A Tale of Two Cities

Dickens characters are notably one-dimensional — they’re more figures, representations of an idea than they are their own characters. How often does a character in Dickens surprise you, do something you wouldn’t expect? The character I really wanted to see break out on their own is Charles Darnay, who is particularly flat and uninteresting. Sydney Carton’s sacrifice at the end of the novel is certainly moving and shows a development of character far advanced than any other, yet his act is prefigured in so many ways that it really isn’t that surprising. The element of surprise is not a requirement for fiction, but humans are nothing if not unpredictable, and the lack of this quality makes Dickens characters, as memorable as they are for the detailed descriptions of their idiosyncrasies, unconvincing.

Even more so than Carton, the character of Doctor Manette is what I will remember most from this novel. The depth of his recurring psychosis brought about by his imprisonment in the Bastille — his retreat into a mental incarceration, an escape from his physical torture which is an escape into further imprisonment — it is a nightmarish picture of the human psyche which rings horribly true.

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