A Tale of Two Cities

It’s taken a long time to get to the end of this novel, but I was determined!!!  I have to say, that as someone who, when in the mood, is likely to rattle off a complete and tuneful version of the Marseillaise, I find Dickens’ antipathy to the French revolution, and its revolutionaries, quite surprising.  After all, isn’t he supposed to be on the side of the common man?

Dickens is at his best when creating those odd characters of Victorian London with their eccentricities and many failings.  In this novel it’s Jerry Cruncher, body snatcher.  In contrast, his women are really quite poorly presented.  Here we’ve really only got the four of them – and none are convincing: the revolutionaries – Vengeance and Madame Defarge – well he makes no attempt to get into their heads, and think about how it must have been for them.  They are written off as “knitting”, cruel and heartless, along with the rest of the “red-capped” mob, whilst Lucie is a sentimental vision in some sort of white dress, and Miss Pross barely registers with the reader.

Sydney Carton, the hero of the novel, I found was sketchily drawn, with uncertain motives – perhaps I didn’t read it with my full attention.  The symbolism of the spilt wine, and Carton’s self sacrificial end, where he is linked with yet another sentimentally portrayed female character, is slightly moving – I can see why some would be moved – but it’s rather obvious, and not really convincing, whilst the sections in which he contrasts the lives of the rich and poor in France are also a bit too obvious.

I suppose, in the end I was disappointed because I expected the novel to be more Hard Times and its unequivocal condemnation of poverty, and less Daily Mail, with its little England approach: Dickens is one of our great writers, and ought to have a less provincial vision.

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