. . . that I was listening to A Tale of Two Cities in the privacy of my home because when the famous last line was uttered I completely lost it. All the tension of the escape from Paris and the horror of the guillotine broke through my readerly detachment and I wept. It’s not often that a book makes me cry, but Dickens got me. It wasn’t so much Sidney Carton’s noble sacrifice as the historical setting, especially the terrible blood lust that was the Reign of Terror.
I understand that Dickens was greatly influenced by Thomas Carlyle’s history of the French Revolution. Obviously I will have to read that, and something more recent to compare it with. Does anyone have any suggestions? I wonder if Tolstoy would agree with Dickens’ (and Carlyle’s) sense of the inevitability of the revolution and Reign of Terror. I am nearly three quarters of the way through War and Peace and have been fully apprised of Tolstoy’s theory that historical events are caused not by great leaders but by the sum of all of the moving, individual wills involved, and ultimately by Providence (thought he is a bit sketchy about that part). I don’t know if he would agree with Carlyle’s view on the cyclical nature of history, but I think he would approve of the way Dickens applied a microscope to a great upheaval and showed one of the individual stories that contributed to it. Take Madame Defarge and Monsier Gaspard, multiply them by a million, and you have the French Revolution and la guillotine.