“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, 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 – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities is a historical novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris and his release to live in London with his daughter Lucie, whom he had never met. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
Contrasted are the social and political events taking place in Paris and London during (and prior to) the French Revolution in the mid-to-late eighteenth century. Dickens draws unsettling parallels between the two cities, describing abject poverty, appalling starvation, rampant crime, ruthless capital punishment, and aristocratic greed. The novel questions the degree to which the French revolutionaries of the late eighteenth century upheld Enlightenment-era ideals of rational thought, tolerance, constitutional government, and liberty.
Book the First: Recalled to Life
Book One opens in 1775 and focuses on the symbolic resurrection of Dr. Alexandre Manette, who has finally been released after an eighteen-year imprisonment in the Bastille. Lucie Manette (his dutiful seventeen-year-old daughter) and Jarvis Lorry (a business-minded bank clerk) retrieve him from a garret at the top of a wine shop in Paris. Dr. Manette cannot remember who he is, but he begins to recall his past life after seeing Lucie for the first time.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread
Book Two takes place five years after the events of Book One. It focuses on Charles Darnay, a French emigrant who denounces his aristocratic heritage for a new life in England. Darnay, whose real surname is Evrémonde, is on trial for treason—but is spared by the intervention of Sydney Carton, a young, alcoholic attorney who happens to be nearly identical to Darnay. Dr. Manette, who made a full recovery from his trauma-induced memory loss, builds a successful medical practice in his home near Soho. Darnay, unaware that his father and uncle were responsible for Dr. Manette’s long imprisonment, falls in love with Lucie Manette, and the two marry. The novel’s preoccupation with revolutionary sentiment deepens as the French peasantry buckles under increasing oppression from the aristocracy. The French Revolution begins, and Darnay decides to rescue his uncle’s longtime servant, Monsieur Gabette, from Paris.
Book the Third: The Track of a Storm
Book Three highlights the brutality of the French Revolution, particularly during the Reign of Terror in Paris between 1793 and 1794. Darnay, who cannot hide his aristocratic heritage, is imprisoned for the crimes of the Evrémondes. He is initially released (with the help of Dr. Manette, who rushed to Paris with Lucie after they learned about Darnay’s imprisonment) but is rearrested and sentenced to death. Ultimately, Sydney Carton, the irredeemable drunk, selflessly switches places with Darnay—sacrificing himself so Lucie, whom he loves, can return to London with her husband and daughter. – (e-notes.com)
THE CITY OF THE MAN
THE CITY OF GOD
The City of God is a challenge to human society to choose which city it wishes to be a part of, and Augustine sees his task as clearly marking out the parameters of each choice. Augustine concludes that the purpose of history is to show the unfolding of God’s plan, which involves fostering the City of Heaven and filling it with “worthy citizens.” For this purpose, God initiated all of creation itself. In such a grand plan, the fall of Rome is insignificant.
Augustine presents the four essential elements of his philosophy in The City of God: the church, the state, the City of Heaven, and the City of the World. The church is divinely established and leads humankind to eternal goodness, which is God.
St. Augustine, in addressing Rome, asserts that Christianity saved the city from complete destruction and that Rome’s fall was the result of internal moral decay. Not unlike the conditions leading to the French-Revolution. He further outlined his vision of two societies, that of the elect (“The City of God”) and that of the damned (“The City of Man”). That which made or broke society in the past is the same which makes or breaks society today. For a people who chose to turn a blind eye to their past, will find that those same destructive societal influences then are, today, simply called by a different name. Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen tells us that: “There are likely no new things happening in our world. There are only old things happening to new people.” We only fool ourselves to think otherwise. This is why society continues to make the same mistakes.
Carlton and Christ go to their deaths willingly. In that they are the same but different, for Christ is God and unlike Carlton was destined to do so from all eternity. Carlton was born into this world to live. Christ was born into it to die. Each in their death do it out of love: Carlton upon a guillotine and Christ upon the cross.
Each is seen by the worldly to be a failure for they lack the four things most deemed to be associated with the successful: wealth, power, pleasure and honor. Yet the desires of the world can enslave; for each can possess, as well as, be possessed. Of the two, Christ is the best example. He has no wealth – for he has but a cloth about His waist. He has no pleasure – for He has been scourged and beaten. He is powerless – for He is pinned to the cross by nails. He is not honored – for he is ridiculed, mocked and spit upon. Carlton and Christ, in particular, possess none of these supposed attributes. Carlton and Christ are denied the four things, and Christ, especially so, upon the cross. When one looks upon each in good conscience, common sense and a contrite heart; one sees a happy man. For the greatest attribute that ever was graced to man is love. This one attribute, so often foreign to the City of Man, opens wide the gate to the City of God. Where one never again will know the worst of times, but, rather, only the best of times.
In his sacrifice for the love of another, Sydney Carlton, has become, as St. Augustine says, a worthy citizen of “The City of God.” And Carlton validates this in his final words as he ascends to the Guillotine: “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out. . . .
I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. . . .
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”