After 18 years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the aging Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of the two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of the guillotine.
Let's set the scene...
Here we are. In Rory's first class at Chilton. Again.
Teacher: Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Little Dorrit, all major influences on Leo Tolstoy. Tomorrow we will focus on. . .
The first line of this book intrigued me:
It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Dark,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the spring of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way...
The last line of this book had me bawling at one o'clock in the morning with a snoring, unconscious husband lying next to me:
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done before; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.
And in between those two lines, Dickens weaves an epic tale of redemption and love.
For those who didn't know (like me... blush), the two cities are London and Paris. The dichotomy between these two cities during the French Revolution is a breeding ground for a story of civilized love and animalistic revenge. The fact that there is actually no difference between how the nobility treated it's people pre-Revolution and how those people, in turn, treated others post-Revolution speaks to the true nature of man.
As I read this book, something struck me about the characters that Charles Dickens creates. Throughout my recent experience with Dickens, I've noticed that he always displays women in a place of power. The time he writes of was certainly not rife with burning bras and Sisters Suffragette ("right on, Sister Suffragette!"), however, Dickens still saw them as forces to be reckoned with... whether those forces were good or bad. Regardless of their intentions or heart, their power is so apparent in all of Dickens' stories. In A Tale of Two Cities, it was a woman who was Gepetto to the Revolution's Pinnochio. Madame Defarge was the person who changed the face of France, and therefore, the course of history. The fact that the guillotine is referred to as the feminine "La Guillotine" and Dickens makes a point, several time of noting that it is a female, simply proves the power the author sees in the gentle sex. Hell, Dickens even named Madame Defarge's sidekick in death and retribution "The Vengeance"... how kick ass is that?! Please call me "The Vengeance" from now on. Thank you in advance.
In the end, it is those who have suffered most who save the day, and have the strength to do so because of that suffering. The ones we write off as weak and pitiful are the only ones with another strength of character and purity of heart to happily pay the ultimate price for those they love.
Fun Gilmore note: Lucie Mannett names her daughter Lucie, as well. Sound like a certain caffeinated woman and her equally caffeinated daughter?! Gotta love that Demerol ;)
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
Between the study of various societies and the characters who think they're doing the best for their fellow man, I believe this would be a book Emily Gilmore would enjoy. Although, I always think of this when I think of Emily Gilmore reading... can you imagine her curled up on her couch in pajamas with a good book? Is she actually sitting in a Chanel suit and heels as she reads... with a straight back and legs crossed demurely? Hmm... that's a thinker.