That Charles Dickens is one of the great novelists who make a literary work quite controversial is reasonably apparent in his so-called historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities. This polemical aspect has given birth to many essays and books written exclusively to give an interpretation to the Tale. Mr. Geoffery, accordingly, is a critic who did the best he could to present his way of reading the tale. To what extent, then, has Mr. Geoffery succeeded in his work and what are the points he sees as relevant to his interpretation?
In his article, Mr. Geoffrey argues several points depicted in the tale. He gives the novel mythological and symbolical dimensions. Moreover, he finds themes that sustains his arguments. He has chosen such themes as class-struggle between the ruling class as represented by Monseigneur and the proletariat as exemplified by the Defarges and their entourage. Also, Mr. Geoffery has selected the theme of ambiguity, namely through the ambiguous relationship between Dr. Manette and Mr. Charles Darnay. In addition to all this, the critic sets forth some psychological and existential elements in the characters of Dr. Manette and Mr. Carton respectively. He does this without neglecting the notion of fatalism Versus determinism. In brief, Mr. Geoffery’s article covers some fundamental points that, by and large, further the reader’s understanding of the Tale. Let us, then, group these points and scrutinise them.
In his introduction the critic argues that Dickens has set out the atmosphere of the novel in the beginning; an atmosphere which indicates “ suspicion“, „distrust“ and „repression“. This Mr. Geoffery has almost fully proven. But, as far as I am concerned, the mood of disorder and calamity to come has been stressed in the very first page of the novel. In the opening lines of the Tale, Dickens has started with the notion of polarity: “ It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair“ ( Book 1, Chapter 1, P.35). To apply a symbolic reading to this very first passage, we can say that the novel deals with opposite extremes or forces: the forces of good and the forces of evil. And this polarity or struggle of the opposite potencies will be best set forth throughout the novel. This takes us directly to the class-conflict.
Throughout the novel, there has been a growing struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor. For when we have first taken notice of the aristocrat as represented by Monseigneur, he is running over an innocent child in the eyes of all. Conversely, when we have first observed the oppressed as exemplified by Mme Defarge, she is knitting and scheming. This act of knitting is symbolic. Unlike Mrs. Ramsay in Virginia Woolf’s TO The Lighthouse who through her knitting assumes a creative aspect, Mme Defarge’s knitting symbolises scheming and brooding revenge. Each class, therefore, has developed its own set of values and tried best it can to make the other class get adapted to its doctrine. The only ultimate end for both classes to survive is a clash.
The notion of polarity is embodied in Dr. Manette-Darnay relationship. From this, I think, stems a certain ambiguity. Dr. Manette seems to befriend Mr. Darnay, but there is a hidden conflict between the men which has long been kept unfolded. To illustrate this idea more clearly, Darnay as a descendant of Monseigneur is responsible for the degradation and suffering Dr. Manette has undergone. Yet, this is not all. Mr. Geoffery has observed that the ambiguous relationship between Mr.Darnay and Dr. Manette starts when the former, during his trial, has sighted the latter with looks that make Mr. Manette imbued with fear and fright. But when we follow the development of the events, this ambiguity is gradually clarified. Nevertheless, it has only temporarily faded. I will come back to this point while dealing with the psychological elements depicted in the novel. For the time being, it would be worth noticing the ambiguity in relation to the Revolution itself and Dickens‘ attitude towards it. This relationship Mr. Geoffery seems to have passed over while it would have been rewarding if he had dwelt upon in depth.
