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Did Dickens Portray the French Revolution Accurately?


If the French Revolution was as insane as CD depicts it, then the French would be totally insane for choosing Bastille Day as their national holiday.
My opinion of the novel: cartoonish one-dimensional characters; excessively complicated plot that uses coincidence too much; purple prose that often reads like a parody of the style of 19th century writers of historical novels such as Dickens' own friend, Bulwer-Lytton; and a sanctimonious oily ending that sounds as if it had been written by Seth Pecksniff or by Uriah Heep. In short, CD's one unqualified failure as a novelist; DOMBEY AND SON, MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT and BARNABY RUDGE are all much better.
God is subtle, but He is not malicious. (Albert Einstein)

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Before Dickens wrote this novel, he sent a note to his friend, Thomas Carlyle, and asked for information on the French Revolution. Carlyle had written a history of the Revolution, and his answer to Dickens' note was to send a cart full of books on the French Revolution to Dickens' house. At least that is the story I've read.

We chose July 4 as our independence day because that was the day on which the Continental Congress agreed to accept the Declaration of Independence. (Yes, I know it wasn't completely signed until August, 1776, but it was put into effect on July 4.) July 14 was the day that the French people rose up and first attacked the symbol of French Royal Power, the Bastille. That is why Bastille Day, July 14, has been accepted as their independence day -- it was the day on which they first made their break with royalty.

Dickens fully supported the French Revolution. If you look, you can see that in his writing of the novel. (If you want I could send you excerpts.) What he didn't accept and wrote against were the excesses. The Reign of Terror was something that Dickens found abhorrent, and he showed this through his story.

I hold Charles Dickens as my favorite writer, and A TALE OF TWO CITIES is one of my favorite Dickens' novels. I talked recently with a woman who has had very little exposure to Dickens. She had just finished ATOTC and really liked it. Which Dickens novels are the best is probably subjective.

Spin

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Considering how chaotic France became since the revolution, 'tis doubtful that the French Revolution was a good idea. It certainly was not a good example for France's neighbor to the south, my Spain.

God is subtle, but He is not malicious. (Albert Einstein)

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When Dickens addresses the political content of his story, I think he's a bit more shifty & clever as to his loyalties than what you represent.

Regarding the French peasants, the most sympathetic is the unnamed adolescent brother of Therese DeFarge, who dies trying to defend the honor of their elder sister in the wake of her rape by the evil Marquis Evremonde. He's a minor character, and Dickens is careful to have him live and die before he could have been involved in the revolution. The high drama of the brother's death by the sword of the Marquis notwithstanding, he's relegated to a servant class similar to the positions held by Jerry Cruncher & Miss Pross. Under the rigid class system, which I believe Dickens to have been loyal to, its okay for a bright individual to be full sassy independence, so long as he/she clearly confines himself/herself to the inferior position in all matters of importance.

Also, in the wake of the account of the avenging brother, which gives the appearance of strong narrative sympathy for the sufferings of the peasants, Dickens strategically swings the POV back toward antipathy for the peasant revolution by having peasant leader Ernest DeFarge use an outdated denounciation of Darnay by his father-in-law, Dr. Manette, a folk-hero of the revolution. According to Dickens' view of things, the French peasants are, for the most part, either brute savages or cold-hearted strategists.

The ruination of the character of Therese DeFarge by blind hatred overshadows all of the sympathetic portraits of the peasant revolutionaries.

In contrast to Madame Therese, we have Sydney Carton, the profligate English lawyer who sacrifices & redeems himself on behalf of the aristocratic Evremonde family.

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From what I've read, it's very accurate.

As an example of the revolutionists' ferocity, read the words of La Marseillaise at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Marseillaise

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after further research, I'm afraid that the FR was even worse than its depiction by Dickens. How can the French--supposedly such rational and logical people--have this insane affection for a cataclism from which France has yet to recover? Robespierre and company can certainly be proud of the many children they begat: Plutarco Elias Calles, Alvaro Obregon, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Hoxha, and an endless list of revolutionary cannibals who continue to prey upon millions of helpless innocents.
As for the book itself, my poor opinion of it still stands. It took me forever to finish, which I did only because I set my mind to read everything that CD wrote, including the Christmas books that follow A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
God is subtle, but He is not malicious. (Albert Einstein)

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Is there a complete collection of CD in English?
I myself have a six volume translation into Spanish from Editorial Aguilar which I don't know if it is still in print, so, if you want it, you should look for it in places like Amazon and ebay. Considering that Dickens had a low opinion of most foreigners, including Spaniards, 'tis quite amusing that his verbose style sounds much more graceful and eloquent in Spanish.

