I’ve always loved reading Dickens and I finally took the time to read through A Tale of Two Cities. While it has a much different flavor than some of his other work, it is no less vibrant or moving. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s opening lines are probably something you are aware of: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So begins a brutally honest look at the French revolution and both sides of fallen humanity that made it happen. Dickens does a fair job at showing the neglect of the rich for others and the blood lust of the poor for revenge.
Believed to be Anglican (Church of England), Dickens has a way of helping me to feel one of the values that Jesus taught in an incredible way. Many of his novels cause the reader to feel a concern for the poor and neglected. I’m sad to admit that this doesn’t happen naturally for me. Whenever I read the words of Jesus I realize that my heart needs to be changed. Dickens helps me to adopt the attitude that I know God desires from me.
Here are some interesting quotes from the novel that particularly stood out to me and why:
He opened it in the light of the coach-lamp on that side, and read–first to himself and then aloud: “`Wait at Dover for Mam’selle.’ It’s not long, you see, guard. Jerry, say that my answer was, RECALLED TO LIFE.”
Jerry started in his saddle. “That’s a Blazing strange answer, too,” said he, at his hoarsest.
At the beginning of the novel when the phrase “recalled to life” is first used the reader doesn’t understand what it is referencing. However, this proves to be a powerful theme throughout the book in a number of different ways. Dickens gets us to ponder what is the true essence of life.
The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine, in Paris, where it was spilled. It had stained many hands, too, and many faces, and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes. The hands of the man who sawed the wood, left red marks on the billets; and the forehead of the woman who nursed her baby, was stained with the stain of the old rag she wound about her head again. Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth; and one tall joker so besmirched, his head more out of a long squalid bag of a night-cap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine-lees—blood.
This passage depicts a scene in which a wine cask breaks into the street and the poor cover themselves with the red wine as they try and get some before it vanishes. It is incredible imagery that also foreshadows the blood that will flow later in the book.
Madame Defarge made at the door. Miss Pross, on the instinct of the moment, seized her round the waist in both her arms, and held her tight. It was in vain for Madame Defarge to struggle and to strike; Miss Pross, with the vigorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate, clasped her tight, and even lifted her from the floor in the struggle that they had. The two hands of Madame Defarge buffeted and tore her face; but, Miss Pross, with her head down, held her round the waist, and clung to her with more than the hold of a drowning woman.
This is a powerful scene that contrasts a person of love and a person of hatred. As Dickens shows, even though we may expect hatred to be stronger, the “vigorous tenacity of love” is always more powerful. Great phrase.
“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.”
These are the concluding words of the novel, and without giving the story away, it offers a beautiful parallel of resurrection both for the city and the person saying the lines.