Thursday, February 21, 2013
A Tale of Two Cities - Allegory and/or Apologia
The novel was written in 1859, shortly after Dickens had irrevocably broken his marriage. After years of moaning, he had moved out in 1858 and established a separate residence from his wife. In the introduction to the novel, he acknowledges that he came up with the idea for the book whilst acting in Wilkie Collins's play, The Frozen Deep, in 1857 with members of his family and friends. One of those friends was Nelly Ternan, an actress, who along with her sister and mother had been recruited to help fill out the cast. Dickens fell in love with Nelly, and in a relatively short time, set her up in her own household and assumed the role of lover, father, husband, caretaker, benefactor, and champion of not only Nelly but her mother and sisters.
Finally, getting back to Carton and Darnay, I can see in Sydney Carton's assertion of his will, his insistence on sacrificing himself for Charles Darney and Lucie, Dickens' own vindication of the assertion of his will to break his marriage and defy social norms so that he could create a new life with Nelly.
Ever since I read Peter Acrkyod's bio of Dickens roughly twenty years ago, I've really had a problem liking Charles Dickens as a person. Reading A Tale of Two Cities has helped me understand the man behind the story and be more sympathetic to how he felt about his life, his work, and the people he loved. Whether he saw his story as an allegorical tale, I see it as an apologia for the actions he took in his personal life.
If you're interested in reading more about Dickens' relationship with Nelly Ternan, I can recommend Claire Tomalin's wonderful book, The Invisible Woman.
A Tale of Two Cities counts for books read in two of my 2013 challenges...Back to the Classics, of course, and Historical Fiction.