people to become terrorized and sickened in return. It may seem that Dickens portrays the aristocracy as being too self-absorbed to notice what is happening to the lower classes. Darnay's uncle the Marquis lives away from the people in his own stone-walled castle, concerned only with keeping his place in the court circles. Although Marquis is a noble man he is out of favour with the palace . He is slighted at the parties, the other noblemen take no notice of him. Such a man in spite of his title is alienated from his own class. When he is accused of killing Gaspar's little child that he is the murderer- his wild coach killed the child- he remains silent at what is taking place. The Marquis signifying the old order characterized by drunkenness,luxury and pride is doomed. It is ironic that the only nobleman depicted in the book is Darnay's uncle whose pride and addiction to alcohol enhance his alienation, in fact he is the person to be pitied.
Dickens's ambivalent attitude towards the Revolution can be detected in his description of the people as well. When armed, the mob turns into "a living sea" ready to drown everybody that gets into their way and annihilate everything by destroying everything. The sea is first "a whirlpool of boiling waters " whose headquarter is Defarge's wine shopWine associates blood ."The sea rose immeasurably wider and higher. So resistless was the force of the ocean bearing him on."(264) Defarge leads the living sea in an attack of the Bastille. The wave starts to sweep away the old ways, institutions, and traditions first the Bastille is saved . It is again interesting that there are seven people saved: four forges, two madmen, and one follower of de Sade.
After the fall of the Bastille the next historical scene is the murder of the governor of the Bastille, de Launay is shown with vivid descriptions of how he tried to attempt to commit suicide. Madame Defarge's attitude , being first to kick his head prepares the readers for her later terrorizing behavior and vengence. The following historical scene is the murder of Joseph-Francois Foulon , a councellor of the state to Louis XVI. He is the one who says "people may eat grass" when asked " what will the people do with these harsh economic conditions?" Dickens tells his capture, describes how legal processes infuriate the republicans. Instead of trying him justly, the mob overthrows the justice and becomes the judge : "At length the sun rose so high that it struck a kindly ray as of hope or protection, directly down upon the old prisoner's head."(274) The ray that shines upon Foulon suggests some kind of divine sympathy for the old and infirm. One is appalled to read what is happening to Foulon. The brutality of the revenge is too much. What is most disturbing about the course of the Revolution is that: the more oppressed people get, the more violent and brutal will be their rebellion. The injustices and wrongs have caused the Revolution, but those who replace the older institutions apply the same techniques worse. The oppressed become the oppressors and just like the Marquis regards the servant class with the poor people, the Defarges make no distinctions between Darnay and his uncle or between Lucy and noblewomen. The deaths of their victims are frighteningly portrayed. It is not coincidence that Dickens makes Darnay return to Paris and gets him arrested at the time of the September massacres , a four-day execution of 1089 prisoners condemned in minutes by wild justice. Carlyle (151) who influenced Dickens in the writing of the book states that another sinks, and another, and there forms itself a piled heap of corpses, and the kennels begin to run red; fancy the yells of these men, their faces of sweat and blood , the crueller shrieks of these women for there are women too. Dickens indicates "Their hideous countenances were all bloody and sweaty, and all awry with howly" (321) Dickens makes it clear that these wild murderers are not human beings, they are changed into wild boasts, by terrible enchantment long persisted in , they are driven into mechanical robots.
While depicting the full picture of the revolution Dickens carefully juxtaposes France and England, Paris and London: the hometowns of the two heroes Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. The book starts with a Dover journey and ends in a journey back to England. At the beginning the metaphorical road opens as a dark, fog-bound, muddy and treacherous climb up Shooter's Hill . The dangers of the Dover road and the mists along the way foreshadow the dangers that engulf the characters but the same road is to be trodded on later to be out of the dangers of Paris to the safety of London. The intensity of the mist envelops the travelers like "the waves of the unwholesome sea". (6) Out of the fog on the first journey the messenger appears for Mr Lorry, the director for Tellyson's bank ,a symbol of British economic and cultural security. The underground rooms are safe, sound, strong and still. With the iron bars at the windows , its dark vaults and massive keys Tellson's Bank resembles the Bastille. The Bastille falls but the bank endures.Mr Lorry appears to be the embodiment of Tellson's Bank: old, dependable, businesslike. Outwardly he is the hard-hearted businessman, but inwardly the kind and loving person for the family. By putting London and Paris, the Bastille and Tellson side by side Dickens tries to reflect the similar happenings. Darnay's trial at Old Bailey in London and Sydney's hanging at Paris indicate the judicial systems of the two countries. Nevertheless, it is the British system which wins when Darnay is released at Old Bailey and Carton, an Englishman sacrifices himself for the French Darnay at Paris and there is nobody to save the innocent man in the crowd. The bloodthirstiness of people in London and Paris is shown in a chilling scene:
"Everybody present, except the one wigged gentleman who looked at the ceiling,
stared at him. All the human breath in the place, rolled at him, like a sea or a wind
or a fire. Eager faces strained round pillars and corners to get a sight of him."(70)
The brutal fascination is valid for all the trials in London and Paris. To Ruth Glancy (50) , Dickens's purpose in these depictions is to show the similarities between France under the new regime and England in the 1780s. England manages to save herself but the France of the revolution symbolises the cruel and unjust regime. England is what France is not.
