Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

A Tale Of Two Cities

I hadn't noticed until it was pointed out to me- quite recently- how all of Dickens' later novels are "themed". For instance, David Copperfield is about marriage, Little Dorrit is about imprisonment, Our Mutual Friend is about money.

And A Tale Of Two Cities?

A Tale of Two Cities is about resurrection. 

(All historical novels are about resurrection- but here the interest is more than superficial.)

Because I first read it in an abridged kiddies edition, I'd got into the habit of thinking of it as a mere entertainment- a lightweight bagatelle written to pass the time between the more weighty Little Dorrit and Great Expectations. In fact it's anything but. A case could be made for it's being the darkest, deepest and most spiritual of the novels. Certainly it's the grimmest. Atrocity follows atrocity. Far from being a holiday jaunt to another place and another time, it goes fearlessly, unflinchingly into the heart of darkness.

Corruption breeds corruption, violence breeds violence. The evil of Monseigneur breeds the evil of Madame Defarge. How do you get off the wheel? Can anyone be saved? 

They can. But.

Sydney Carton is Dickens' only tragic hero. A great soul- capable of extremes. There's nothing anywhere else in Dickens like his ending. Or to touch it. People call it sentimental- because Dickens is well capable of sentimentality- but it isn't. The magnificence of the prose, the dignity of its rhetoric, has been earned.  "They said of him, about the city, that night..."  Everytime I read it, it sets my hair on end.

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