Dickens’ evaluation of the French Revolution in
A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens’ (1812-1870) A Tale of Two Cities (1859) takes place in the late eighteenth century in the two cities, London and Paris. The novel thereby revolves around the French Revolution and provides insights both in the revolutionaries’ initiative to revolt, and the horrors the Revolution brought along. This double insight makes the novel very ambiguous as it becomes difficult to decide whether Dickens’ evaluation of the Revolution supports the ideas that initiated it or not. In the following paper, I will seek to describe and discuss Dickens’ evaluation of the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities, focusing on his apparent dilemma and the ambiguity of the novel. Furthermore, I will focus on some of the contrasting pairs, which can be located in the novel, with the purpose of considering whether Dickens through his use of contrasts emphasises a positive or a negative perception of the Revolution.
The Revolution and Dickens’ Dilemma
Dickens was born in southern England and lived a poor life until he started writing. His writing skills thereby elevated him from the slum of the lower class to the beneficial upper class, and thus Dickens had an insight in both classes. This awareness of the conditions in both classes came to be expressed in a social criticism which can be located in most of Dickens’ works. Dickens was concerned with the social problems in England and therefore he depicted the unjust life of the poor in many of his novels. “Mankind is my business” (Pooley, 1957: 347), Dickens expressed, and thus he became a spokesman for the underprivileged. The novel, A Tale of Two Cities, also deals with this social injustice and the irresponsibility of the ruling elite. However, Dickens seems to have been put in a dilemma when writing the novel: In order to be true to his poor background and aim to speak in favour of the underprivileged, Dickens had to emphasise...