In fact, the Revolution has been perceived as ambiguous. The people, who have been fervent for a change in the whole system, have been disappointed, disillusioned and deceived. They have been shocked in the sense that the old tyrannical „régime“ has been replaced by a far worse one. Even Dickens‘ attitude towards the Revolution is vague. He does not commit himself openly to any of the parties involved. From the very beginning Dickens has played on our nerves. He sometimes makes us show sympathy with the ruling class; and at other times makes us empathize with the lower class. Our view on either class has been unbalanced. It is not till the passage which starts with “ So strangely clouded were those refinement…“ ( Book 3, Chapter 1, P 285) when Dickens tactically makes us have a common feeling with the aristocrats who await their death. He even succeeds in rousing and stirring our pity for the persecution of the ex-ruling class, and in the meantime; has turned us angry towards the neodictatorship and „Reign of Terror“. In so doing, Dickens makes the balance go in favour of the aristocrats. Yet, this is not a definite value judgement. The ambiguity is not wholly alleviated.
One of the achievements of Geoffery in his essay is the psychological dimension traced in Dr. Manette. He has succeeded in linking the shoe-making process with the mental processes of Dr. Manette. Always in his repressed moments, Dr. Manette withdraws to his act of shoe-making . This is well seen when Darnay has asked the hand of the doctor’s daughter. To avoid a complete mental breakdown, Manette retreats to his unwilled job: the shoe-making act. This is true as far as the psychic stream of the human being is concerned. This psychological dimension, however, could have been more elaborated on the part of Mr. Geoffery. This takes us back to the ambiguous Manette-Darnay relationship. As we have noticed in the novel, the third arrest of Mr. Darnay has been caused by the „unwise“ witness of Dr.Manette against his son-in-law. This dangerous act on the part of a father-in-law towards his daughter’s suitor can be explained from a psychological standpoint.
On the surface level, say on the conscious level, Dr. Manette shows no hatred against Darnay. The doctor appears to do the best he can to make Darnay live a happy life; otherwise he would not have accepted the young man as a beau for his faithful daughter, Lucie. But in his innermost, Dr. Manette extremely hates his son-in-law. This hatred is justified given the evidence that Evermondes are responsible for Manette’s long imprisonment in “ La Bastille“. With this in mind, we wan safely attribute the „unwise“ witness of Manette against Darnay to a hidden hatred. This hatred which has long been repressed in the doctor’s unconsciousness forces itself forth onto the conscious level.
Equally important in Geoffery’s article is his treatment of fatalism and determinism. This is exemplified in both Carton and Darnay. While Carton has shown an ability to surpass the forces of determinism, Darnay has failed to make the final move from his aristocratic status. In leaving France for England, Darnay seeks to become “ un bourgeois gentillehomme“ but finds himself involved in the blunders made by his ancestors. And because of the mistakes which are not of his doing, Darnay gets arrested three times. Hence, he becomes the focal point for the agents of persecution represented by the leading figures of the Revolution. This point has been made in a convincing way on the part of Mr. Geoffery. And I think that what the critic aims to convey is that the past is catching up with Darnay and cannot totally escape it.
If Charles Darnay cannot make his lot, Mr. Carton does make his own decision with regards to his destiny. His very decision is a courageous and deliberate rejection of the status quo. This rejection is symbolical. Mr. Carton is almost fully aware of the insignificance of his own life. He, therefore, makes it come to an end by changing places with Darnay who is condemned to death by the Revolution. What Mr. Geoffery has left out is that Carton’s choice is not wholly due to his dissatisfaction with life. It is also due to his knowledge of his inability to court the woman he loves, that is, Lucie. And on account of his incapability to make suit to his beloved, Mr.Carton has undergone a psychological and existential defeat as well. Compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby whose hero, Jay Gatsby, has died a psychological death the moment he is deserted by his beloved, so Carton’s spiritual death has taken place before the physical one. In short, Carton’s deliberate choice is partly referred to the meaninglessness of the life he leads.; and partly attributed to his frustration in winning Lucie for a wife.
Finally we can say that in his article, Geoffery has consistently presented his reading to the tale. He almost fully tackles the major issues Dickens‘ revolutionary novel treats. Although he has neglected some other elements, the critic has contributed to deepen the reader’s understanding of the work. And he does this convincingly and credibly.