The publication of A Tale of Two Cities in 1859 marked a seminal moment in fictional literature history; to date, more than 200 million copies of Charles Dickens’s epic novel have sold. Often included on high school required reading lists, the fictionalized account of France in the years leading up to the Revolution is easily one of the most beloved works in all of English literature. Using the emerging popularity of the social networking site Twitter’s format, here are ten tweets to summarize this timeless classic.
- @MmeDefarge “Fair amount of traffic at @TheWineShop today. #Jacques” – The introduction of Madame Defarge marks an important moment in the narrative, as her silent dedication to her knitting belies the rage and desire for vengeance that seethes within her. She alerts her husband to Lucie and Lorry’s presence, but chooses only to converse with three customers who refer to one another by the revolutionary code name “Jacques.”
- @LucieManette “I’ve found my father, @DoctorManette!” – Lucie discovers that the father she believed to be dead was actually alive after spending eighteen years in the Bastille. Dedicating herself to his care, the relationship between the father and daughter is one of the centerpieces of the novel.
- @ MonsieurTheMarquis “Quite a tiresome journey today. The #peasants were particularly taxing.” – As a nod to the embodiment of the French aristocracy and their cruelty, the Marquis St. Evremonde seals his own fate by running over a child with his carriage and killing him. Concerned only for the vehicle, he carelessly tosses a coin to the child’s father as payment. The chapter chronicles his return to the village over which he rules, which is rife with animal imagery indicating his view of the peasants as little more than beasts. Encountering a woman mourning an unmarked grave, he ignores her pleas for a marker for her husband’s resting place. Symbolizing the arrogance of the aristocracy, his behavior foreshadows the coming revolution.
- @ MisterStryver “My plan to propose at @VauxhallGardens did not come to fruition. #MincingFool.” – Named “Stryver” to symbolize his desire to ascend the ranks of society, the law partner of Sydney Carton is defined by his arrogance and snobbery. The implication that marriage to Lucie Manette would not serve him socially leads Stryver to dismiss her completely in his blustering manner, calling the affair a “vanity” of “empty-headed girls.”
- @ JerryCruncher “@RogerCly’s burial was quite the spectacle. #Fishing tonight.” – Supplementing his income from Tellson’s Bank of London with a bit of grave robbing on the side, “resurrection man” Jerry Cruncher joins the mob carrying the body of a convicted spy, Roger Cly, to his burial. Claiming a fishing trip, Cruncher actually goes back to Cly’s burial site in order to steal his body to sell to anatomists; his discovery that the coffin did not contain a corpse proves to be very useful in Charles Darnay’s eventual rescue.
- @ LucieManette “Though @LittleLucie thrives I can’t help but feel a sense of #foreboding.”– Though Lucie and Charles enjoy a peaceful life with the exception of the death of their young son, she maintains her habit of listening to the echo of footsteps on the street. As news arrives from France about the flood of aristocrats trying to save their wealth, the rumblings of coming revolution increase in volume.
- @ CharlesDarnay “French travel has proven difficult. I’m often questioned; the #Parisians are restless.” – Embarking upon a secret journey to save Gabelle, Darnay’s travels become more and more difficult as he progresses. With each step, it becomes clearer that he cannot turn back; as he approaches Paris, he’s a free man, then a suspect under escort into the city, before becoming a prisoner despite having committed no crime. As Monsieur Defarge refuses to assist him, the truth that the Revolution has become perverted emerges.
- @ DoctorManette “I have saved him! @CharlesDarnay” – After his testimony on behalf of his son-in-law sways the fickle mob, Dr. Manette declares to his swooning daughter, “I have saved him.” The political influence of Dr. Manette turns Darnay into a hero in the eyes of a crowd that had moments before sentenced him to death.
- @ SydneyCarton “@JerryCruncher made an interesting remark about #StonesAndDirt today.” – In keeping with his promise to Lucie to protect her and those that she loves, the deus ex machina appearance of Sydney Carton allows for the creation of a plan to rescue Darnay, who is once again the sacrificial lamb of the Revolution. He relies on his fortuitous appearance and knowledge of Barsad’s spy status and association with Roger Cly to help him in his endeavor. Arrogantly relying on Cly’s death certificate, Barsaud is caught when Jerry Cruncher reveals that Cly’s corpse was not in his coffin.
- @ SydneyCarton “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done. #Sacrifice” – The last lines of the novel, and perhaps the most lasting, belong to Sydney Carton as he goes to his death with dignity in the face of tyranny: “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.”
The prevailing love triangle posed by Sydney Carton, Lucie Manette, and Charles Darnay was inspired by Charles Dickens’s turn in the Wilkie Collins play The Frozen Deep; his character in that play also sacrificed himself to save his rival for the good of the woman they both loved. This theme, along with the more complex ones of violence and rebirth explored in the novel, set against the backdrop of the bloody French Revolution, has proven to be much more enduring than the play that inspired it.
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