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I am a writer, because I am a reader, a passionate reader of the events. Apart from doing my literary writing, I try to see how a particular event would and could affect the people living in its immediate surround.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES - Reviewed by Naval Langa

It is quite difficult to write about the novels written by Charles Dickens, as you have to be one among the thousands of people who have done the job earlier. It is quite surprising that the master writer like Charles Dickens who wrote novels like 'Hard Times' and 'Great Expectations' turned on the historic lane and configured a love story that is passing through the confused streets of two great cities: London and Paris. These were the most turbulent cities of eighteenth century. He had woven his novel 'A Tale of Two Cities' narrating these cities.

Charles Dickens

The Plot: A Story of Turmoil

Love relationship of two unusual characters, Lucy Manette and Charles Darney, passed through the time narrated by Dickens as 'It was the best of the times; it was the worst of the times'. The couple made their way through strange circumstances. They were caught in a storm of revolutionary atmosphere of late eighteenth century France. And they would have hardly passed through it without offering abnormal responses to the situation they were forced to face.

Prise de la BastilleThe story is painted on a torn canvas of turbulent London where mockery of law had replaced the justice, the guns were necessary articles for travellers, and the fresh graves were excavated for selling the parts of recently buried dead bodies. The warehouse of France in general and the theatre of Paris in particular were worse than London.

The Storming of the Bastille

The last phase of feudalism and haunted conscience of French peasants had outrun all the notions of civility and human behavior. Movement of peasants for ousting the tyrant rulers partially ended on fall of the prison of Bastille. All the prisoners were freed from the Bastille jail-Dr. Manette, father of Lucy Manette, one the prime characters of the novel being one of them.

Lucy helped her father to come out of the obsession of his jail term. She took charge of the boat and sailed through the demanding process of curing his father and developing her relationship with Charles. A migrant from France and language teacher in London school, Charles Darney had aristocratic lineage that he kept undisclosed until the day of his marriage with Lucy. But his aristocratic virtue of protecting one of his former loyalists drove him into the storm of France. He was caught; he was convicted for merely having the aristocratic lineage; and he was to be executed.

But he was freed through unexpected assistance from former lover of Lucy, Sydney Carton. His face was just like face of Charles. Sydney Carton replaced himself in Charles' place in the jail, sacrificing his life for saving the life of husband of the woman whom he loved. Other characters, Jarvis Lorry, Defarge couple, Mrs. Pross, and others walked with the story, making its flow lucid and the contents rich.

How to Create Believable Characters - Learning From Charles Dickens

If we want to know how the characters in novels are created and how they are made looking lively, the reading of novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ written by Charles Dickens would be a good guide.

Dickens’ characterization of men and women in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is near to realistic. Some of them act a little bit dramatically, as and when the plot of the novel demands so. Jarvis Lorry, an simple minded banker and Madame Defarge, a diehard revolutionary, never depart from the strict necessities attached with their professions. But Dr. Manette turns himself into an advocate and takes the tools of a saviour in his hands for saving his son-in-law from a certain death penalty.

Charles Dickens was the technician who used symbols as effective implements for helping the larger picture of his novel to be understood deeply. Unlike a well-sculptured use of powerful symbols in his other novels, in ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’ he depended upon the sharp adjectives and salient humour. While caricaturing the host of characters, he displayed his masterly art of telling about the aspects of contemporary society. In the same manner he narrated the pros and cones of the ongoing revolution in France. The vivid description of all the characters is such that if by chance any one of them passes by us, we would immediately tell that ‘this is Jerry Cruncher (from his unique style of walking) or this is Lucy (by seeing her serene beauty), or this is Madame Defarge (from the frozen lava of her anger)’.

The dialogues go with the characters. Mr. Lorry and Dr. Manette are professionals. They depict the cultured face of the time. Madame Defarge is the firebrand lady representing the wrath of the revolutionaries of contemporary France. As the novel was to be published as serial in a newspaper, the beginning and the end of each chapter tend to be loaded with gunshot sentences. And when a writer like Dickens fires a shot, it is heard up to far pavilions. He did not give us characters; he gave us the types of people. In real life, you would find replica of every man and woman Dickens depicted in his novels. Becoming the mother of children having convincing looks, Dickens had animated a crowd of characters. They are proud; they are feeble. They are generous; they are greedy. They are coward; they are bold. Dickens read the life before his eyes and used it for his creations, hoping that the readers would love them and honour the same.

How to Write Humorously - Learning From Charles Dickens

In ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’, Dickens had distributed the humour among various pockets: the way he described the characters, the manners that the lords of the land followed in France, and the narrative technique in which he had no competitor. While describing the human tragedies and follies of common men, he had endeavoured to infuse funniness through the comedy of manners. But he had not tried to soften the bitterness of truth that the ongoing revolution was supposed to hold.

Charles Dickens had courage to be an innovator. Standing against all the contemporary writers, he had chosen the subject like poverty in ‘Oliver Twist’. He obeyed his inner voice—his sincere service to the world in he lived. Again, even if being the writer of neat fiction, he chose history as background for his novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. The writer of ‘Domby and Sons’ and ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ preferred to narrate rigid truth of the history without reservations, without making compromises. And the result is before our eyes.

He chose theme of history because it contained the hardest challenges the people had faced; he chose it because the larger portion of the people had at last responded to the wildest behaviour shown to them throughout the years. Every drop of blood spilled on the street of Paris, every drop of the sweat fallen on the farms of feudal France, melted into each other and became the blade of the Guillotine. And then everything flew from the power of that Guillotine. Dickens picked up that theme; honoured it in its right perspective; and dealt with it with his masterly skill.

While reading Dickens, humour would not fail in helping our strains to disappear. It would make our mind lighter. Had Dickens not been a writer and the humorist as he was, he would have become a social activist. Such were the subjects he chose for his writings. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, a novel that runs overloaded with the hard facts of an ongoing revolution, it contains salient stock of wits and irony. Though the thematic compulsions restrained Dickens to become outright humorist; he fully counterbalanced it while caricaturing some of the characters.

If we look at the novel from a different angle, then a war or a revolution is the greatest satire itself. The mankind has never learnt a lesson from the past. We go on slaughtering each other without realising the futility of our actions. Perhaps that was the biggest message this novel should have delivered. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is the masterpiece novel. It would shine like a gem on a bookshelf. [Images Courtesy: The Storming of the Bastille By Jean-Pierre Houël (1735-1813) [public domain], from Wikimedia Commons, Charles Dickens Wikimedia Commons ]

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