Apart from the two cities Lucy's home is contrasted with Madame Defarge's wine shop. One is a place for a cosy, domicile environment; the other for sinister plots. Lucy tends flowers for beauty, Madame Defarge is wearing a flower as a secret code for the revolutionaries.
In the novel two people who are so reliable and who provide security are Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross whose devotions to the Manettes remain so solid till the end. Both are unmistakably English in their attitudes . Even their names are pure Anglo-Saxon.They represent together with Carton English loyalty and love stronger than the hate of the revolutionaries. Dickens's patriotism is clear when Miss Pross has a victory for British love against foreign hate:" I am a Briton. I am desperate. I don't care an English twopence for myself. I know that the longer I keep you here, the greater hope there is for my Ladybird" (359). Dickens is assuring that the British working class is not like the French one. In spite of all institutional drawbacks it will never be guilty of the atrocities of the French because beneath its exterior beats the hearts of people like Mr. Lorry, Miss Pross and Sydney Carton.
Dual aspects of the characters are hinted so subtly that it goes unnoticed most of the time. Doctor Manette is the heart of the novel from the first. He is first seen as broughtback by Mr. Lorry. Under 18 years of imprisonment he has forgotten even his name. But due to Lucy's care he is recalled to life.When he is seen for the second time he shows his dual personality."When pondering and self-communing expression is upon him, he looks so old. When this is stirred and broken up- he becomes a handsome man, not past the prime of life."(73) When Lucy acknowledges that she and Darnay will marry- a man whose uncle and father wasted his 18 years- he says "if there were .......... any fancies, any reasons, any apprehensions, against the man she loved, they should be obliterated for her sake. She is everything to me, more to me than suffering, more to me than wrong" (162-63) He looks willing to sacrifice his own happiness for Lucy and Darnay and buries his knowledge of Darnay's ancestry and its connection with his life. But he cannot help turning to the Bastille years sporadically when something disturbs his mind. In the third chapter Darnay's dire situation leads to another breakdown of his.
Two heroes of the two cities, Darnay and Carton's lives are entwined from the first meeting. They are "so like each other in feature, so unlike in manner, both reflected in the glass above them." Both in London and Paris Sydney Carton saves the life of his double. Charles has two surnames: the real one Evremonde which means a sort of "everyman" and Darnay , the English one he uses in England. he is good-looking, well-born, well-bred, well-educated, fortunate in life, and love. Just like the other Dickensian heroes Darnay is lucky. But one cannot help asking whether he is as innocent and lovable as he seems to be. Charles's feeling of guilt starts from his desire to kill his father's twin brother just minutes before his death. He forsakes his own country and title and even the surname to start a new life as a teacher in London. In spite of his visiting Paris in disguise so many times he cannot fulfil his mother's wish to sell her jewels and give money to the sister of the raped peasant girl: Madame Defarge. His powerlessness is everywhere. When he succeeds to his estate he cannot take the actions immediately:(279)
"He had acted imperfectly. He knew very
well that his renunciation of his social
place had been hurried and in complete. He knew that he ought to have
systematically worked it out and supervised it. He had watched the times for a time
of action... until the time had gone by."
Instead of using his power for the poor and helpless he takes his recourse in running away to the other country.
When he returns to Paris to help his servant he comes unprepared. His aid being unplanned becomes self-destructive. In Paris he is powerless and transformed into a helpless and sleeping infant by the growing strength of Sydney Carton. There is to be no heir for Darnay : he is excluded from the future. The rivalry of Carton and Darnay is won by Carton. Lucy's son will bear Sydney's name and profession in the future. The grandson is to be tied back to patriarchy through the power of an Englishman.
