Charles Dickens is arguably the best storyteller of all time. He is certainly one of the most dominant figures in 19th century British literature. Despite the popular idea that he was paid by the word and is therefore overly descriptive, boorish, and unreadable today, Dickens still sells millions of books a year. He is the creator of Oliver Twist, The Artful Dodger, Little Nell, Ralph and Nicholas Nickleby, Tiny Tim, Mr. Scrooge, Fagin, David Copperfield, Pip, Magwitch, Miss Havisham, and on and on it goes.
By the time he authored A Tale of Two Cities, he ran his own periodical, so he published at his own costs (and profit). It wasn't that he was paid by the word, but that he was wonderful with description and details, and he knew it. The nineteenth century reader, lacking television and cinema and the fast moving pictures of our modern times, loved his descriptions and would literally line up round the block to get their hands on the latest installment of The Old Curiousity Shop. And with a little practice, a twentieth century reader can learn to enjoy him too..
A Tale of Two Cities is that longish book that begins "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." It chronicles the fate of a family and the lives they touch in both England and France during the French Revolution.
The summary on the back of my copy says this:
After eghteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, and 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 draw angainst their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, ad they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.
And really, what part of disreputable but brilliant does not beg fangirling?
"If Sydney Carton ever shone anywhere, he certainly never shone in the house of Doctor Manette. He had been there often, during a whole year, and had always been the same moody and morose lounger there. When he cared to talk, he talked well; but, the cloud of caring for nothing, which overshadowed him with such a fatal darkness, was very rarely pierced by the light within him."
Here you will find some information I've compiled about Sydney. I am no professional critic, however, I do love the character.
Introduction; About Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, some small bits about Carton, and why you should read this book. This section is spoiler-free, however, the rest of this site isn't.
My Learned Friend; A basic summary of Sydney's story, for those of you who need some refreshers or don't care very much about spoilers. Includes name analysis! Woo!
Freedom Bleeds; Information about the context of the novel, particularly the French Revolution and all of its particular kind of glory.
The Jackal Sydney's law practice, professional life, and sad and sordid past. This includes his interaction with Stryver, and of course, more about the general brilliance of Carton.
The Golden Haired Doll; About the novel's other two heroes- Lucie and Darnay. They haven't aged so well, but they are essential to Sydney's story.
Sacrifice; Sydney's low sense of self-esteem and where it leads him. This is probably the defining trait of his character, so I thought I'd explore it in more depth.
Resurrection Man; The idea of redemption and thus resurrection is a powerful theme central to the novel, and no where is it more evident in the character of Sydney Carton.