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‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and the games men played

Color-tinted French postcard  of the 1766 monument to the Chevalier de La Barre, a martyr to religious intolerance, who is mentioned in “A Tale of Two Cities.” The monument was relocated from Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre in 1926 and ironically later melted by Vichy France, the French government that collaborated with the Nazis.

Color-tinted French postcard  of the 1766 monument to the Chevalier de La Barre, a martyr to religious intolerance, who is mentioned in “A Tale of Two Cities.” The monument was relocated from Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre in 1926 and ironically later melted by Vichy France, the French government that collaborated with the Nazis.

When I was a child, one of my favorite books was Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” set against the backdrop of revolutionary Paris and its archrival, London.

It’s a story about many different kinds of rivals and doubles, chiefly Charles Darnay, who’s noble in every sense of the word but finds himself paying for the aristocratic sins of his family, and Sydney Carton, the ne’er-do-well English barrister who nonetheless is capable of great courage and love.

Both men are in love with Lucie Manette, the daughter of a doctor whose mind has been ravaged by his imprisonment in Paris. Darnay wins her but Carton, who could be his twin, remains devoted. And when Darnay is unjustly imprisoned by revolutionaries and condemned to the guillotine, Carton hits on a plan to change places with him. But first he undergoes some soul-searching, wandering the streets of Paris. He takes comfort in the biblical words he once heard at a funeral:

“I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whoever so liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

These words, among the most beautiful in the King James Bible, crystallize the Good Book’s continual use of mirror imagery – being spiritually dead like the dissolute Carton and yet “recalled to life” (Dickens’ words) through self-sacrifice; living in faith and thus triumphing over physical death.

On Easter Sunday and at every funeral I attend, I always think of Sydney Carton, who dies in someone else’s place for the woman he loves and finds “it is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done.”