From the start Sydney Carton is a mysterious figure. Dickens's intention to make him understood through the story is clear. He is first seen in the courtroom and last at the scaffold , both places are related to justice. Carton is unattached, seemingly uninterested, yet holds the key when he has tossed the crumpled ball of paper to his colleague and makes Darnay released. His manner is so careless, leaning back, with his torn gown half off him, his untidy wig put on just as it has happened to light on his head. However, he is the only one to notice the strong resemblance between Darnay and himself and the first one to see that Lucie is about to faint. This seeming obliviousness hides his acute sense of perception of everything around him. The reasons for Carton's morose disregard for life and his state of inertia are not stated but what he seems to be always turns out to be the opposite. His being portrayed as wastrel and drunkard-it is interesting that he never looks affected- does not change the readers' minds about his being lovable. The goodness inside never fails to shine. Even when he tells Lucie that if he had prevented her from marrying him,the dark part of his life would have cast its shadow beyond himself and would have fallen on her. His words to help her are so clear that his generosity and altruistic attitude shine for the others rather than for himself. His lack of background- his parents were dead when he was younger- is suitable for his resemblance to Christ with his sacrifice for the other people. It is purposeful that a man with no connection to the revolution throws himself to the guillotine. His execution is not his only sacrifice. He always sacrifices something for the others all life long. Even at school he thought of the others first, and helped them to work out the problems in the exam. His selfishless idiosyncracy is apparent in rendering hisservices to Stryver in the humble capacity. At nights after coming to his chamber he throws himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and "its pillow was wet with wasted tears. Sadly, sadly the sun rose, it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions."(97) The sunshine on him is always there, everywhere he goes his inner light coincides with the light with which the sun shines on him. His devotion to Lucie is not the same as Darnay's love. When he expresses the revelation of his love for her he remarks:
"The sight of you with your father... has stirred old shadows that
had died out
of me. Since I knew you I have heard whispers from old voices impelling me
The language is melodramatic, but he mentions the effects of Lucie on his life in such a way a boy talks about his maternal longings. Old voices that guide childhood are the mother's. He unconsciously indicates that he lacked the influence of his parents in his childhood. Now Lucie has the vision of maternity, taking care of her sick father and extending her love and affection to those around in need of them. His vision is about the better future and the child on her bosom who bears his name. He says he will always be in her soul like an unborn child in a mother's womb. Her child, Sydney's reincarnation, will bear the same name, follow the same career, and make the same name illustrious by the light of his. He sees his own future in the child Lucie will bear. His last words are from the Bible:
"I am the resurrection and the Life,saith the
Lord: he that beieveth in me, though
he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and beliveth in me shall
never die" (366)
His ressurection to a new life is so soon to beheld by Lucie's child in acity brighter than before with the guidance of the Bible. Carton finds consolation in the preceding lines and becomes a Christ-like figure (even their initials are the same /k/ ), sacrifices his own life for his vision of the mother, Lucie, whose name is associated with the light ,spiritual light, and the Heavens. The horrors of the Revolution are the perversion of the natural order. Christ's resurrection is a process returning to the natural world order. Carton's execution is necessary for a bright future, a new beginning. His faith in divine justice that will prevail is due to Lucie and the son.
In fact, Lucie has been criticised as being a faceless character, too good to be true and lacking dimension by many critics. She is seen as fainting ,weeping, and uttering words which are often ludicrously stagy. Nevertheless, Lucie's bravery is all there. She is the sole support of her imprisoned and mentally deranged father. She is perceptive enough to fear the footsteps that seem to be threatening Soho and to dread the shadow of Madame Defarge. She is courageous enough to stand beneath the prison wall every day so that her husband could see her. Her dedication, patience, ratioanality, calmness, emotional and mental strength stands in sharp contrast with the revengeful Madame Defarge. On the one hand, there is Lucie with children to feed and a family to take care of and on the other hand, there is Madame Defarge, a childless worker. Lucie is the embodiment of the motherhood and Madame Defarge of the machine-like human being. Dickens's depiction of the Victorian ideal of the hearth and home with a dutiful wife (Lucie) is vividly stated. The other marriage vision is shown by the Crunchers, Jerry's physical and mental attacks on his wife are brought on since she is not conforming to the standards of the dutiful wife and mother. Mrs Cruncher is understandably terrorized by her husband's illegal and irreligious trade in dead bodies. On the other hand, there are the Defarges, the stereotype of the submissive woman is completely turned down. The reader is appalled to see a woman being the leader of the mob and giving orders by going out of her supposed circle. Theresa is so different from the other women characters in the novel, ranking in the fronts of the Revolution, devoting herself to the social acts not her family, working with men in the same conditions, defying the oppressive old regime, determining to reach her aims are merits for women in the twentieth century , not in the eighteenth century, but her going to the extremes, animal-like attitude shadows her. Her husband "stands before her with his head a little bent, and his hands clasped at his back" (216) Their marriage is not one of equal sayings of the couple. Dickens makes a woman the leader of the revolutionaries to stress the revolution and the country have gone to the worst excesses. He sees women as possessing compassion and humanity. But this is such a revolution that overturns natural human decency and goodness, that a woman can go through the worst of excesses of the transformation of people into wild animals, and that France turns into a place not recognisable as she was before
The ultimate terror is seen to be female. Such demons are the ?nfamous other unmarked for the positive, true Englishwomen. This polarizing is evident in the scene between genteel Miss Pross and Theresa when she says she is proud of being a Briton and will do everything possible to save her Ladybird. For what is Ladybird valued by Miss Pross so much? Has she been learned, the accomplished woman who can speak many languages, who can solve problems and discuss the philosophical issues? Why is Theresa condemned so bitterly and antagonistically than the other male counterparts?
