“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 darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
This is the opening line of the book ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens. Set in the time of French Revolution, this historical novel gives an insight of the cause and outcome of the revolution. The revolution, which was expected to be the kickstart of the new era and new hopes, turned out to be a bloody massacre. Dickens has intricately woven his plot to align with the timeline of the real events.
A fiction which is set in the past is Historical fiction. Such a genre mingles the fact, events as in the recorded history, and fiction, the author’s imagination. As the novel is set in the past, the characters, the places, the language, the conflict should all accord to those of that period. The plot doesn’t completely depart from the records. All these characteristics are observed in the novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.
The novel features two cities London and Paris and which in turn bridges two countries England and France. The French Revolution which occurs in France also casts its shadow on England. The novel traces the causes of French Revolution. Though a part of it may be fictional as in the part of St. Marquis Evremonde, the novelist brings out the cruelty of the aristocrats in the embodiment of Evremonde. It brings out the horror of the age and how inhumanely the third estates were treated.
“The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sigh, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere.”
The conduct of the characters is also in congruence to the period. The time period and the cruelty of the age justifies the actions of the Defarges and the other revolutionaries. The conflict in the novel is also a parallel to the period of the revolutions. The novelist foreshadows from the very beginning of the impending terror in the novel.
“The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there.”
But the conflict is not only between the aristocrats and revolutionaries but also between the innocent whose lives were claimed by the revolutionaries. This is portrayed through the misfortunes of Darnay and his family. Though they were innocent, they were pulled into the political storm of France. By providing many sides of the history, the author makes us think to which degree the revolution was successful and to which degree it was a failure.
The novel doesn’t just bring out the themes of revolution, class division, poverty but also the themes of love, hatred, self-hatred, mental health and other complex themes. The character which makes the most impact in the reader is Sydney Carton. He doesn’t fail to move the readers to tears and a character with a lot of inner conflicts which is worth analyzing. No other words can give such a powerful ending as these.
“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.”
Thus, by going beyond the expectations of readers and by enchanting them with a descriptive language, Dickens has produced a timeless classic – ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.
Read more about Historical fiction at https://awriterofhistory.com/2015/03/24/7-elements-of-historical-fiction/
Read the novel at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/98/old/2city12p.pdf