I wrote the following review in June of 2012 when I was 17 years old.
I loved A Tale of Two Cities. The themes of resurection and sacrificial love were compelling and strikingly Christian.
Charles Dickens had a gift for capturing characters through dialogue, he’s witty and I love his word pictures. Dickens is not the difficult read that I had expected. He is NOT verbose-HERMAN MELVILLE is verbose. Though Dickens has several long, complex sentences he also has five word sentences. It’s how he combines the two that make his writing so striking. Like a true novelist Dickens is part poet, he gives meaning to small actions and circumstances, and he has a way of drawing your attention to those things by the mere way he says something. Though some characters are stereotypical, this has the effect of shining a beacon on other characters which are complex, really bringing them to life.
The book opens with the return of Doctor Manette from 18 years of living death in the Bastille. Everyone says he is beyond hope. Yet through the loving care of his daughter he is “recalled to life” as the first book is called. Sydney Carton, a dissolute attorney lives his life on the heels of Mr. Styver with no ambition or aim in life of his own. He’s a drunk and everyone-including himself-says he’s beyond hope. He falls in love with Lucie Manette, the doctor’s daughter but knows that he would but drag her down into the pit with
“I am like one who died young. ” He says.
Dickens, Charles (2010-12-01). A Tale of Two Cities p. 132). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
“I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul. In my degradation I have not been so degraded but that the sight of you with your father, and of this home made such a home by you, has stirred old shadows that I thought had died out of me. Since I knew you, I have been troubled by a remorse that I thought would never reproach me again, and have heard whispers from old voices impelling me upward, that I thought were silent for ever. I have had unformed ideas of striving afresh, beginning anew, shaking off sloth and sensuality, and fighting out the abandoned fight. A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing, and leaves the sleeper where he lay down, but I wish you to know that you inspired it.”
Dickens, Charles (2010-12-01). A Tale of Two Cities (p. 133). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
He asks only for her pity and says
“The time will come, the time will not be long in coming, when new ties will be formed about you—ties that will bind you yet more tenderly and strongly to the home you so adorn—the dearest ties that will ever grace and gladden you. O Miss Manette, when the little picture of a happy father’s face looks up in yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!”
Dickens, Charles (2010-12-01). A Tale of Two Cities (pp. 134-135). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
Lucie marries Charles Darnay, a french gentleman who shares a remarkable resemblance with Sydney Carton. As time goes on they have a daughter. The Revolution breaks out in France and Darnay-a nobleman of France-gets caught up in it and is imprisoned by the Revolutionaries and sentenced to the guillotine. Doctor Manette, Lucie Darnay and her daughter, Lucie’s attendant Miss Pross, and Sydney Carton all follow to France. After all other endeavors fail Sydney Carton resolves to take Darnay’s place and fulfill his vow to give his life to save “a life you love”. Once upon a time his resemblance to virtuous Darnay was a source of bitterness to Carton because it reminded him of what he could have been but now it is through that very resemblance he’s able to take Darnay’s place. The verse from John “I am the Resurrection and the Life” is repeated four times in the last chapters of the book as we see a change come over Sydney Carton.
The images of blood and wine reoccur throughout the book. The breaking of a wine cast in the first part of the book, where the peasants drink the wine from the street and become covered in it foreshadows the spilling of blood to come in the revolution. France is in need of a “resurrection” from the living death caused by the oppression of the aristocracy and the peasants believe that is only through the shed blood of the aristocrats that they will be reborn even though by doing so they become the pigs of Animal Farm. Revolution is their antichrist. Dickens even goes so far as to call the guillotine a replacement for the symbol of the cross.
It was the sign of the regeneration of the human race. It superseded the Cross. Models of it were worn on breasts from which the Cross was discarded, and it was bowed down to and believed in where the Cross was denied.
Dickens, Charles (2010-12-01). A Tale of Two Cities (p. 243). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
In a final showdown between Madame Defarge, the ruthless, hate-filled revolutionary, and Miss Pross, the faithful attendant of Lucie since her infancy, Madame Defarge surprises Miss Pross as she is washing her face. Miss Pross turns and drops the water basin. It breaks and the spilt water flows to meet the bloodstained feet of Madame Defarge. Water…and blood. Love…and hate. Madame Defarge demands to see Lucie and Miss Pross refuses. There is a struggle and Madame Defarge’s gun discharges into her own heart. The only thing stronger than hate is love.
Then, as we see a changed Sydney Carton holding the hand of a young girl as he walks to the the guillotine, we see that the only thing stronger than the unending cycle of violence and revenge is love. Resurrection cannot be attained through hate or violence, it is only through selfless love. Sydney, through the sacrificial shedding of his blood did more to undue the cycle of violence that led to the introduction of the guillotine than all the shed blood of the aristocracy by violence.
Everyone remembers the first line of “A Tale of Two Cities” but they would do well to remember the last as well:
“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.”
Dickens, Charles (2010-12-01). A Tale of Two Cities (p. 335). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
In the end, Sydney, through his sacrifice, points to Christ and the resurrection yet to come.
A Tale of Two Cities is about the transforming power of resurrection and sacrificial love.