It is "circumstancial demands" (Ingham:113) that define true woman. Her capacity is moulded by these around her. For Dickens the desirable qualities are compassion, tenderness, long-sufferingness, and self-abnegation. They must be true mothers. The nurturing ability is found in mothers only. Lucie's love and care redeems her father, her devotion and patience for her husband gives him the strength to endure the incarceration. Her nurturing ability leads Carton to find a surrogate mother in her. Later she is a doting mother to her two children. It is by assuming maternal authority that Lucie controls the men around her. "The mechanics of evaluation women are made is plain here" (Ingham:118) The worse the situation is, the more highly regarded the mother gets when she cherishes the men. In the Victorian Period the frequency of maternal death in or after childbirth (Lucie, Charles and Sydney's mothers all died after childbirth) often led to a daughter or wife's sister taking over the chief domestic role in the household. Brought up by an unmothering environment Lucie turns out to take a mother role from her early years on. The bond between Dr Manette and his daughter is so strong that Lucie marries a man who is sent to the prison and suffers from the incarceration like her father, and who is dependent on her for survival. The image of Lucie, half -woman and half-child suckling her father and becoming simultaneously his mother and wife never changes although at the end of the novel her age is closer to fourty. This is what causes Sydney to love her more: He has found a mother in Lucie. Luc?e's angelic fair hair is opposite to Madame Defarge's dark hair. her untamed rebellious quality and gypsy look with a rose on her hair suggests the illicit aura of the passionate woman. Being childless she lacks everything Lucie has. Moreover, they belong to different classes. Dickens's excessive females combine a monstrous nature with lower class status. He makes use of the language which associates virtue and refinement with the middle classes and vice and unwomanliness with the lower classes. Lucie, the epitome of the motherhood and innocence never gets older and grows wrinkles. Dickens's ideal woman tend to be little mothers. It is stated that his preoccupation with innocence and the idealized child-wife is his nostalgia for his own childhood and his idealization of woman, requiring her to be pure ,innocent, submissive and motherly keeps the ideal woman apart from the libidinal and sexual woman. (Halbrook:170). His murder of Theresa in the hands of Miss Pross could be the result of putting death the witch woman blighting the emotional life. His book ends in the continuation of Lucie's marriage to Charles. This is not fully realised happy sexual relationship. Lucie who has been a child-daughter-wife to her father becomes a child-daughter-wife to her husband.
From its opening lines, "A Tale of Two Cities" moves the reader through the world of paradox and contradictions as to the Revolution being the time of equality, fraternity, and liberty or the time of terror, or as to Sydney Carton being a wasted youth or the the English youth having redeeming qualities, or as to Charles Darnay being a hero or a castrated helpless figure. Like the generation of writers who have preceded him, Dickens sees the need for revolution but recognises the dangers of the mass action. Like the romantics he sees a new world , a beautiful city, bright people and a new vision coming about through the revolution of the individual. A new world is reborn not through revolution but the individual's capacity for love and sacrifice. The novel's resolution implies a dual end. The price of the Darnays's survival is the sacrifice of Carton. Although Marx believes that repression would yield to revolution , Dickens's revolution is repression by another name. Madame Defarge and the Marquis are both repressors. The sole way out of this place is to leave history, the sole escape from history is Carton's escape: to a world where there is no time and trouble.
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