A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
In the Book Club Of My Mind, I often play the game of whom I might cast in which role if I were to make a movie of the book I’m reading.* In this case I’m not even sure who’d get top billing, so I checked out imdb and noticed that Sydney Carton seems to get it almost unanimously, save for the odd exception of Dr. Manette.
Obviously a movie has to emphasize individuals and personal relationships.
The novel, however, seems to emphasize the force of History (to be grand) or the Mob (to be bitter) and every character is in relationship to it, as are the two titular cities.
For those of you who have read it, I’ll just remind you of the names. Dr. Manette, Mr. Lorry, Lucie Manette, Sydney Carton, Charles Darnay (Evremonde), Mr. Cruncher, the Defarges, Miss Pross, Stryver, and other more minor characters. Right? None of them carry the action, per se.
Great book, great final scene. Of course much depends on strange coincidences, but who isn’t willing to accept some of these in exchange for the fine writing.
(That said, Dickens isn’t the best subway reading, so I’ve had to spend quite a few end-of-chapter moments standing on the platform after getting off the train just to make sure I got the gist of the chapter I was on.)
My favorite melancholic line is by Mr. Jarvis Lorry, talking about his youth, “when […] my faults were not confirmed in me.”
The quote in context:
turned his eyes again upon the fire, and, after a silence of a few moments, said: Sydney
“I should like to ask you: -- Does your childhood seem far off? Do the days when you sat at your mother’s knee, seem days of very long ago?”
Responding to his softened manner, Mr. Lorry [who admitted to being 78 years old] answered:
“Twenty years back, yes; at this time of my life, no. For, as I draw closer and closer to the end, I travel in the circle, nearer and nearer to the beginning. It seems to be one of the kind smoothings and preparings of the way. My heart is touched now, by many remembrances that had long fallen asleep, of my pretty young mother (and I so old!), and by many associations of the days when what we call the World was not so real with me, and my faults were not confirmed in me.”
* For what it’s worth, my usually jokey suggestion of Keanu Reeves in the main role is not too bad here, since the character needs some otherworldly distance. And that actress who plays Lizzy’s older sister in the newer Pride and Prejudice (I looked it up: Rosamund Pike) would be a good Lucie. Dr. Manette? Peter O’Toole. And my dear Mr. Lorry, not sure yet. Oh: Ed Asner.