Dr. Manette is an innocent doctor who has suffered as a captive in the Bastille for many decades under the oppression of the French Aristocracy. At some point of time during these years he enters a state of psychosis. Manette’s daughter Lucie gets news of him and arrives to take him back to London where he slowly recovers to live a normal life. During their stay in London Charles Dranay, a French aristocrat who has denounced his name due to spite for the attitudes and practices of his family in France, falls in love with Lucie. He is not the only one though; Sydney Carlton too develops a liking for her and professes his love. Lucie however chooses to marry Charles and has a daughter with him. A series of events lead Dr. Manette, Lucie, Charles and little Lucie (their daughter) to a France torn up in internecine war. When Lucie’s family finds itself the target of a maddened crowd hungry for their lives it is Carlton who finally comes to rescue and make a huge sacrifice to save the family.
Dickens based his novel in the backdrop of late 18th century London and Paris. The narrative encompasses the years before and during The Terror (The French Revolution) and is profuse with incidences of gory public bloodshed, personal revenge and oppression of the aristocracy in both England and France of that time. The writer aims at expounding on the psychological and emotional impact of war and oppression which is the central theme.
Since the novel was originally serialized for newspaper printing it is naturally peppered with suspense aimed at whetting the reader’s curiosity. However the novel really gathers pace only in the third part. Dickens writes elaborately to paint a vivid picture of each setting and scene. The writing is profuse with a linguistic flair that drives force from character contrast and symbolism. The first part of the book deals with expository descriptions used as a base for the ensuing crescendo which leads to the storming of the Bastille in part two and gushes forth rapidly into part three. The third part carries the final climax and by the end of the book the story has run a full circle ending at the same domestic setting it began with.
Unlike most of his other creations Dickens gave a rather somber and serious tone to this novel and refrained from adding the jocularity he generally introduces through some of his characters. From the beginning to the end themes of psychosis, neuroticism and conspiracy dominate the story. Be it the repeated relapses of Dr. Manette’s delirium or Madame Defarge’s sadist pleasure in the beheadings, Dickens paints a vivid picture of the remorse and agony suffered by each character in kaleidoscope vision of war and coercion. Like most of his works this novel too contains endless inter weavings among characters throughout the text and a dramatic climax to the end. Towards the final pages the writer goes on to explore the meaning of love, peace and freedom and identifies that the real ideas of liberation are not motivated by revenge but by sacrifice.
Book Reviewed by Nagendra Singh
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