Why A Tale of Two Cities is my Favorite Book
You’ve all heard the name Charles Dickens. Some of you have cursed it with all your might. Others have treated it with complete indifference.
You’ve probably read the stories. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and A Christmas Carol, just to name a few. All excellent novels. But, they all pale in comparison to A Tale of Two Cities.
Now, most of y’all are shaking your heads, wondering why in the world someone would voluntarily pick up A Tale of Two Cities (ATTC), and actually read it for fun, let alone enjoy it. Most of my high school classmates would rather have had their fingernails pulled out than read it. They all thought I was crazy when I told them it was my favorite book. They thought I was even crazier (if it was possible) when I created my own essay prompt comparing Sydney Carton, the hero of ATTC, to Eugene Bazarov from Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons willingly. But, that is a story for another time.
For the rest of you who are uncultured and have never read the book (or for those who had to for school, but read Shmoop instead), Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities takes place in France and England during the French Revolution. The book opens in England on a dark and dreary night in 1775, where the reader is introduced to the theme of “recalled to life” (keep this in mind, boys and girls. It’ll come back later). Then the book jumps ahead in time to 1780. It mostly focuses on Lucie Manette and her father, Doctor Manette, who was held in the Bastille for 18 years. Their good friend, Mr. Lorry, who is a banker, helps Lucie get her father out of prison and their return to England (and here’s the “recalled to life” theme). There, Lucie meets and marries a man named Charles Darnay, who is a French aristocrat in hiding. And then, there’s poor Sydney Carton, the drunkard who is almost identical to Darnay. There are other characters like the Defarges who are French revolutionaries, and a grave robber named Jerry Cruncher, but I’m not going to talk about them. You’ll have to read the book to see what they do.
Now, brace yourselves for I am about to show you why ATTC is my favorite book. And fair warning, there will be spoilers.
Before we dive into it, I want to talk about love. We all likely have or will likely love someone romantically, and we will all say that we would die for them, if the time ever came. But, would we actually? If your loved one was in terrible danger, would you sacrifice your life for theirs? Probably. We would like to think so. Now, what if they were promised to another? Say, you’ve been friends for years, and you never told them that you loved them, and they married another. Would you still die for them?
After searching my own heart, I don’t know if I could. I would be so angry, so hurt. So, the reason I love this book so much? It shows me the person I want to be in Sydney Carton.
You’re probably thinking “are you serious? You just said he was a drunkard.” And yes, I did, because he is. In fact, Carton is so lost, that he tells Darnay that “I care for no man on earth, and no man on earth cares for me” (Dickens, 89). Throughout the novel, you can see Carton hurting. And when he meets Lucie, he changes. He starts seeing himself in her eyes, and he craves to be the man she deserves. He tells her, “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 forever” (156). He realizes his lost potential, and he mourns for it. She enables him to see beauty in life, and he regrets not caring sooner. Because maybe if he had, Lucie might have ended up with him. But he didn’t, and now she’s married to Darnay. Even still, he loves her. He never tries to break them up, never tries to stand in their way. What’s even crazier? He actually dies for them, for their happiness.
I spoke earlier about the French Revolution, and how Darnay is a French aristocrat in hiding. Yeah, that comes back to bite him. He is forced to return to Paris and stand trial for the “crimes” he committed as an aristocrat. Of course, he’s innocent, but it’s the French Revolution, and he is sentenced to death by way of Madame La Guillotine. Because Carton looks exactly like Darnay, he comes up with a plan to switch places with Darnay. Why? Because if he cannot be with Lucie, the only thing he can do is insure her happiness…with Darnay. So, with some help from his friend, Solomon, he sneaks into the prison, drugs Darnay, and switches clothes with him. Then, Solomon takes Darnay out, disguised as Carton. The book ends with the execution of “Darnay”, who is actually Carton.
Remember the “recalled to life” theme. Yup, there it is again.
Again, you’re probably very confused as to why such a depressing novel could hold such a high place in my heart. For one, what kind of love did Carton have for Lucie that led him to sacrifice his own life for the man she loved? Another, how could he do it so willingly, without hesitation? That’s the person I want to be. The kind of person that is selfless; someone who gives up their life for another without a second’s thought. And, I think the very last line of the book, which, of course, is Carton’s last words, sums up my feelings, “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” (386).
- Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. 150th Anniversary Edition ed. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2007. Print.