On reading ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’, my general impression is that the French chapters are a lot more interesting to read. I prefer the chapters set in France because they are much more exciting and I am carried away by the novel whereas I found, that in the English chapters, they were all about Lucie and her undying love for her father and husband. This was, quite frankly, tedious and a waste of Dickens’ effort to put some sentiment into these chapters which are set in London, a long way from the action in Paris. However, Dickens does need to put some sentiment into his book(perhaps he showed a little too much)to give reasons for the characters’ actions. I much prefer Dickens when he manages to move you by the sad death of somebody such as Nancy in ‘Oliver Twist’ or indeed Sydney Carton in ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ This particular sentence illustrates my point very well.
“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.”
I felt much sadder when I read these words than Dickens’ paragraphs about angels. I think nowadays people are more inclined to pass over those sentiments and read on because, to us, they sound ridiculous and the symbolic nature of these words is lost.
“Thus, the rustling of an Angel’s wings got blended with the other echoes, and they were not wholly of this earth, but had them in that breath of Heaven. Sighs of the winds that blew over the little garden tomb were mingled with them also, and both were audible to Lucie.”
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When the chapters set in France are read, they make me feel as though I am with the characters, in the midst of the revolution, thinking their thoughts, walking through the streets of Paris with them. I see the same people, who scare you with their dancing and howls. One such example is The Carmagnole, the Revolutionaries who dance through the streets wailing and screaming, thirsty for the blood of the aristocrats.
“They danced to the popular Revolution song, keeping a ferocious time that was like the gnashing of teeth in unison. Men and women danced together, women danced together, men danced together, as hazard brought them together. At first they were a mere storm of coarse red caps and coarse woollen rags; but, as they filled the place, and stopped to dance about Lucie, some ghastly apparition of a dance-figure gone raving mad arose among them.”
Although a rather long description, it draws the reader into the frenzy of the red caps’ dancing and symbolises that a new being – the mob – had gone wild and out of control, unstoppable by anyone. Perhaps this symbolises the whole nature of the revolution,hors de contrôle, going further than anyone wanted it to go, except perhaps Madame Defarge!
Another reason I like the French chapters is because Dickens clearly shows the difference between the rich and the poor and then the sweet feeling of revenge when the poor retaliate and manage to take control. A scene such as the downfall of Foulon is an excellent example of the poor retaliating and winning. In my mind, I say, “Yes! They’ve done it at last.”
“From such house-hold occupations as their bare poverty yielded, from their children , from their aged and their sick crouching on the bare ground famished and naked, they ran out with streaming hair, urging one another, and themselves, to madness with the wildest cries and actions. Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulon taken, my mother! Miscreant Foulon taken, my daughter! Then a score of others ran into the midst of these, beating their breasts, tearing their hair and screaming, Foulon alive! Foulon who told the starving people that they might eat grass!”
These wild shouts from the poor of Paris show the feeling throughout Paris – the fury at these aristocrats, the ones who did not care twopence about the poor. They want him to die in compensation for his wrongdoing so they chase him down, shame him and finally when he is barely alive, they hang him. They make him suffer, as he made them suffer. These sentences make me feel one of the crowd. They are short and sharp, giving emphasis to each scream.
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It’s true that the English chapters are familiar and therefore might be liked by more people because the reader can understand the locations that Dickens is talking about. They know Soho, they know the Old Bailey; they can associate with the characters much more easily than they can with the blood-thirsty Defarges in a poor district of Paris, which they have probably never heard of. Another point of view is that they like the French chapters because they are more exotic and different. It might give them a feeling of comfort that the horrific things they read of did not happen in England and are unlikely to happen in the near future. Perhaps it gives a feeling of ‘we’re better than you are’. We did not massacre thousands of people because they had money. The fact remains, although many choose to forget it, that we burnt thousands of Protestants and Catholics in the sixteenth century on the basis of religion rather than wealth.
The effect the novel would have had on Dickens’ audience at the time of publication would be much more than today. To the people of Victorian England, the Revolution was not so very long ago and reading about the Terror would make them apprehensive. Nowadays, the French Revolution seems as though it belongs in the dim and distant past – to be forgotten about. Perhaps the memory of the Revolution is overwhelmed by the two wars that we have had this century.
My opinion remains unchanged by looking through the novel and I think each set of chapters have their merits and faults. Maybe Dickens himself enjoyed writing about the French Revolution and found it more interesting, therefore his enjoyment shows through and gives energy to his writing about the events set in France .