God is subtle, but He is not malicious. (Albert Einstein)

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HijodelCid,

At note about the French Revolution: A heard a story -- I don't know if it's true -- that during the Bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1989, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of England, was invited to attend the celebration. In conversation with the President of France, she made the remark that all France got out of the Revolution was another dictator (Napolean) and a pile of headless bodies. During the grand parade, Margaret Thatcher was given a seat in a row behind all the other dignitaries. However, before she returned home, she left the President a present, a copy of "A Tale of Two Cities."

I don't know if there is a complete collection of CD in English. It would be nice. All my Dickens books are mismatched -- hardback, paperback, small, large, etc. This past Christmas a friend gave me "The Life of Our Lord," the life of Christ written by Dickens for his children and published only after his death.

What did you think of the Christmas books? What else of CD have you read?

Spin

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Hello.
The influence that the FR had on the rest of Europe was terribly mixed, with a lot of negatives. You know why leftists are still sore about their defeat in the Sp Civil War? Because the Nationalist victory preserved Spain from being ruled by a Third Republic-type regime that could easily have led to a second Russian Revolution. During the 18th century, Sp intellectuals wanted Sp to be as similar to France as possible; sure enough, the history of Sp between the FR and the Franco regime is a tragic replica of the worst of Fr history of that time.
The Christmas books are interesting to compare to CAROL; I'm surprised no dramatic adaptation of Trotty Veck and THE CHIMES has ever been attempted. LITTLE DORRIT and OUR MUTUAL FRIEND are not as easy to read as OLIVER TWIST because they are like literary fugues, with several plotlines being played at once; however they are very much worthy of your attention.

God is subtle, but He is not malicious. (Albert Einstein)

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Hello!
I enjoyed your historical analysis. I have always liked history. I recently received a Master of Arts Degree in History, concentrating on the American Civil War. However, there is so much more I need to learn. I am embarrassed that I do not know more about the Spanish Civil War, especially considering that many Americans went to Spain to fight the Fascists.

I teach English and Theater at a local high school. I once wrote a stage adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL for my drama students to perform. I have thought about adapting both A CRICKET ON THE HEARTH and THE CHIMES for my students. I have both plays sketched out in my head, but I haven't tried writing them yet. Maybe that should be a summer project.

I have read LITTLE DORRIT. You're right -- it is like a literary fugue -- and I like the way all the movements come together at the end. I have not tried OUR MUTUAL FRIEND yet. Two more of my favorites are NICHOLAS NICKLEBY and GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

Thanks for a good conversation,
Spin

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I absolutely concur. I think the popularity of ATOTC leads many Dicken's snobs to underrate it. Popularity doesn't equal mediocrity. The French revolution will always be a mixed bag. The Rights of Man is one of the great documents of mankind. For those of you who say The Declaration of Independence covered the same territory, remember that the D of I excluded blacks, women, and non-property owning males as those it enfranchised. Dicken's makes clear that he thought the excesses of the revolution were the result of the previous abuses of the old regime. Add to that the point that revolutionary France was defending itself against foreign invasion at the same time and you see where the extremism comes from.

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Alfred Alistair Cooke says in his book A DECADE OF MASTERPIECE THEATRE MASTERPIECES that anyone who says that TALE is his favorite Dickens is admitting by that very choice that Dickens is NOT for him.

God is subtle, but He is not malicious. (Albert Einstein)

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Dickens was writing relatively soon after the revolution. Many people from the era were still alive. Much had been written about it. Personally I believe that his account is very accurate.

The revolution was indeed a bloodthirsty, insane, period. Revolutionaries changing everything, from abolishing pre-revolutionary names to even contemplating changing the calendar entirely - 10 day weeks! Madness on a massive scale. No wonder the country allowed Napoleon to become dictator, and later gladly accepted the restoration of the monarchy.

The French national day is inappropriate, but then the country still mistakenly celebrates the biggest episode of blood-letting and mischief it has ever seen. Though by no means all French celebrate the revolution. The Vendee in particular dislike being reminded of this period in their history.

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To answer the question, just look at the revolutions you have seen in your own life... Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine. And before that, Vietnam, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, etc. Are they any less horrible than 'The Terror'?

Dickens was in no way exaggerating. In fact, his story is romantic in that it has a noble ending.

I believe we can take Dickens' dialogue as being quite realistic... almost as reportage and not at all 'purple'. People used to speak MUCH more high falootin' than today.

My only beef with it is where he has the French people speaking word by word translations of French idioms. Those sound very weird in English.

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say The Declaration of Independence covered the


Thomas Jefferson had a bit to do with that. And yea he was a revolutionary.

Kisskiss, Bangbang

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