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A Tale of Two Cities. First Thoughts.

February 4, 2012

Recalled to Life:

This theme, “Recalled to Life”, calls many things to mind. On the one hand, there is the question of alleged deaths. Manette is presumed dead yet is not. The same could be hoped of Edwin Drood (if only because the novel’s lacking an end), and I think we will see something similar in OMF. Speaking of OMF, the question of identity is recalled once again between that novel and Two Cities. Firstly, there is the question of literally becoming someone else, which Rokesmith has done in becoming Rokesmith instead of Handford, Handford instead of… well, somebody who isn’t actually dead. Not unlike Manette was not actually dead. Clearly Dickens loves these sorts of plot devices. But moving on, there is also the question of shielding one’s identity or the simple fact that one person can never totally comprehend another. The Veneering’s hide their nuovo riche-ness as everyone in their circle plays along with the farce of fake or hidden identities (as is polite, of course). Then there’s the fact that no one really knows Jasper or his dark and myriad mind (except Puffer). One of Dickens’ descriptions in Two Cities expresses this theme perfectly. “No human intellegence could have read the mysteries of his mind, in the scared blank wonder of his face” (55). So goes Miss Manette and Mr. Lorry’s first impressions of what Mr. Manette has become. But I think this is more a question of heightened “everyday” distance or strangeness. That alien quality of the other person’s mind which can never be stated let alone pierced. In being recalled to life, Manette is called up and out of his “insanity” and into a world in which he must surmount the impossibility of making one’s mind know via communication. He is also recalled to life from those ever present Dickensian shadows; he must now leave the netherworld and reenter proper society.

The Historical Novel:

So far I have found the tone of this novel to be far more consistent than the others. No narratives trickery, no real humor or farce, just (relatively) straight and to the point storytelling. I cannot help but think that this has something to do with Dickens’ genre shift. History must be taken seriously, or something? Anyway, I have also found it interesting how Dickens explains or points out antiquated manners and gestures. Doubly (or more) removed, this does bring some humor.

But most importantly, I like how Dickens uses the historical mode to create foreshadowing. Especially, with the busted cask of wine flowing into the streets like blood from the guillotine. Well actually, this is close to, what could be called, painfully obvious foreshadowing. What I did like though was the one fellow going all Book of Daniel and writing blood “on the wall” (as it were) in wine. Why? Because we once more have the creation of a text within the text furthering, or pointing towards the furtherance of, the text! I hope to see more, Mr. Dickens.


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  1. I also picked up on Dickens using the historical theme to foreshadow some events. I really enjoyed him doing this, as well. Also, I like how you related this book to TMOED and OMF. It is apparent that there is a pattern of Dickens tricking us into believing someone is dead and I liked your thoughts on it!

  2. Wow! I didn’t even think of the wine flowing in the streets as the guillotine. I just thought about how desperate people were to make sure it didn’t go to waste. Of course, watching someone beheaded was also extremely popular at the time so maybe there is the parallel. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

    I also like what you said about recalled to life. Again, didn’t think of it in the contexts you did. Glad you shared your thoughts on it.

  3. I thought of the wine as desperation of the people who are very poor and starving. This was very sad to me; it made me want to cry. Thanks for your post it was great.

  4. I’m fascinated with the issue of shielding one’s identity. For some reason, I keep thinking about North Carolina’s motto: Esse quam videri (to be, rather than to seem).

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