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A Tale of Two Cities tells by Dickens is generally viewed as the novel about the events of the French Revolution where two cities, London and Paris, were involved. The story takes place in second have of the eighteen century and addresses the contemporary events of the Victorian Age. At this time, the religious issues were of significant value in Britain that shaped the behavior and atmosphere in that time. Regarding that, the French Revolution was a kind of protest to the Catholic clergy and an evident background for the introduction of era of Enlightenment (Altholz, unpaged). After a deeper examination of the story, it should be pointed out that the author introduces us to the idea of redemption and resurrection where characters were fighting for their salvation on the background of revolutionary events. The Christian context is explicitly discovered in the themes of conflict between Good and Evil; pertinence for the ill-spent life; redemption of moral values and finally resurrection from death.
The themes of renunciation are brightly depicted throughout the novel. The bright example in the novel is Carton’s death as the repentance from all claims to Lucie Manette. His renunciation shows that rejected his love for Lucie thus resorting himself to death (Morrice, 29). Here, there also observe a kind of religious repentance and sacrifice for the sake of Lucie. In that regard, Dickens’s illustration of repentance is too much sentimental. Carton renounced Lucie since he considers her saint, “the last dream of his soul” (Dickens, 145) so that he believed he was unworthy of Lucie’s affection. Hence, Walder says:
The even more explicit, even more systematic expression of Dickens’s religious views in his last novels is most obvious –damagingly so- in A Tale of Two Cities …his self-sacrifice is fundamentally as improbable as the resemblance between himself and the shadowy Darnay (498).
Mr. Carton was in a constant quest for fulfillment the ideal of “manly Christianity, through active service to others” (Outlon, 59) so that he is embodiment of manly religion who is keen on the reforming the existed society. His heroic sacrifice was also made in order to release Darnay from jail so that he could have a chance for a better life. So, as it could be noticed Dickenson presents in his own way Protestant belief as a shot through romanticism and sentimentalism. Outlon (60) believes that “A Tale of Two Cities subverts the ideal of manly Christianity to which Dickens still adhered”.
Darnay, in his turn, was also conscious of the current situation so that he was ready to renounce the society that accused him of the thing he had not done. Darnay, a French immigrant, renounced his native country and to live in England, an Island of piece and order. “The happiness of his own chosen English home the necessity of being always actively employed” (Dickens, 233) propelled him to move from France and to start a new life.
Further, Dickens gives his own interpretation of the redeeming from the religious point of view. The writer uses numerous devices in order to exemplify the human self-sacrifice and redemption through the scene of violence. In addition, the redemption is also revealed through the love triangle between Lucie Manette, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. These themes intertwine with the topic of French Revolution. The theme of confession could be also traced in Carton’s visit to jail where Darnay was imprisoned. He did it out of love for Lucie but because of his insight feeling of guilty. He was afraid that “Little Lucie” would be deprived of his father and therefore he saved Darnay from jail saying in the end of the novel: “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done: it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known” (Dickens, 364).
Morrice et al. (76) believe that “the events of 1789 and after provide a colorful historic canvas foe a story of individual courage and redemption” In that regard, Carton’s death was a kind of necessity and the outcome of his renunciation so that the events of the Revolution only enhanced the total grief and disappointment. By this, Dickens dictates his own religious concepts that have much in common with the Scripture rules. Carton is assured that his sacrifice would guarantee him the eternal life. That was carried out when Darnay called his son by the name of Carton. Here, there observed the traits of evangelism so that it is possible to compare with the statement from the Gospel: “Greater hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend” (Hanna 57).
While appraising Dickens’s religious views, Dennis Walder (498) wrote: “If Dickens’s religion is felt to be weakly sentimental, it must be seen that this is not uniformly true even of the novel most widely taken to represent these qualities” In that way Walder argues on the validity and accuracy of the Dickens’s principles as far as Christianity is concerned. In his novel, Dickens’s character pronounced the biblical terms thus showing their extreme religiousness as if confessing and justifying their deeds. Mr. Manette, when visiting Darnay in the prison showed his redemption as if blaming himself. In his addressing to the visitors Charles Darnay used subconsciously says “Heaven be with you” or “Heaven bless you” (Dickens, 324) as if serving like God’s envoy whose mission was to give absolution.
The theme of renunciation and resurrection are closely connected in the novel. Morrice (18) is assured that this concept interferes with every aspect of the novel where all the characters are more or less involved in the resurrection including Lucie Manette and her father who “is recalled” to life after releasing from the Bastille prison. Resurrection appears in the beginning of the fist book through Mr. Lorry’s mediation on the Dr. Manette’s imprisonment: “Buried how long?” “Almost eighteen years.”… “You know that you are recalled to life?” “Tell me so” (Dickens, 15).
Ruth Glancy (82) suggests her own explanation of the motives of resurrection in the novel. She regards political reincarnation through the individual one: “The false religion of Revolution…. the sacramental blood markings beside the grindstone, and the worship of the Goddes of Liberty, are thus replaced by an exemplum of the highest Christian conduct”. To put in other words, Carton, the embodiment of insanity, is the only one who redeems all the evils of the story and buries them with his death. In this respect, Lucie’s child called by her as Carton is could be considered as the reincarnation of the Carton’s soul. In his words “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (Dickens, 363), the writer tries to conclude the idea of forgiveness.
As it can be observed, the resurrection is the major theme of the novel. This topic also concerns other characters, such as Jerry Crunch who is also called as the “Resurrection Man” who “brings the dead into this world in a grisly way” (Morrice, 29). Though the resurrection is opposed to death, still in this story it has a direct connection to it. Lucie Manette who finds her father also tries to recall father’s desire to live and to reincarnate his memory and kin relationships. In general, the whole novel is saturated with the motives of resurrection and redemption.
The recalling motives were also traced in the end of the novel, when Carton grants Darnay with life and sets him free from the prison. The author compares him with the saint and even Jesus who “looked sublime and prophetic” who is ready to die for the sake of his beloved and his friend.
In conclusion, A Tale of Two Cities is unconventional interpretation of Religious issues by Dickens in the light of the French Revolution. The writer’s initial concern was to depict the idea of redemption and salvation through terrible suffering and sacrifice. He also touched upon the political issues and the Chrisitianity was reflected in this way. The above analysis discovered that Dickens’s outlook on religion was reduced to the reflection on the conflict between the Good and Evil and the eternity of life after the death. Finally, Dickens views the central issues – repentance, redemption, and resurrection – as the major concepts of Victorian Age.
Dickens, Charles A Tale of Two Cities US: Macmillan, 1989.
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Outolon, Carolyn Literature and Religion in mid Victorian England: from Dickens to Eliot US: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Altholz, Joseph. The Welfare of Conscience and Theology. 2001.
Walder, Dennis Dickens and Religion US: Routledge, 2007.