Charles Dickens's Attitude Towards French Revolution

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...” (Dickens 4).

Charles Dickens begins the novel by utilizing anaphora. Every two lines in this section of the novel contain contrasting ideas. For example, “foolishness” succeeds “wisdom” and “Darkness” succeeds “Light”. In effect, Dickens hints at the central conflict of the novel between love and family and hatred and oppression. Dickens effectively foreshadows future events in the novel with his use of anaphora.

“All through the cold and restless interval, until, dawn, they once more whispered in the ears of Mr. Jarvis Lorry—sitting opposite the buried man who had been dug out, and wondering what subtle powers were forever lost to him, and what were capable of restoration—the old inquiry: ‘I hope you care to be recalled to life?’ And the old answer: ‘I can't say’” (Dickens 17).

Dr. Manette’s 18 years spent in jail for attempting to report a crime caused his soul to deteriorate. While in jail, Dr. Manette lost all contact with his wife, he did not ever get to see his daughter, and he became isolated from society. To him, his jail time felt like how death would feel. Shoemaking became his only escape and was what kept him mentally stable.

“‘It’s plain enough, I should think, why he may be. It’s a dreadful remembrance. Besides that, his loss of himself grew out of it. Not knowing how he lost himself, or how he recovered himself, he may never feel certain of not losing himself again. That alone wouldn’t make the subject pleasant, I should think” (Dickens 30).

Miss Pross is discussing with Mr. Lorry whether Dr. Manette recalls and understands why he was imprisoned or not. Miss Pross suspects that he does recall because his daughter, Lucie thinks he does. Miss Pross believes that Dr. Manette simply does not speak on the subject because it may cause him to become mentally unstable. She understands that it took a lot of time and effort for Dr. Manette to mentally recover from his imprisonment and that just speaking about it could set him back drastically.

“‘Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend,’ observed the Marquis, ‘will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof,’ looking up, ‘shuts out the sky’” (Dickens 34).

Charles Darnay makes a remark concerning how other individuals view him to which the Marquis responds with these statements. Darnay believes that people do not treat him with respect; but instead, they fear him. Many French aristocrats of Darnay’s time had a similar outlook on the working class, which led to the French Revolution. This assertion by the Marquis is foul because he juxtaposes the French peasants with dogs remaining “obedient to the whip.”

“‘O Miss Manette, when the little picture of a happy father's face looks up in yours when you see your bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!’” (Dickens 46)

Sydney Carton is very committed to making sure that Lucie Manette and everyone else that she loves is safe and happy. Carton’s remark at the end of Book 2, Chapter 13 foreshadows what he will do to ensure that Lucie’s loved ones can live the life that they desire. It also appears again when Carton is executed later in the novel.

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“So much was closing in about the women who sat knitting, knitting, that they their very selves were closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to sit knitting, knitting, counting dropping heads” (Dickens 56).

Charles Dickens employs evocative imagery in the conclusion of Book 2, Chapter 16. This imagery serves to foreshadow the construction of the guillotine that will behead the French aristocrats and everyone else who defies the French Revolution. Madame Defarge and her peers sit in the audience, knitting silently, watching multiple people get assassinated. The structure that is mentioned not only represents the guillotine but also the human capability to be so cruel and to witness such cruelty in silence.

“The sea of black and threatening waters, and of destructive upheaving of wave against wave, whose depths were yet unfathomed and whose forces were yet unknown. The remorseless sea of turbulently swaying shapes, voices of vengeance, and faces hardened in the furnaces of suffering until the touch of pity could make no mark upon them (Dickens 65).

Once again, Charles Dickens utilizes evocative imagery. In this case, he describes the huge crowd of people that stormed the Bastille, freeing prisoners, assassinating government officials, and marching through the streets with the heads of prisoners and government officials speared on sticks. This scene reveals how aggressive oppressed individuals can get when they get the upper hand on their oppressors.

“‘Judge you! Is it likely that the trouble of one wife and mother would be much to us now?’” (Dickens 79)

Throughout the revolution, Madame Defarge and other peasant women and children have suffered. While they suffered, their husbands, sons, and fathers were falsely imprisoned by the aristocracy. When Madame Defarge and her companion, The Vengeance come in contact with Lucie Manette and little Lucie, they show no sympathy or help. These lines manifest Madame Defarge’s attitude toward the wife and child of an aristocrat (Charles Darnay).

“‘I am not afraid to die, Citizen Evremonde, but I have done nothing. I am not unwilling to die, if the Republic which is to do so much good to us poor, will profit from my death; but I do not know how that can be, Citizen Evremonde. Such a poor weak little creature!’” (Dickens 104)

When Sydney Carton is led to the guillotine along with other prisoners, a young seamstress mistakes him for Charles Darnay and calls him “Citizen Evremonde” (Darnay’s birth name). The seamstress speaks to Carton about dying and asks him to take her hand to comfort her. She is bewildered because she is unsure how her death would benefit the Republic. The Republic was supposed to aid poor individuals like herself; however, it is about to execute her even though she committed no crime. Charles Dickens includes this scene in the novel because it illustrates his point that injustice could cause one to seek revenge.

“‘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’” (Dickens 110).

In the concluding chapter of the novel, Sydney Carton grows into a heroic figure as he gives up his own life to save Charles Darnay. This statement by Carton is his final thought as he makes his way to the guillotine to die. Earlier in Carton’s life, he feared that he would never change for the better and he felt worthless. However, his act of self-sacrifice at the end of the novel gives him something to be proud of before he is put to his death.

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Charles Dickens’s Attitude Towards French Revolution. (2024, February 23). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from
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